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City Auto Program Teaches Youth About Safety Innovations & Career Paths

Published: 3/1/2023

It was early on a Thursday morning at Long Beach Polytechnic High School (Poly), and a large group of inquisitive students was assembling in the school’s Automotive Department, waiting to get a closer look at a bright blue, customized Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon parked nearby. The vehicle was on campus as part of a “Connected Vehicle” workshop, and the students were eager to learn about the new technology inside.  

The workshop, which took place in Poly's Automotive Department during two morning class periods, was a result of the public-private partnership established in 2021 between the City of Long Beach, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, and Xtelligent, a start-up focused on reducing traffic by optimizing traffic signal timing. Additional partnership input was provided by the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network, an agency that supports Long Beach and surrounding communities by helping connect students with jobs.  

The students, most of whom are on a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) academic track, divided up into small groups to get a close look at the data-sensing capabilities inside of three state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz vehicles while being mentored by executives from the auto company -- including Poly alum Sharon Hornby, who works for Mercedes-Benz Research and Development, North America as the Workplace Services and Safety Manager in the company’s Workplace Services Team.  

"The students are having a field day with it," said Hornby. "Two of the cars we're showing these kids will be interacting with traffic signals on Atlantic Avenue right here in Long Beach. It's wonderful to explain these innovations to tech-savvy kids in terms of how they affect their daily lives.” 

Workshop participants had fun with the vehicles – including the customized G-Wagon. “Within thirty seconds the kids had linked their phones to the car speakers and were blasting tunes!” Hornby told us.  

Sensors in new vehicles could make a significant impact on traffic safety. 

"Each of these vehicles has the capability of sharing valuable information about road conditions, such as where near-misses take place, pothole locations, faded lane markings, and missing traffic signs,” explained Valerie Sathe Brugeman, Manager of Engagement and Strategy for Mercedes-Benz Urban Mobility Solutions. She also shared that by addressing congestion, pollution, and traffic safety issues, Mercedes-Benz wants to give back and help make our transportation systems better.  

In addition to being schooled on the tech innovations, student attendees were provided with insights into possible career paths -- a hallmark of the school's vocation and industry-specific Pathways program. 

"Poly is one of the only high schools in Long Beach that has an Automotive Pathway," said Emily Thompson, Pathways Coordinator at Poly. "We have other industry-related Pathways available to students in the fields of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Design. Also available are Pathways in Business, Digital Arts and Entertainment, and Medicine, as well as a connection with the Center for International Curriculums." 

Automotive students at Poly are presented with a very clear and direct opportunity to get a jump-start on a career: the Long Beach City College (LBCC) Promise. Facilitated by the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network, the LBCC Promise involves two years in Poly's Automotive Department, followed by two years at LBCC in which students earn a Certificate. While engaged in this program, students can explore paid internship opportunities through Pacific Gateway. By the time they are 20 years old, they can apply to join the workforce with four years of experience.  

"There are a lot of technology jobs that are coming to Long Beach," said Ryan Kurtzman, Program Manager for the City of Long Beach Smart City Initiative, the City program managing the partnership with LBUSD and Mercedes-Benz. "In addition to Mercedes-Benz, the first company to patent an automobile, aerospace companies like Boeing, Vast Space, SpaceX, and Relativity Space are all here, driving our booming aerospace economy. It's really important that we, and partners like LBUSD and Pacific Gateway, are doing all we can to make sure that people who live and grow up in Long Beach are the ones that are getting these new technology jobs." 

Poly Automotive Instructor Michael Schenkelberg, who brings thirty years of auto mechanic experience to his classroom, expressed positive thoughts about his young students. "Today, with kids growing up with all the new technology, they can understand and appreciate what goes into building modern vehicles," he said. "You have to be intelligent just to drive one. Vehicles nowadays are so smart they'll do a lot of things for you, but you have to be able to know how to use those functions optimally." 

If the excitement of the students who attended these workshops is an accurate indicator, the Connected Vehicle community youth workshop was a big success. "I didn't like electric cars, but the one Mercedes-Benz brought changed my mind," said Brody Saxton, a junior automotive student. "It gets over 200 miles on one charge. With all these auto innovations I learned about today, I think the future looks bright for air quality, fuel efficiency, comfort and safety."

Another junior, Melissa Guadarrama, shared her classmate's enthusiasm. "This class started off as a required elective choice for me, but I'm much more interested in it now," she told us. "It's very valuable knowledge for students like me, who are inspired about contributing to a future with smoother, safer, and cleaner transportation systems."   

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