Suffolk County Community College is the only college in the...

Suffolk County Community College is the only college in the Northeast to offer the Tesla technician training. The program graduated its first nine students on Thursday. Credit: Suffolk County Community College/Victoria Pendzick

A Tesla-backed auto technician training program at Suffolk County Community College graduated its first class of students Thursday morning.

Nine graduates completed the Tesla START program, the first of its kind in the Northeast,  after spending 12 weeks learning theory, practicing on Tesla models at the school’s Automotive Technology facility, and working alongside technicians at several of the electric carmaker’s service centers.

The training course is only offered at a few schools in the United States, including ones in California, Washington, North Carolina and Florida. The participating students were paid throughout their training and received job offers at Tesla service centers across the country upon completion of the certification course.  

“The great part to us is it’s an emerging technology,” said Louis Petrizzo, interim president of the college. The Palo Alto, California-based electric car manufacturer and energy company, which brought in more than $21 billion in revenue last year, approached the school about establishing a training center, he said. "To get community college students into that area, that’s exactly what we want, that’s what we’re looking for. It’s without question the future.”

As electric vehicles become increasingly common, so too will the demand for those with the software and mechanical skills needed to maintain them, said Jessica Justiniano, a Tesla employee and START instructor.

“Everyone is going electric,” she said. “These guys are going out with the knowledge. They’re going to be prepared to go on and do whatever they want, basically.”

Justiniano will begin training the program’s next group of service technicians on Sept. 16.

Nick Calderon, a graduate who previously studied electrical engineering at Hofstra University, said he'd “always had an interest in sustainable technology and solar technology. When I saw Tesla’s START program and saw that they were hiring, I jumped on board. I really like their mission.”

Calderon, a Seaford resident, will begin work at a Tesla service center in Santa Monica, California, next month.

Graduate Brandon Boyer of Harrison said he was looking for a job when he saw an ad for the program on and decided "Why not? Next thing you know I’ve got the recruiter calling me.”

Boyer, who previously earned an associate's degree in automotive technology from upstate Morrisville State College, moved back up from Florida for the opportunity. 

The newly launched partnership with SCCC provides an intensive education program designed to provide students with the skills needed to service and repair electric vehicles, and it is open to applicants of varying technical backgrounds.

Graduate Christian Leonardo, who has about 9 years of automotive diesel repair experience, said the course, which included a minimum of 40 hours of classroom and hands-on training each week, was a bit overwhelming at first, given the technological differences between Teslas and traditional vehicles.

“Getting in here, even though I had so much experience and education, I still felt like I knew nothing in the beginning,” said Leonardo, of West Babylon. “I had to relearn, I would say, about 80 percent of what a normal automotive technician does. The only thing that would be similar from a regular car to a Tesla would be pretty much the suspension, braking system, chassis, and that’s about it.”

Latest Videos