IGNITE Academy


Breaking the poverty cycle by empowering young people

The San Diego Automotive Museum (SDAM) is reintroducing the IGNITE Academy, a transformative educational experience that aims to Inspire, Guide, Network, provide Internships, Train, and Educate students in the automotive industry. The Academy focuses on developing skills and providing industry-relevant training while also offering mentorship, financial literacy, and assistance with job placement through internships. IGNITE’s ultimate goal is to break the poverty cycle by empowering young people to pursue careers in the automotive sector and make a positive contribution to their communities and society.

To boost the Academy’s growth and success, the Apprenticeship Volunteer Committee was created and spearheaded by Stephen F. Hamilton, a distinguished professor emeritus at Cornell University. In addition to several youth and apprenticeship publications, Stephen spent a few years at Mercedes Benz in Germany, studying their apprenticeship program, which began in 1890.

Steve examined their program and brought his knowledge back to America, participating on a committee of like-minded individuals who created a curriculum and advised the Department of Education on executing successful apprenticeships for youth. Together, the committee set the framework for state- and federally-funded apprenticeship programs. The SDAM Apprenticeship Committee partnered with the Mercedes Benz Apprenticeship Program at Mercedes-Benz of Carlsbad, owned by Hoehn Family Motors, one of the Academy partners. The Academy is making remarkable progress, thanks to Steven’s dedicated contributions.

IGNITE ensures that students acquire skills and knowledge that are in demand by employers and assists students in finding internships and job opportunities through a list of vetted partners. These local automotive businesses provided insight into what they seek in potential interns.

The Academy strives to empower youth by exposing them to a multitude of career options, a process statistically proven to increase academic performance. IGNITE Academy nurtures curiosity, introducing youth participants to career options that speak to their passions and creativeness, like artistic painting jobs, upholstery design and restoration, problem-solving engine malfunctions, appraisals, or custom wheel designs. By exploring their interests and having personal conversations with industry professionals, young people discover how to turn their passions and creativity into a lucrative and enjoyable career.

Beyond technical skills, the Academy emphasizes the importance of financial literacy and partnered with a local bank to teach youth how to make informed financial decisions. Additionally, youth participate in workshops to build cover letters and resumes, acquiring valuable understandings of employer expectations for job applications.

IGNITE Academy provides dynamic educational experiences that empower underprivileged high school students with the skills, resources, and opportunities they need to break the cycle of poverty and achieve long-term economic stability. The Academy fosters personal confidence, lifelong learning, and professional development.

As the Academy continues to evolve and flourish, SDAM is committed to ensuring it remains at the forefront of automotive educational innovation. IGNITE Academy drives positive student outcomes through ongoing collaboration and contributes to the broader community’s prosperity.

Help young people achieve their dreams! Volunteer as a mentor, chaperone a career exploration, or donate to support IGNITE Academy youth. Please call Eddie Vega, the Museum’s Education Department Head, at (619) 398-0317 for questions about the Academy.

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Esteban Villanueva