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Peter’s Journey into the Automotive Industry

How a preference for hands-on learning led Peter Mendez to a promising career path.

peter mendez in the BHS automotive shop


Peter Mendez has always had an interest in how things work. As a middle school student at Eagle Ridge, he began to consider a future in engineering and found a new world of possibilities at Burnsville High School (BHS) when he saw the opportunities for automotive and engineering classes. 

“The course catalog really sparked my interest,” said Peter. “I have always been interested in cars, racing and the mechanical workings of things, so learning how engines work was a perfect fit.”

In tenth grade, he took the Introduction to Consumer Automotive class that provided lessons on  all aspects of vehicles including insurance and purchasing cars, and gave the chance to take a vehicle apart and learn more about the inner workings of cars. The following year, he started the Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair (MLR) courses where students learn about engine repair in the classroom and get to participate in hands-on learning by taking an engine out of a vehicle and disassembling it down to its components. 

“Sitting in a classroom and listening all day is harder for me,” said Peter. “I can be much more engaged and really just learn better with hands-on learning.”

With the auto shop spaces at BHS, Peter gets real-world experience with vehicles while working towards Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications, which he hopes to achieve before he graduates in 2025. The class toured the Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) which offers a two-year program in a variety of automotive pathways. 

“DCTC opened my eyes about potentially being a mechanic,” said Peter. “I have always thought about the four-year college option, but am leaning more towards a path like DCTC to become a mechanic because it is a fulfilling career with many different options and seems like a great fit.”

Peter also keeps busy outside of the automotive shop. He plays the bass clarinet in the BHS band, is on the mountain biking team, has served two terms on the Dakota County Library Advisory Board and is a youth member of the Burnsville Parks and Natural Resources Commission. He is looking forward to the upcoming band trip to Costa Rica and the opportunity to learn as much as he can in high school before his next steps.

“The biggest advice I can give is if you don’t know what you want to do, don’t worry about it too much, but use your time to try to narrow it down and figure out what you want to do while it’s free,” said Peter. “One of the things that I have enjoyed about BHS is that they put a lot of emphasis on the fact that going to a four-year school isn’t for everyone and that it’s perfectly acceptable to go into the trades or to a technical school, especially since those career fields really need people right now.”

-Peter Mendez

peter mendez and teacher russ tesmer working on a car part

Fifth Grade

Peter starts playing the bass clarinet through the school band.

Middle School

He starts thinking about a future in engineering thanks to his interest in how things work. 

9th Grade

Peter took Introduction to Engineering, solidifying his preferred career path.

10th Grade

Introduction to Consumer Automotive gave Peter his first chance to take apart a vehicle and learn more about engines.

Junior Year

Starting with the Automotive MLR program at BHS gives Peter more real-world experience and prepares him to earn valuable certifications.

peter mendez works on a car part

The Future

Peter plans to continue in Automotive MLR classes and is considering attending DCTC and becoming an auto mechanic.