Faculty Stories: Tom Pawl

Tom Pawl

Program: Automotive Service Technology


Tom Pawl has always been fascinated with machines, especially ones with engines.

“I was surrounded by mechanics and machinists in my family—my dad, both grandpas and a couple of uncles, to name a few—so building and fixing things was almost second nature by the time I was a teenager,” he said. “I learned about small engines in lawn equipment, go carts and mini/dirt bikes. We never bought a new machine but instead got the stuff that was broken and discarded. My dad and I had to fix them up to make them work again.

“My first car was no different. It wasn’t drivable when I got it, but it wasn’t long until I got it up and running. I had a lot of pride in the things that I fixed up and kept running. When I was 16, I needed to get a job to help with a financial situation my family and I were experiencing, and my most marketable skill was working/tinkering on cars. I started in the field the way most young people do, at an oil change shop, and learned all I could before continuing on.”

Pawl, who was a good student, was accepted into the University of Illinois. However, because of the financial issues his family faced, he decided to attend College of DuPage while continuing to work.

“Admittedly, it was a back-up plan. I figured that I could take gen ed classes, get an Associate in Science degree and transfer in a couple of years,” he said. “I did not start out to make a career in automotive, nor did I even know that there was an automotive technology program at the school. What I found at COD was the best educational experiences of my life. Not only did I learn a lot, but I was also inspired and found a career path that I wanted to follow. I was so impressed with the program and the instructors, especially Tom Robertson, Mike Foss, and Al Engeldahl. I was a student when the College opened the Technical Education Center. To this day, it houses one of the nicest automotive facilities I have ever seen.”  

I hope to be a positive example for the automotive students and teach them the right way to do things, as well as the right way to treat their future customers.

Tom Pawl

During his time at COD, Pawl started working at a local Ford dealership as a technician. He then worked as a truck, trailer and equipment mechanic for a large landscape company before returning to a Ford dealership for almost 10 years. In addition to his Associate in Applied Science and Associate in Science degrees from COD, Pawl completed factory training to become Ford senior master certified as well as ASE master certified.

Pawl came back to COD as a lab assistant and teaching assistant after Professor Tom Robertson reached out and asked if he was interested.

“When I was a student, I dreaded the idea of working in an office and giving presentations to groups of people, so I felt honored that a former teacher I had a lot of respect for would see if I would come back and help the program,” he said. “I helped teach small groups of students how things worked and how to do stuff in the lab. Seeing them accomplish a task or solve a problem that I had helped them understand was inspirational, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.”  

Because automotive technology and repair changes quickly, Pawl gives students a base knowledge and skill set upon which they can build during their careers.

“I hope to be a positive example for the automotive students and teach them the right way to do things, as well as the right way to treat their future customers,” he said. “I hope to inspire them to take the difficult job that nobody else wants to do, challenge themselves to do better and never miss an opportunity to learn something new. I hope that my students cultivate a work ethic that drives them to work smart and hard so that they can excel in the automotive industry.”

In return, Pawl draws inspiration from his students and the instructors who guided him.

“I am inspired by current students every day and the success stories of former students who are making it in the industry. I also draw inspiration from the teachers who have come before me in the automotive program at the College. They were my teachers as well as my mentors and colleagues, and they have left some big shoes to try to fill.”

Learn more about the Automotive Service Technology program at College of DuPage.