Associate professor of collision repair, program coordinator of collision repair, department chair of industry and transportation at NCC
Nashua Community College
Associate of Applied Science, Auto Body Repair, 1983
Karl Wunderlich’s journey took him from reluctant high school student, to college graduate, successful business owner and ultimately as a professor teaching at the college level and mentoring the next generation of skilled technicians. Along this journey, he learned important lessons he now passes on to students about making the most of opportunities and translating interests into rewarding careers.
Karl attended high school just over the New Hampshire border, at Methuen High in Massachusetts. He enjoyed taking industrial arts classes – things that allowed him to work with his hands – but like many, he struggled with his other classes that were part of the typical high school experience. Luckily, he was able to translate his mechanical aptitude into employment in auto repair, working with his older brother.
“I was impressed with the work that my brother was doing in auto repair and that’s what got the wheels turning for me in terms of focusing on bodywork as a potential long-term career. I knew however that it would be in my best interest to continue my education in order to advance in the field.”
After researching a few motorcycle maintenance programs (this was before the Internet), Karl was surprised to discover that the only school that taught motorcycle mechanics was in Arizona. At the time, he had a job and a girlfriend, so the idea of moving across the country was a stretch. He needed options locally that would support his career aspirations while also being affordable.
“My father suggested that I take a look at Nashua Community College to see if a program existed that matched my interest. I took a ride over one day, checked out the college and soon after applied. Next thing I knew, I was starting college not too far from home, and enrolled in a program that wouldn’t break the bank.”
Karl was pleasantly surprised to discover that NCC catered to hands-on learning which kept instruction interesting and engaging for him and his fellow students.
“After a short time at NCC, I realized that attending a community college was far better than my high school experience because I was able to focus on the classes that most interested me and I was able meet new friends who shared similar interests.”
While in college, Karl continued to hone his mechanical skills. Once he learned enough about auto body work and painting, he started offering his services to friends and neighbors.
“NCC enabled me to quickly apply what I was learning in the real world and by senior year, my evenings and weekends were filled with customers lining up for me to work on their cars. I was loving it.”
In 1983, Karl graduated with an Associate of Applied Science in Auto Body Repair from NCC. Over the next few years, he transitioned from self-employment, to working at area dealerships, and ultimately joining in on a family-run business and running the body shop. Before long he spun out a newly formed auto body business in Pelham, which he operated for 10 years while also starting a family.
One day in January 1996, Karl’s former auto body instructor, Lars Christiansen, stopped by his shop to share that he was retiring from NCC. He encouraged Karl to think about the possibility of teaching in the program as an auto body instructor. Intrigued at the idea of mentoring students in a field he so much enjoyed, Karl took the next step and applied for the position. Shortly after, he was the new auto body faculty member at NCC.
“My favorite thing about teaching has been seeing those ‘aha moments’ students have when the light comes on, when they get it. Because I teach all the freshmen classes, I get to see students who come in with almost no skills, whose skills multiply by the end of their first semester. The more their skills grow, the more they are eager to learn. Witnessing this is incredibly rewarding.”
Karl often reminisces about his days a student at NCC and the impact his professors had on him. They supported him and encouraged him to follow his dreams. He strives to do the same for his students.
“My advice is to keep on moving forward and never give up. Get that certificate or degree because the skills and knowledge you learn will last a lifetime. I’ve never regretted my decision to go to college and I’m very happy with where my journey took me.”