SEMA Member News—September/October 2015

Invest in the Future of Your Industry—Host a Student at the SEMA Show

 SEMA Show Student Program
Stephen Mann worked at the Classic Instruments booth with company owner John McLeod during the 2013 SEMA Show.

Efforts to build excitement in the next generation reach a pinnacle during SEMA Show week in a dedicated program for students. The SEMA Show Student Program gives young people a glimpse of the industry as part of the association’s effort to engage the next generation. After completing the qualification process, students attend the Show with their teachers and participate in a series of organized events designed to expand their knowledge of the automotive specialty-equipment industry. This is often an eye-opening experience for students, who may not know how broad the industry is nor have experienced the excitement of the automotive aftermarket.

Stephen Mann participated in the SEMA Show Student Program in 2013 and has already earned an associate degree in automotive technology. He is currently working toward a bachelor’s at Morrisville State College and is set to graduate in 2016.

“Since I was little, I’ve been interested in cars,” Mann reflected. “My dad used to take me to car shows all the time, and we went to a couple of NHRA events. Sometimes there were even local car shows that we would go to, like down by the Barnes and Noble. I just thought it was all cool. It seemed like something I would like to do.”

Mann attributes his love of the aftermarket to his experience at the SEMA Show, since the program at his school is mainly focused on developing the skills needed to work in a dealership environment. After seeing the breadth of the industry with his own eyes, Mann now identifies the hot-rod market as his niche of choice.

“When I went to the SEMA Show and experienced a whole new world of the automotive industry, it was a giant change,” he said. “I thought to myself that I could strive to do more than just fix the daily driver.”

Mann was drawn to the creativity and self-expression of the market, which he learned about while working the Classic Instruments booth alongside company owner John McLeod and several other employees. Working in a booth was one of the scheduled activities for students—and one that made a big impact on Mann.

“It was a really great experience working at the booth, because I got to see firsthand how a company operates at the SEMA Show,” Mann explained.

McLeod echoed the sentiment.

“It’s a great opportunity for college students to see SEMA from the other side,” he said. “It’s one thing to walk around the SEMA Show, but to actually interact with the manufacturers who are working in the booth and to talk to customers is a whole new vision of what they’re looking to do.”

As chair of SEMA’s Hot Rod Industry Alliance, bringing young people into the industry is a topic that is close to McLeod’s heart. He continually urges other members to reach out to the next generation of automotive leaders, and he leads by example.

“I’m interested to see where he’s going and what he’s doing,” McLeod said. “It’s the relationship building that is so crucial in our industry. I think it proves the level of the student; Stephen is going to go far somewhere within the industry. It may or may not be with us, but if not, I can sure give him a good recommendation.”

Since the 2013 Show, Mann and McLeod have kept in touch. It means a lot to Mann that McLeod has continued to show an interest in his future plans. Though he’s not completely sure yet where he’ll end up, Mann continues to think about the possibilities. He hopes to visit Classic Instruments to learn even more about the company. He will also begin looking for an internship soon.

“With a bachelor’s degree, you could pretty much go anywhere in management or do anything you want to do,” he said. “I’m in a technical bachelor’s degree, so I could do anything with tech or sales. I could see myself doing a lot of things, from tech to sales to CEO.”

Mann also provided a few words of advice for other SEMA Show Student Program participants, expressing that the program is worth as much as you put into it.

“My suggestion to future students going out there is to talk to people,” he said. “It could really make a difference.”

Exhibiting member companies that would like to learn more about hosting a student can contact SEMA Education Manager Juliet Marshall at or 909-978-6655.

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