Dealer Spotlight:
Pilson Auto Center – LIFTing Up Students Interested In Automotive Business

Pilson Auto Center dealer principal Jamie Pilson wasn’t seeking another way to get involved in his Mattoon, IL community. His five dealerships were already invested in local not-for-profit fundraising and a variety of other programs, including “All Kids Bike,” run by his son Jared who manages the company’s power sports dealership.

However, when Pilson was contacted by an instructor from the local Mattoon High School district’s LIFT (Leadership Innovating for Tomorrow) program last year, he knew it was a perfect fit and couldn’t say no.

“The reason we exist is to take care of our team and customers, but we feel a real obligation to make a positive impact on our community too,” Pilson explains. “This just seemed like a great way to leverage our expertise in order to expose students to the auto business in a hands-on way.”

The purpose of the LIFT program is to connect students to career pathways and to provide access to dual credit, certifications, internships, work-based experiences, industry credentials, and leadership opportunities. The seven areas of concentration include ‘HVAC/Green Energy/Robotics’. What the instructor was seeking was an auto dealer to help teach students about electric vehicles; how they are built and work.

The ask included sponsorship of a Switch Lab electric vehicle curriculum and an actual electric vehicle that the students could dismantle and re-assemble. Pilson agreed to donate both to the program. The auto they chose was a new, three-wheel vehicle.

For Pilson, there is one LIFT student who stands out: Ashlee Higgonbotham, a recent high school graduate. As a senior, she participated in LIFT, first semester in the video production area and second semester in the EV program. “It really came easy to me,” she explains. “I kind of always knew that I wanted to do something in auto mechanics, so I took this program to make sure. It was a really cool learning experience.”

This summer, Ashlee is working at Pilson Auto Centers as a lot attendant and all-around assistant. In the fall, she plans to attend Parkland Community College and participate in the FORD ASSET (Automotive Student Service Education Training) program followed by an internship at Pilson Auto Centers. In this program, students alternate for six to eight weeks in the classroom and six to eight weeks with their sponsoring Ford or Lincoln dealer over a two-year period. At the end of the two years, they earn an Associate’s Degree. Ashlee will complete her internship at Pilson Auto Centers.

“In 10 years, I hope I have learned as much as I can and will be a mechanic running my own female-run and operated shop,” she says.

Pilson and his staff have no doubt she will.

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