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Making upgrades: CJ Tremper shifts from improving vehicles to enhancing students’ futures

Making upgrades: CJ Tremper shifts from improving vehicles to enhancing students’ futures

With years of real-world experience and an Alfred State education in his toolbox, Automotive Trades Instructor CJ Tremper is now steering future autobody professionals toward the road to success.

Growing up in Avoca, Tremper became interested in working on automobiles thanks to his dad, who taught shop class at Avoca Central School.

“He is a car guy and I was always helping him work on things when there was an opportunity,” Tremper said. “He taught me the basics of automotive repair and just how to fix things that were broken.”

Initially, Tremper was interested in becoming an automotive service technician, but an older friend who performed autobody work at the local BOCES changed his mind. At the time, Tremper was working at a local auto salvage yard, which bought and sold wrecked vehicles that could be fixed.

“I spent much of my time in high school fixing a totaled Chevy K5 Blazer that I bought from the salvage yard,” he said. “That was my first big autobody project and I enjoyed taking something that had been a complete wreck and making it roadworthy again.”

Tremper furthered his education and gained even more hands-on experience in Alfred State’s autobody repair program, which he graduated from in 1999. After earning his degree, Tremper worked in several collision shops through December 2005, developing his skills as an autobody technician and painter.

In January 2006, he transitioned into automotive restoration when he started working at RJ Cars in Arkport.

“At the collision shops, I started out as a body man fixing dents and changing panels,” he said. “As I developed those skills, I also began to do some basic paint work. By the time I was ready to transition from auto collision to restoration, I was doing a lot of painting – probably about a 50-50 mix of repair work vs. paint work at that point. When I got hired at RJ Cars, I was the most experienced tech there other than the shop owner.”

Within a couple of years, Tremper became the lead technician and was officially named the body/paint shop manager.

“As the shop manager, I worked to train any new autobody techs so that they were familiar with our methods of repairs and made sure they knew the quality that was expected of them,” Tremper said. “I was the only painter for several years but as our staff grew, one of the other techs also began to paint some of the projects that he worked on.”

Throughout his time at the restoration shop, many projects Tremper worked on were featured in national magazines such as “Mopar Muscle,” “Mopar Collectors Guide,” and “Muscle Car Review.” After years of honing his skills in the field, however, Tremper decided it was time for a career change.

“When the opportunity came along to work at Alfred State, it seemed like the perfect fit,” he said. “I could take the experience that I had in the industry, that started with my degree from Alfred State, and pass it along to the next generation of students that are working toward being technicians themselves.”

Tremper began working at Alfred State in February 2017, teaching a partial semester of engine repair. At the end of the semester, he applied for a full-time autobody instructor position that became available and was hired for the job.

When asked what he enjoys most about teaching, Tremper answered, “The interactions with the students and seeing their progression as they work their way through the program is very rewarding. When you see them face challenges that they don’t think they can get through so you guide them to the best of your ability and then they figure out that they can do it, that’s when it’s the most rewarding. The next time they face the same challenge, or maybe a different one, they know that they can work their way through it, and to see them do things on their own is really exciting.”

The student interactions, Tremper admits, keep him on his toes.

“I had some preconceived notions of what I thought it was going to be like teaching and the students quickly made me realize that it is much different than I thought it would be,” he said. “When you are an experienced technician, it’s all about repetition and productivity. Getting things done and doing it fast is the name of the game. They have helped me refocus and adjust from being a technician to being a teacher where the goal is to slow down and learn it the right way.”

In addition to interacting with the students, Tremper also greatly enjoys working with his fellow faculty members.

“My coworkers in the Automotive Trades Department are truly the best,” he said. “They have given me a ton of support as I started out teaching and I appreciate every one that has helped me along the way. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be surrounded by on a daily basis.”

Since transitioning into teaching, Tremper has continued to attend paint training/certification classes and earned a PPG Master Certification. He is also ASE Master Certified in collision repair.

In addition to his love for working on vehicles, Tremper also enjoys being in the outdoors, whether it’s hunting, riding four-wheelers, or hiking. On a personal note, Tremper resides in Cohocton, with his wife, Jennise, who is a receptionist at a local veterinarian office, and their two children, Devin and Adrianne.

“Devin seems to follow in my footsteps as he loves anything automotive, and Adrianne is much like her mother in her love for animals, especially dogs,” Tremper notes.

Tremper hopes his students will also follow in his footsteps and launch a successful career in the autobody repair industry. Much the same way he used to transform vehicles for the better, Tremper is now using his skills and knowledge to transform the lives of Alfred State students, as well as the autobody repair program itself.

“With the help of those around me, we are looking to take the autobody program here at Alfred State to the next level,” he said. “Alfred State has a great reputation and we want to build upon that and make it even better.”

CJ Tremper on right in auto lab with a student
Photo taken Feb. 2020