Going the extra mile with the UI’s automotive service professionals

University of Iowa travel around campus, around the state, and around the county is made possible in large part by a team of just 20 Parking and Transportation automotive service professionals. In 2021, the Fleet Services and CAMBUS technicians and service writer, enabled more than 4.4 million miles of travel and campus transportation. In June as part of Automotive Service Professionals Month, the Parking and Transportation department is recognizing the important work of the nine full-time and 11 part-time student staff that maintain and repair the university’s fleet of buses and vehicles.

The ability for the small team of 20 to provide so much service is possible both due to their exceptional skill and their active efforts to make the workplace collaborative. In total, the nine full-time staff have 273 years of combined industry experience – an average of 30 years each.

“We are fortunate that we have maintenance staff that are highly competent, but even more importantly, are great people. They care. That is what makes us successful,” replied CAMBUS manager Brian McClatchey.

person in blue uniform shirt hold hands overtop of minibus engine compartment

Student maintenance assistant Kristina Dibert learns about minibus battery

four technicians and bus expert standing at rear of black and gold bus

Gillig staff provided on-site training in 2019 to CAMBUS technicians on maintaining newest bus models

Delivering quality and value

Automotive, truck, and transit technicians complete routine maintenance, but it is so much more than changing fluids and tire rotations. “I have always taken pride in being able to support the university. During the pandemic, it was especially important to me that we were able to provide safe and reliable transportation for the hospital staff,” answered Jamie Watson automotive, truck, and transit technician.

Much more than oil changes, Fleet Service and CAMBUS work to identify and repair problems before there is a breakdown. During scheduled preventative maintenance, technicians can identify and fix problems before there is a failure. “So far in fiscal year 2022, 12% of the repairs completed were discovered during preventive maintenance,” stated Mike Wilson, Fleet Services manager.

“Cambus has about 60% fewer buses than the largest transit systems in Iowa, and we provide almost as many rides,” replied Steve Baughman – automotive, truck, and transit technician. “That makes me feel proud and shows how good of staff we really have!”

The technicians take a lot of pride in their work and know the importance of their work. Baughman has worked for CAMBUS for 17 years and has 33 years of experience as an automotive professional. They make a big difference in the university’s daily operations, travel, and transportation.

“At CAMBUS, we talk about having safe and reliable transportation services – that really starts with this team here,” says Mia Brunelli, CAMBUS operations manager. “If a bus has a mechanical problem on-route, they’re the difference in being able to quickly get a new bus out to keep services operating. They are also sometimes the difference in even having enough buses to put out each day. We are lucky to have the maintenance teams that we do.”

Watson is one of two cross trained technicians that work on both transit buses and university vehicles. Having positions that are cross trained between Fleet and CAMBUS allows for additional flexibility in maintenance operations. He has worked for the university since 2017 and has 16 years of experience in the industry.


Oil changes completed in FY2022

“Cambus has about 60% fewer buses than the largest transit systems in Iowa, and we provide almost as many rides. That makes me feel proud and shows how good of staff we really have!”
Steve Baughman | University of Iowa automotive, truck, and transit technician


Parts issued in FY2022

Rising to challenges as a team

In addition to the continuous change, the maintenance staff are often asked to perform their duties in a harsh environment. The maintenance shop is either hot or cold depending on the season, and the work is dirty and tough. “I am impressed with the work turned out by the staff in these conditions. It is very appropriate to recognize their commitment and dedication to the university during this month,” replied Pat Smith, CAMBUS and Fleet Services maintenance supervisor.

The team works hard to make the maintenance an “us” environment. ” I would say the best part of working at Cambus is the students along with the best full-time staff,” said Baughman. “We are able to do more with less.”

When encountering a problem, they collaborate to get equipment back and running as quickly as possible. “The staff functions in much more of a team environment than you find in a lot of repair shops,” said Smith.  

A rapidly changing industry

Basic vehicle models now include advanced features and technology, and the industry is constantly evolving. “I try to keep up on new technology such as bus GPS and the automatic bus announcement system. Sometimes it is a challenge, but it’s fun,” answered Baughman.

“We really encourage continuous learning. Vehicles are much more complex and constantly evolving – the staff must keep up with these changes,” replied Pat Smith.

Allison Castro Aragon service writer and parts specialist has worked for the department for just over 3 years and described the challenges and benefits to working in a quickly evolving industry. “I feel like I am learning someth­­­ing new every day,” Castro Aragon replied. “Vehicles are different from 15 to 20 years ago – many are now all electric.”

Wilson emphasized the expertise of the technicians. “One of the most impressive things about our technicians are the number of certifications they possess. Each technician must possess and maintain at least 10 ASE certifications.”

We really encourage continuous learning. Vehicles are much more complex and constantly evolving – the staff must keep up with these changes.
Pat Smith, CAMBUS and Fleet Services maintenance supervisor


vehicles in the FY2021 university fleet

person wearing blue uniform and blue protective gloves stands in maintenance pit and inspects vehicle

Technician Jamie Watson using the vehicle inspection pit for easier access under a large vehicle

person stands in front of black and gold bus wearing blue maintenance uniform shirt

Andre Magalhães was promoted to student maintenance supervisor after gaining experience as a student driver and maintenance assistant.

person wearing white t-shirt with Hawkeye graphic opens large rectangular cardboard box

Service writer and parts specialist Allison Castro Aragon inspecting an order and part received from a vendor

person wearing blue uniform shirt half knees while using tool on bus repari

Technician Steve Baughman performing difficult repairs on a full-size bus

Student opportunities and development

When interviewing full-time technicians, they consistently emphasize the benefits of working with and mentoring student staff. There are 11 CAMBUS students employed as part-time maintenance assistants, and the students perform or supervise activities like fueling, cleaning, and minor repairs.

“If it weren't for the students, this organization wouldn't be what it is,” answered Watson. “I get to be a coworker, mentor, and a friend. I enjoy watching and helping the students develop the skills they need to become successful members of the workforce,” replied Watson.

The feeling is mutual from the maintenance assistants. “Becoming a CAMBUS student mechanic has expanded my teamwork and leadership skills. I enjoy the opportunities I have working alongside full-time mechanics, student mechanics, and coworkers,” said Kristina Dibert, student maintenance assistant.

“Every year they [full-time technicians] get new student mechanics, new drivers, and new support people. They answer the same questions and remain helpful and polite,” says student maintenance supervisor Andre Magalhães. “If I were to emphasize one thing, it would be how incredible our full-time technicians are. I can’t express my gratitude for them enough.”