A young man, dark hair and glasses. Wearing a black button up shirt that says SIU Carbondale on the left chest. He is standing if front of racks that hold automotive transmissions

Nathan Bulthuis, a junior in automotive technology in SIU Carbondale’s School of Automotive, stands with a row of transmissions. Bulthuis will represent the United States in the 2024 WorldSkills Competition in September. (Photo by SIU Carbondale University Communications and Marketing)

April 29, 2024

SIU Automotive student to show off skills in international competition

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Since he was a child, Nathan Bulthuis has been “taking stuff apart and working with my hands.” That acumen will allow Bulthuis, a junior in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Automotive, to show his skills on an international stage this fall.

Bulthuis will represent the United States in automotive technology at the 2024 WorldSkills Competition, Sept. 10-15, in Lyon, France. The 47th annual contest is expected to bring more than 1,500 contenders from more than 65 countries to take part in 62 skills challenges, including construction and building technology, creative arts and fashion, manufacturing, engineering, transportation and logistics. He is one of nine members — the only one in automotive technology — on the 2024 WorldSkills USA team.

“Being selected for the United States WorldSkills team is an amazing opportunity to not only represent the country but also SIU Carbondale in international competition,” said Bulthuis. “It also provides an excellent opportunity to learn about other cultures and other strategies for designing and servicing vehicles.”

Bulthuis, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in automotive technology in May 2025, transferred to SIU Carbondale last fall after earning an associate degree in automotive service technology from Joliet Junior College. The Lockport Township High School graduate from Homer Glen was the Illinois state gold medalist in spring 2023 and won the national title in automotive service technology in August representing Illinois, just prior to starting classes at SIU.

Bulthuis said his first experiences working on cars were with his dad doing small jobs such as brake and oil changes. He took his first formal automotive class when he was a sophomore in high school.

“That is when I first started to consider a career in the automotive industry,” he said.

Training for the international stage

Capturing the two earlier titles helped Bulthuis “understand how I react to the pressure and stress of competition. The competition also helped me understand the areas where I need to focus my training.”

The contest in France will consist of five sections spread over three days and is “designed to test almost every skill a technician would use, particularly diagnostic process, attention to detail and time management,” Bulthuis said.

During the winter break, Bulthuis went to Pittsburg (Kansas) State University to train with automotive instructors there “who ran me through some stations that were set up to emulate the WorldSkills competition as closely as possible,” Bulthuis said. He will also be working closely with Drew Croxell, SIU’s program director, to develop and execute a training plan to help prepare.

‘Easy choice’ to attend SIU

After graduating from Joliet Junior College, attending SIU Carbondale’s nationally recognized automotive program was an “easy choice,” Bulthuis said.

“As much as I loved working on cars, it was not something that I wanted to do every day for the next 40 years,” he said. “Attending the automotive program at SIU Carbondale provided more opportunities on the management and corporate side of the automotive industry.

“The SIU Automotive program has definitely lived up to its well-deserved reputation as one of the best schools for automotive technology. There have been a lot of opportunities presented by attending the automotive program at SIU, and I look forward to exploring all the opportunities offered.”

Croxell said Bulthuis is “talented, sharp and is driven to succeed at the competition and represent SIU Automotive.”

SIU’s competitive admissions program has 310 students. Each year, dozens of transfer students with completed associate degrees seek to continue at SIU for their bachelor’s degree. The caliber of students the program receives “means our unique, four-year automotive degree is attracting top talent statewide and nationally,” Croxell said.

“We have the reputation of being the best program in the country, and those striving to be their best, will often see our program for the rich educational experiences and career opportunities.”

(Editor’s note: Bulthuis is pronounced Bul-tice)