SEMA Bolsters Future Industry Leaders With More Than $1 Million in Scholarships

Two-time SEMA Memorial Scholarship winner Brent Opiela shares a hug with his dog Dakota.

As a senior student at Michigan’s Northwood University, Brent Opiela is only too well aware of how difficult it can be to pay off those pesky tuition costs while focusing on his studies and still managing to catch a decent night’s sleep. Needless to say, he was ecstatic when he received the news that he had been awarded a SEMA Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $2,000, his second within the past two years.

“You open the envelope and you get a smile and you just want to tell whoever is around you that you have more money for school,” Opiela said. “It was an exciting moment.”

Opiela received his first SEMA scholarship, also for $2,000, during his junior year. He estimates his annual tuition at $17,500. “The scholarship helped ease my financial burden and the stress of juggling both school and work,” he said. 

As befits a recipient of a SEMA scholarship, Opiela worked his junior year with such aftermarket companies as Mustang Racing Technologies, where he designed a Ford Edge for the company’s display vehicle at the 2008 SEMA Show.

This year, Opiela is able to focus solely on completing his Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a dual major in automotive aftermarket management/business management, thanks largely to his second SEMA scholarship along with various other grants. He has been using his extra time to research aftermarket companies for employment and is also looking into the possibility of attending graduate school to study finance and supply-chain logistics.

“I’m interested in learning everything that I can to help enhance my business knowledge, which I can then apply to my career in the aftermarket industry,” he said. 

Originally, Opiela’s plan upon graduation was to find a job at an aftermarket accessories or performance company, but with the current economic downturn, he is keeping his options open.  “Whatever I choose to do, it will definitely have something to do with the aftermarket industry,” he said. “That is where I fit and where I want to be.”

Opiela paints a mural on the warehouse walls of Mustang Racing Technologies, a SEMA-member
company. The mural displays the vehicles that the company showcased at SEMA Shows.

The SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in 1984 and has since awarded more than $1,000,000 in grants. For the 2008-2009 academic year, SEMA awarded 93 students more than $130,000 in scholarships.

To qualify for a scholarship, a student must have a minimum 2.5 grade-point average and be enrolled in an accredited university, college or proprietary program. Sophomores enrolled in two-year universities or colleges and students in vocational or technical schools receive $1,000. Graduates and undergraduates with at least a junior standing at a four-year school receive $2,000–$4,000.

Students who are interested in applying for a scholarship for the 2009–2010 academic year can access the online application at The application deadline is April 1, 2009.

For more information on the SEMA Memorial Scholarship program, visit Questions for Opiela can be directed to Nathan Ridnouer at 909/396-0289, ext. 137.

“SEMA really does a lot to promote students looking for a career in the aftermarket industry,” Opiela said. “I know personally, SEMA has helped in getting me where I want to be come mid-May when I graduate.”