SEMA Member News - May/June 2009
Brent Opiela Makes Strides Toward an Automotive Career
|Thanks largely to his second SEMA scholarship, Brent Opiela is focusing solely on completing his Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a dual major in automotive aftermarket management and business management at Michigan’s Northwood University.
As a senior student at Michigan’s Northwood University, Brent Opiela is well aware of how difficult it is to pay off pesky tuition costs while maintaining a 3.96 GPA 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 grant in the past two years.
“You open the envelope and you get this big 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.
This year, thanks largely to his second SEMA scholarship, Opiela is able to focus solely on completing his Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a dual major in automotive aftermarket management and business management. He has been devoting his extra time to finding a full-time job.
“Ideally, I would be doing something in new-product development or new-car parts design, but with accessories,” he said.
Opiela is also deciding on which graduate school he will be attending part-time. He was accepted to Oakland University for its Master of Business Administration program and to the University of Michigan, Dearborn, for a Master of Science in Finance.
“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.
Opiela already has solid experience working in the aftermarket field. He completed internships his senior year of high school with Mustang Racing Technologies (MRT), a retailer of aftermarket performance parts and accessories, and Mopar, the parts and service division of Chrysler before his junior year of college. He considers the internships invaluable, as they exposed him early on to both the small-business environment and the corporate world.
“At MRT, it was more hands-on,” he said. “I got to do a bigger variety of things, including designing the graphics for the company’s Ford Edge vehicle, which was displayed at the 2007 SEMA Show. When I got to Mopar, I got to learn a whole different side to the industry and a new business mindset.”
Although he is comfortable in both environments, Opiela sees his future in the small-business avenue. He began planning to open his own performance and custom shop while he was still in high school, right around the time his passion for the aftermarket industry began.
Although he has served internships with both small and large companies, Opiela sees his future in the small-business avenue. He began planning to open his own performance and custom shop while he was still in high school, right around the time his passion for the specialty-equipment market began.
“Whenever I see a car, I think about what I would do to it,” he said. “That’s all I think about—the endless possibilities. This industry is where I belong.”
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.
Opiela recognizes the importance that his education has had on his specialty-equipment market career.
“Attending Northwood, which has an automotive culture and background, has definitely given me an edge,” he said. “You really know your stuff when you graduate, and when you talk to the professionals within the industry, they can tell that you have been learning the tools that are used every day in their businesses.”
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 may receive $1,000 grants. Graduates and undergraduates with at least a junior standing at a four-year school are eligible for $2,000–$4,000.
Students who are interested in applying for a scholarship for the 2009–2010 academic year can access an online application here. The application deadline is April 1, 2009.
For more information on the SEMA Memorial Scholarship program, click here.
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 that SEMA has helped in getting me where I want to be come mid-May when I graduate.”