Matt’s Journey into Auto Body Repair and Teaching
Building on a passion for working with his hands, Matt Omodt is now teaching the importance of Career and Technical Education to college students.
Growing up in Savage, Matt was mechanically inclined from a young age, often tinkering with various things around the house. During middle school, a camp that involved automotive classes sparked a passion to become a mechanic and get all the knowledge he could about how automobiles work and how to repair them. He was drawn to Burnsville High School (BHS) because they offered automotive classes, which ended up being a very impactful life choice.
As a sophomore, Matt dove into classes centered around the trades, learning about construction, welding, drafting and audio electronics, but it was during his junior year that he found a passion for auto body repair.
“I am really creative and I like the artistic part of auto body work,” said Matt. “I like to bring a car back to life and make it look brand new. The principal at the time approved an auto body class to count as an art credit and I helped with the airbrushed van as a big school spirit project which ended up being around a long time.”
While Matt says he did well in high school, he acknowledges that he did the best in the more hands-on courses, thanks to interesting projects and support from teachers like Mr. Russ Tesmer.
“I really enjoyed working with Matt during his high school years,” said Tesmer. “Matt was passionate about learning the trades and it was fun to see the pride gleaming from Matt's face after he had accomplished a quality repair on staff members' vehicles.”
At the time, it was more than just a high school class, as part of an independent study program, they actually operated an auto shop out of the school, working on real cars owned by school staff.
“I became the shop foreman my senior year and I got introduced to a lot of different skills through real world experience including working with customers,” said Matt.
“I thank Mr. Tesmer every time I talk to him for what he did in guiding me into my career and how he helped make me into the person I am today. All it takes is one person to positively affect our lives, and he was one of those people.”
After he graduated from BHS in 2012, Matt chose to attend North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, which featured a variety of trades programs. During college, he never shied away from a new skill or challenge, and prepared himself to work relentlessly to achieve his goals.
When he graduated in 2014, he set his sights on purchasing a house by age 21 and worked hard to achieve it. He moved to Fargo and got a job with Freightliner Trucks in auto body and collision repair eventually becoming the lead frame and engine technician. Additionally he worked on restorations, did custom paint jobs out of his home, worked in the commission automotive collision industry eventually specializing in heavy hits. While he was getting valuable experience in the field, he started chasing his desire to help teach and train the next generation, eventually going back to North Dakota State College of Science, this time as an instructor.
I started working on every certification and every training opportunity that I could to be positioned to be an instructor,” said Matt. “I always thought that Mr. Tesmer had the dream job and being in the industry made me want it more. The first year has gone really well and I am excited to grow this program.”
Like his experience in high school, Matt and his students are operating an actual shop with real customers. After learning on donor cars from a local salvage yard for the first eight weeks, Matt’s students begin running a shop that charges lower prices than other shops, with the expectation that the work will take a little longer. Students get a chance to learn about sourcing parts, providing estimates and of course doing the work themselves.
“I guess things have come full circle,” said Tesmer. “I started with a wrench in my hand and taught others to use them. Now my graduates are teaching others!”
As an instructor, Matt is able to take the knowledge he gained throughout his education and time in the field and pass it along to his students. With recruitment as part of his job, he plans to work with Mr. Tesmer and the Pathways program at BHS to offer a great next step for aspiring automotive workers.
“Working with cars is not this low paying, blue collar job. It requires a lot of knowledge, is changing rapidly and if you work hard, you can do really well,” said Matt. “Career and Technical Education is so important because it is not the typical school experience of learning, testing and moving on, it’s working with your hands and it encompasses so much.”
Though he knew his preferred path pretty early, Matt encourages high school students and even his students to try new things, pursue other options, find opportunities to job shadow and see what’s out there.
“Don’t feel stressed if you don’t know what you want to do, just pick something and try it,” said Matt. “I would hate to have somebody stick to something that they don’t love and I think that more knowledge really means more power so go learn all you can!”