Connect, Interact and Give Back: SEMA Show Student Program

SEMA Member News—September/October 2014

Connect, Interact and Give Back: SEMA Show Student Program

The SEMA Show Student Program gives young people a glimpse of the industry as part of the association’s effort to reach out and pull in the next generation of professionals to the specialty-equipment market. Last year’s event boasted record participation by more than 400 attendees from 45 colleges and technical institutions.

SEMA Chairman of the Board Nate Shelton welcomed students and faculty to the 2013 SEMA Show.
SEMA Chairman of the Board Nate Shelton welcomed students and faculty to the 2013 SEMA Show.

The students go through a rigorous qualification process to ensure that they are prepared for the week, which they spend learning about SEMA, the automotive specialty-equipment industry and how their specific field of study fits into the greater picture through participation in a series of organized events. A variety of activities give SEMA-member companies chances to interact with the students and even build relationships that can last long after Show week.

Hiram Romero is majoring in business administration with an emphasis in cyber security at California State University, San Bernardino. He attended the Show last year and said that the greatest value for him was realizing how his profession fits into the industry.

“I saw that there are more opportunities in the industry than we sometimes see,” he said. “There really is a great need for people like me to update systems and help companies become a bigger part of the market.”

The association hopes that members can help students connect some of those dots this year. Those who want to give back are invited to attend the events and interact with the students, who benefit most when learning from industry veterans.

The week kicks off for students and their faculty advisors on Monday with a welcome lunch. SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting and Chairman of the Board Nate Shelton will attend this year’s event and offer words of encouragement to the students. Following lunch, all of the students get a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Show facilities, which not only allows them to get oriented to where their events will be held throughout the week but also see a glimpse of exhibitors setting up their displays.

Also on the schedule for students attending the 2014 Show is a seminar track dedicated to automotive career paths. The sessions will include four seminars throughout the week, with one specifically about life skills such as résumé writing, networking and more.

To engage the female students in attendance, the SEMA Education Institute partners with the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN) for Gear-Up Girl, a networking event specifically designed to connect students with mentors. As the students interact with industry veterans, they see for themselves where their passions can take them. SBN Chair Rose Kawasaki has attended the event since its inception four years ago. She believes that it is a testament to why networking is an important part of Show week.

“There are a lot of us who want to reach back and encourage students entering the industry,” she said. “We are there to share our experiences and allow the students to glean from them. The SBN ladies are relational and want to see the industry continue to succeed and prosper. This event is one of the ways we are able to ensure a future for our industry.”

Gelina Aquilina is a full-time student at Skyline College and has been to the SEMA Show with the student program two years in a row. Each time, she said, Gear-Up Girl was one of the week’s highlights.

“Meeting and hearing about the other women’s stories and jobs and how they got to where they are is key,” she explained. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel for a woman just starting out in the industry.”

Another goal of the program is to give students real-world work experience by connecting them with exhibitor hosts. This year, students will complete an online application, submit a résumé and interview with potential exhibitor-host companies in preparation for working in
the booths.

“Working in the booths, you get to learn about the industry and what it’s like to work for the different companies,” said Brittany Persist, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in business administration and entrepreneurship. “You get to know what sets them apart in the industry and what type of culture they have. It was helpful in showing how my degree aligns with the companies and encouraged me to keep pursuing my dreams. I now have a Rolodex full of contacts to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

For more information about any of these events, contact Juliet Marshall at