Volkswagen’s U.S. factory cheers the first grads from its on-site high school

Imagine as a high school student studying Chaucer in one period, and then walking a few steps to program a state-of-the-art welding robot or 3D printer. That’s a glimpse of what a school day is like at the high school held on the grounds of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga factory.

Volkswagen Chattanooga, Chattanooga State Community College and Hamilton County Schools recently celebrated the first graduating class from the Mechatronics Akademie, a two-year mechatronics program at Volkswagen Chattanooga open to eligible high school students of Hamilton County Schools. It’s an extension of the successful Volkswagen Academy, a apprenticeship program for high-school graduates that offers three years of on-site education, paid factory experience and a conditional job offer for those who graduate.

“We are excited that young people are gaining exposure to mechatronics training and the availability of technical careers through the programs offered in our Volkswagen Academy,” said Nicole Koesling, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga. “I am proud of the graduates and look forward to watching them grow and develop as they take the next step towards successful careers.”

The fast-track Mechatronics Akademie melds high school and college courses that touch on combining mechanics, electronics and computing and applying them to the design of manufacturing. Students split their time between traditional classroom learning and technical, hands-on training. The students stay attached to their home high schools for sports and social activities, so attending the Akademie doesn’t mean missing out on prom.

“My expectation for the program was to get started on the career path I wanted. I want to do mechatronics engineering, so this prepared me and set me on the right track,” said Clayton Edward Watkins, a recent Mechatronics Akademie graduate.

This past spring, the first graduating class of 24 received their diplomas. Next year’s incoming senior class has 20 students and the upcoming junior class, while still working through the application process, is expected to fill approximately 24 spots.

“The program gave me a head start on my career because I graduated high school with 40 hours of college credit,” Watkins said. “I’m not aware of anyone from my high school with that many credits, so I feel the program has placed me a step ahead. For any high school students thinking of applying, do it. Get in, don’t waste time, and do the best you can because this program is a really good opportunity for young people like myself.”

In addition, more than 95 percent of the students are already looking forward to continuing their studies at post-secondary educational institutions, including 10 students who will start as apprentices at the Volkswagen Academy this fall.

“This is a very good program and I had such a great experience. I was a foreign student from Spain, so I was expecting to face challenges because of English being my second language,” said Maria Roig, a recent Mechatronics Akademie graduate and the daughter of a Chattanooga employee.

Roig continued: “Sometimes I would see or hear words I had never heard before, but my classmates and teachers would help me whenever I needed, and with their help I was able to be successful. Because of this program, I have gained the tools necessary to enroll in the apprentice program here at the Volkswagen Academy in the fall. This program is an open door to a new future.”