After facing an uncertain future, Laramie-based WyoTech has officially returned to its roots.
WyoTech alumnus Jim Mathis — who served as president of the school until 2002 — came back to purchase the school last year after previous owners, Zenith Education Group, moved to close it in November 2017 to focus on other endeavors. He took over as president and CEO in July, and he said the “small-town family-owned” business is already back on track, both financially and with enrollment.
“From a budget standpoint, we’re actually ahead of what we projected,” Mathis told the Laramie Boomerang this week. “We’re very pleased with where we’re sitting and very optimistic.”
Students can choose from three core programs — automotive technology, diesel technology and collision and refinishing technology — along with multiple other elective specialties, like street rod and high-performance power trains. With eight-hour school days five days a week, most students are finished with their respective programs in nine months.
Recently, the diesel technology core program has surpassed the other two as the most popular program. Zach Urban, a student from Cheyenne finishing up his advanced diesel technology specialty, said his classwork now is almost entirely hands-on in the shop, but he thinks the classroom time and shop time are “pretty well balanced.” Getting the hands-on experience, he said, has been one of the coolest parts.
“I’d seen the engines and everything, but it’s crazy to actually work on them and tear them apart and get into them,” Urban said.
Benjamin Franklin, a student from Oregon wrapping up his time in the diesel technology core program, also said the amount of information students learn is “very compact.”
“You’re just going, going, going, and it just goes by so quick,” Franklin said. “You’re just surprised with how much knowledge you actually learn here.”
Beyond mechanical skills, WyoTech focuses on career preparedness and other soft skills, like attendance and personal appearance. Students are dismissed from the program after just three absences, and students are required to follow strict dress codes about facial piercings, hairstyles and uniforms. Mathis said these soft skills and their school day mimicking a work day helps WyoTech students become lucrative to job recruiters nationwide.
“Most employers love our students because of what we’ve trained and instilled in them,” Mathis said. “That’s our difference.”
Demand from employers for each of the core areas is huge, Mathis added, with each graduating student receiving as many as 15-20 job offers. Others, he said, start their own shops after they graduate, especially the students who choose the applied service management specialty.
WyoTech currently has about 69 students, and there’ll be as many as 250 by October. Mathis said the growth has been partly due to their 14 recruiters in high schools nationwide, from “Pennsylvania to California and from Texas to Montana.” The average student travels close to 1,000 miles to come to WyoTech, but the trade school has seen growth locally as well.
“Five Laramie High School seniors are going to attend WyoTech in October,” Mathis said. “That’s the most I think we’ve ever had from a graduating class in Laramie.”
Looking forward, Mathis said WyoTech may add another program in a year or two, one that won’t compete with the others already offered. He’s not in a rush to add “too many pieces to the pie,” instead of wanting to make sure they focus on further perfecting what they do now.
Mathis said his ultimate goal is to get to 10,000 students, but no matter how big the school or campus get, he doesn’t want WyoTech to lose its small-town feel.
“Whether we’re 500 students or 10,000 students, my commitment is I want to keep this family atmosphere,” Mathis said. “I don’t want to overpack classrooms. I want to be prepared so if we do get up to 1,000 or 2,000 or 10,000 students, I want every one of those students feeling like they are here today.”