Sixty-five Carbon County middle school students are now auto technician pros, at least when it comes to race cars.

During "The Cars of the Future," the first six-week course of the Carbon County SHINE STEM Career Academy, held at Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe, students learned how to design, build, paint and power a vehicle using both technical and academic skills.

On Wednesday evening, the students showed off their new skills to their parents during the big reveal ceremony at the school.

During the event, Rachel Strucko, coordinator of the Career Academy, explained that this visionary program is providing children with opportunities to learn about the careers of the future in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

She noted that statistics show that regular programs that teach middle school students have a 50 percent retention rate. The Career Academy has a 92 percent retention rate because students learn academic skills they will need, while enjoying hands-on projects.

"I think we had incredibly bright students who came together and built an incredible product," Strucko said. "Most importantly, they learned valuable skills that they will be able to use in the classroom."

She credited CCTI's technical teachers who participated in the course, teaching the students about computer animated drafting and design; precision machining and technology; automotive service technology; electrical construction maintenance; and auto collision and repair.

Dave Reinbold, executive director at CCTI, also commended the staff for its dedication to the students; as well as the parents for supporting their children.

"The teachers made learning exciting," he said.

Reinbold added that 60 CCTI students have already applied to take part in the next series of courses scheduled for the Career Academy, which include four summer courses; as well as five career projects during the 2012-2013 school year. A total of nine CCTI students helped at the academy during this project.

Jeanne Miller, director of the SHINE afterschool program, which is the predecessor to the Career Academy, commended the efforts of everyone involved in making this program successful for the students.

Following a welcome to the school, the children's "shining star" was unveiled to the song "Eye of the Tiger."

Hal Resh, a technical teacher with the academy, drove the vehicle, with the help of several students, down the hallway and into the cafeteria, where parents waited.

Five students from all school districts involved in the academy then spoke about what they learned.

Breana Hoffner, a sixth-grade student at Lehighton, spoke about computer aided drafting and design. She said the students learned the reasons to design a project before building it and she liked that she got to meet new friends.

Michael Witczak, a seventh-grade student at Panther Valley, talked about precision machining and technology. He said they learned how to convert fractions into decimals, how to bend metal for the car's frame; and enjoyed going to Washington D.C. to speak about the projects.

Nate Starlett, a sixth-grade student at Palmerton, spoke about auto service technology. He said they learned about friction and how to make vehicles movie.

Alura Gonzalez, an eighth-grade student at Jim Thorpe, spoke on electrical construction maintenance. She said they learned about voltage, wiring a circuit, open and closed circuits, and Ohm's Law. She added that she liked seeing their hard work pay off.

Allyson Watkins, an eighth-grade student at Weatherly, talked about auto collision and repair. She said they learned how to take measurements and make measurements from templates; as well as using a tape measure.

The students and their parents then enjoyed a meal prepared and served by culinary students at CCTI.

Jill Keefer, a parent, said she thought the program was helpful.

"It gets them motivated and let's them learn about what they may want to do because it touches on different careers," she said. "My son Trevor loved it."

Kathy Gieniec and her son David echoed Keefer's thoughts.

"I thought it was fantastic," she said. "It was great to expose the kids at such a young age to things like welding and computer design. These are things they aren't normally exposed to in their regular school."

"I didn't like it," David added. "I loved it!"

The next Career Academy will begin as a summer camp on June 18.