Mike O’Hara’s love of working on cars started in a rather mischievous way. When he was in junior high school, while his parents were away on a winter vacation, he pulled the engine out of the family’s 1968 Ford LTD.
“That’s what happens when you go away,” laughed Mike, a teacher of Vehicle Mechanical Repair at H.B. Ward Technical Center in Riverhead. He’d found the family car had been ailing from an exhaust leak. By the time his parents returned, they found the leak repaired, and that the car was riding a little higher thanks to a lift kit he’d installed as well.
Being so comfortable around vehicles at such a young age, it wasn’t surprising that O’Hara pursued Automotive Repair at Western Suffolk BOCES when he was in his junior year of high school. After graduating, he immediately entered the workforce, starting as a technician at Smith Haven Dodge. Within four years, he became an ASE Certified Master Technician.
It was during his time at the dealership that Mike got his first taste of educating the newest generation of automotive technicians.
“When I worked at the dealership, they always put the young technicians with me,” Mike said. “So I was training technicians for almost my entire career. I actually trained the other Automotive Technician Teacher, Nicholas Mascola, when he came in. We worked together for eight or nine years.”
After working 28 years in the industry, an opening at Western Suffolk BOCES Adult Education Program became available. Mike jumped at the chance to teach. After two years educating adults, he was hired at ESBOCES CTE Program at the Milliken Technical Center.
However, Mike’s first few years teaching high school were challenging. From morning to night, his days were filled with commitments to his family, his work, and himself. Mike started his days going to college in the morning, then taught high school students in the afternoon, and worked the evening shift at Westbury Jeep from 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Despite the early struggles, working at the Academy has been worth it.
“I’m still in high school at my age, so that’s a plus,” Mike laughed. “I’m working on cars, and able to pass on the knowledge I have to the younger generation. This is a passion for me, it’s not just a job. This is truly what I love doing.”
By bringing passion to his students every day, he helps them create memories that will last a lifetime. Mike has coached two teams to first place finishes in the National Automotive Technology Competition, which takes place annually at the New York International Auto Show. However, one of the best rewards is seeing his students succeed when he places them in internships.
“I get the first year students who come in here and half of them have never seen a tool before,” Mike said. “I get to watch them progress so that they’re able to work in a dealership or at a shop in just two years’ time. When I go to the local dealerships, I still see all the students that we placed throughout the years, and it’s good to see their progress.”