Photo page header


Giving a Lift

Washburn Tech’s Recycled Rides drives an impact that goes on for miles

Eric Showalter stands next to a Recycled Rides car that was later donated

From The Ichabod - Spring 2019

If you’ve never had to worry about where your next ride will come from, it can be easy to take transportation for granted. For many, however, getting a lift can mean the difference between getting a paycheck or going hungry.

Students and volunteers with Washburn University Institute of Technology’s Recycled Rides program are using their skills to make a difference by repairing donated vehicles to give reliable transportation to someone in need. From repairs to selecting worthy recipients and giving the car away, the experience is an emotional one for the students involved.

“It can be an eye-opener,” said Eric Showalter, instructor, collision repair at Washburn Tech. “They realize that not everybody has what we have, and I think it can shape the character of the students.”

In 2011, Washburn Tech became the first educational institution in the nation to participate in Recycled Rides, a National Auto Body Council program. Led by instructors Eric Showalter and Emiliano Arzate, the program brings together auto repair and collision repair program instructors, students and volunteers to refurbish donated vehicles for donation back into the community.

Now in its eighth year at Washburn Tech, Recycled Rides has given away two to four cars each year to deserving individuals in need of reliable transportation. In the fall of 2018, they gave away their 25th car – more than all other schools in the country combined. This spring, they gave away numbers 26 and 27.

Going the Extra Mile

From finding a salvageable vehicle, locating donated parts from community partners, the physical labor and selecting the perfect recipient, countless hours are put into making each vehicle ready to give away.

“Some of the work is done during class time, but 95 percent of the work is done as extracurricular work,” Showalter said. “With our advisory council and industry partners, as well as past students who have graduated and have come back to volunteer, train and mentor our current students – when you consider everyone who contributes parts and works on the cars, approximately 100 to 125 people have worked on each car.”

Recycled Ride recipient applications are collected through the United Way of Greater Topeka. The selection committee, made up of student ambassadors, carefully reviews each application and considers who may be helped the most by receiving a vehicle before narrowing down the list for a vote.

George James, certificate ’12, certificate ’16, has worked on all 27 cars and was on the recipient selection committee four times as a student in the auto collision and automotive service technician programs and as
an alumnus.

“Picking the best candidate for the car is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” James said. “Some of the stories are so touching, so it’s really hard to narrow it down from 25 people to just one. You really hope you pick the right person.”

As a student, James had the opportunity to present the work of the Recycled Rides program at a SkillsUSA competition – a national technical institute competition where Washburn Tech has won at both the state and national level. As an alumnus, he still volunteers when he can.

“Some weekends I go up and help take apart or reassemble the cars,” James said. “Recycled Rides helps me keep my skills up.”

Opening Doors

The finished cars are presented each semester at a Ride-Away unveiling ceremony. Attended by donors, community partners and elected officials, the ceremonies are often both emotional and uplifting for all in attendance.

A Recycled Rides recipient at a Ride-Away“The car was covered up with a big bow on top,” remembers Susan Carter, recipient of the fourth Recycled Rides car – a Kia Sportage SUV. “When they uncovered it, I cried and jumped for joy. It made me feel so happy that there are people out there who can do this.”

Carter uses her vehicle to get to work, the grocery store and the doctor.

“This whole experience has done so much for me,” Carter said. “I give the workers who do the repairs a standing ovation. They work so hard to get these cars rebuilt and in tip-top shape for the people who need them.”
James noted the gifted cars can greatly improve a recipient’s quality of life.

“I recently saw one of the car recipients. Now that he has the car, he has a much better job, and he’s using the car to get back and forth from work,” James said.

Arzate said the impact of the program extends to all those involved.

“It's rewarding to see the cars being gifted and know that you're giving something back,” Arzate said. “When we're able to use our skills to provide something for somebody with our free time – it's the right thing to do.”

Spring 2020 Alumni Mag

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions


Please enter your username and password below. If you do not have a username and password, click "New user registration" to register.

New user registration
Forgotten password

1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483