Automotive grad accelerates his career with Tesla START program

Many Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne Automotive Technology graduates are working in cutting-edge industries, like electric car company Tesla. Our 2016 Alumni Achievement winner, Colin Zimmer, was hired by Tesla in 2013. Now, a second Ivy Tech graduate recently completed the Tesla START program and was hired as a Tesla service technician in Dec. 2018.

Chris Merle (AAS, Automotive Technology, ’18) always had an affinity for cars and motorcycles. He was riding dirt bikes by age 5 and bought his first truck at 12.

In college, he started at IPFW (now Purdue University Fort Wayne) majoring in engineering, and despite doing well in the program, Merle quickly decided he didn’t want to be an engineer. He compared automotive programs in the area, transferred to Ivy Tech Fort Wayne, and loved it.

“Ivy Tech Fort Wayne’s automotive program was thorough and in-depth,” says Merle. “Every instructor had the proper training, techniques, and knowledge they needed to pass on to the students. Robert Huffman especially got me where I am today. He helps every student as much as he can.”

Huffman encouraged Merle to check out the newly formed Tesla START program, which is an additional 12-week course designed to give students the training they need to become Tesla workers. Merle applied, was accepted, and started the program in fall 2018.

It wasn’t easy.

“It’s an intense program. You have to transfer to a location and live in that location for three months,” says Merle. “You have to pay tuition. I had to pay $1,500 for this course. The people who do this, they have to move, relocate, live, survive, and pay money to be in this program.”

Despite the difficulties, Merle persisted and graduated from the Tesla START program. After graduation, he was immediately hired at the Tesla Service Center in Tempe, Arizona.

“There’s a lot of information about Tesla that I can’t give away, but one thing I can say is the company really works with you, the benefits are amazing, and there’s a very positive atmosphere. I’ll definitely stick with them for a while.”

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