Working in family repair shop inspired Kettering University student to pursue automotive career

"I told them all about the school and co-op program and how it will better prepare me to find a job in the future compared to a traditional school.”

Duc Le ‘20 developed a passion for the automotive industry while working at his father’s auto repair shop in Monterey, California. Le and his family immigrated to California from Vietnam when he was 3-years-old and he grew up helping his father in the shop ever since.

“I did a lot of office work because he doesn’t speak English well,” Le said. “When I finished the office work, I would help him with repairs. When we got done with repairs, I would take the old part and ask my dad if I could open it up to see how it works and see what’s on the inside.”

Le, a Mechanical Engineering major, is a first generation college student. Both of his older siblings graduated from colleges in California. Despite his parents insisting that he remain close to home for college, Le discovered Kettering University and felt it was a natural extension of his automotive background and desire to pursue professional work experiences immediately after high school.

“My parents didn’t want me to leave home. They wanted me to stay closer,” Le said. “But I told them all about the school and co-op program and how it will better prepare me to find a job in the future compared to a traditional school.”

Le’s family business sparked an interest in automotive engineering but it was the co-op program at Kettering that influenced his decision to travel across the country for school. Le is completing his co-op at Shield Restraint Systems in Elkhart, Indiana, where he works as a test engineer for seat belt retractors that are responsible for locking the belt in place.

“Seat belts didn’t need service in my dad’s repair shop,” Le said. “So this was a new and awesome experience. I had the chance to learn how retractors work and tested them to see how they can be made better.”

In only his freshman year at Kettering, Le has seen a crossover between his co-op and academic terms. At work he learned about the challenges with producing an electric seat belt retractor and he’s attempting to work on this problem during his free time at Kettering.

“I like to come up with new things and the benefit of an electric seat belt retractor is that it can lock before you get into an accident,” Le said.

Le found the transition from high school to college and from California to Michigan and Indiana to be difficult at first. However, there came a point in his freshman year when his past experiences in his dad’s repair shop and new experiences at his Shield Restraint Systems overwhelmed uncertainty and the challenges he was facing.  

“I came over here as a 17-year-old minor but have grown a lot in just one year here,” Le said. “I might be 18-years-old but I feel much older. I’m financially independent at Kettering.”