Two Gulf Coast teenagers whose families lost their homes and possessions in Katrina are among 100 students who won state contests to participate in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills national finals to be held here June 27. Each hurricane survivor teamed with a classmate at his high school to win a state challenge. James Wallace relocated from Pass Christian, MS, to the home of relatives in Clinton and will graduate from that high school this summer. John Boover completed his senior year while residing with his family in a FEMA trailer in Metairie, LA. Not only did Wallace and Boover weather one of the nation’s worst hurricanes, but they also survived the competitive road to Dearborn that began months ago, when more than 6,000 automotive technology students from across the country geared up for the local, state and finally the national championships. The Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition aims to encourage high school students to pursue careers in the automotive field, where there is a shortage of qualified, trained technicians, and to educate them about increasing career opportunities. In Dearborn next week, the finalists will square off in a two-part competition consisting of a written exam and a timed, hands-on portion where they will race to correctly diagnose and repair 50 identically “bugged” Ford Mustang convertibles outside Ford World Headquarters. The winners and the other nine highest-ranking teams will be eligible for a total of more than $6 million in scholarships and prizes, which are in addition to the Ford ASSET, FACT (Ford Accelerated Credential Training), and other scholarships won at the state level. “The additional training these young contestants will receive can open many doors for them at Ford and in our dealer network, paving the way to lucrative automotive careers,” said Frank Ligon, Director, Service Engineering Operations, Ford Customer Service Division. He added, “This is a great time to embark on an automotive service career. The already high demand for skilled workers will grow as the number of vehicles continues to rise, more alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles requiring new skills enter the marketplace, and older auto tech workers retire.” The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the auto industry will need 35,000 new technicians every year through 2010. Entry-level technicians earn approximately $30,000-$35,000 per year, and master technicians in some areas have annual salaries of between $70,000 and $100,000. AAA has been a sponsor of the Auto Skills competition since 1984. This is the 13th year Ford has co-sponsored the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills.