San Jac Certified: retiring diesel technology instructor recalls fond memories

06.18.2014 | By Rob Vanya

Veteran educator Don Clayton, shown in the San Jacinto College diesel technology lab, will soon retire after serving as a diesel technology instructor for the College for 27 years. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.


QUESTION: After serving as a diesel technology instructor for San Jacinto College for 27 years, you are retiring soon. What are your retirement plans?

DON CLAYTON: I will miss everything about San Jacinto College, but as John Wayne said in the Rooster Cogburn movie, I will be “retired, relieved, and rejoicing.” I like to travel, and I am a World War II history buff, so I plan to visit some key World War II sites, such as Normandy, Utah Beach, and Saint-Mere-Eglise.

Q: What are some of you fondest San Jacinto College memories?

CLAYTON: I have served under four chancellors – Dr. Tom Sewell, Dr. Jim Horton, Dr. Bill Lindemann, and now Dr. Brenda Hellyer. I have fond memories of each one. Each one was a very good leader, and I think Dr. Hellyer is an exceptionally good leader. Dr. Gary Friery (North Campus dean of business and technology) is my role model. He designed, developed, and recruited for the diesel technology program, so he is the real reason for the program’s success. When he hired me, he said the program would be successful if I would follow his recommendations. That’s why I have always tried to follow his orders to the letter. I also like to recall the way the diesel technology program has developed and grown through the years. When I joined the College in 1987, the future of the program was uncertain, and now it is regarded as one of the premiere diesel technology programs in the nation. The program has graduated approximately 7,000 students, and our graduates have good jobs all over the world – Germany, Peru, China, Mexico, Yemen, Iraq, Kuwait, and others.

Q: Speaking of jobs, I understand the diesel technology program has an outstanding job placement rate. How high is it?

 CLAYTON: Yes, during the last five years the job placement rate for our graduates has been 96 percent, and during the last two years the job placement rate has been 100 percent. Many of our students are hired while they are in college before they even graduate.

Q: To what do you attribute the high job placement rate?

 CLAYTON: There are several reasons. One reason is that diesel technology is such a hot job market in the Houston area. The Houston area is not able to fill the need for qualified diesel technicians, and the demand is increasing all the time. Another reason is that our program has partnerships with key diesel companies such as Cummins Southern Plains, Detroit Diesel, Eaton-Fuller, Stewart & Stevenson, and others. Another reason is that San Jacinto College has a solid reputation of providing quality, well-trained graduates that a company can hire knowing that they are getting someone who will be ready to go right to work. We set very high standards and we only recommend graduates who we know are well prepared.

Q: Diesel technicians are paid well, but is the technical side of your program difficult to learn?

CLAYTON: The technology of diesel engines has improved so much, and is continually becoming more and more computerized. That’s a good thing, because young people these days are born with a cell phone in one hand, and a computer in the other, so many of our incoming students seem to pick it up without too much trouble because they are used to technical devices. But, a good diesel technician does need to learn some math principles, things like calculating gear speed for example.

 Q: I understand several colleges that want to launch diesel technology programs have visited the College and model their programs after the San Jacinto College program. Please name some of the colleges.

CLAYTON: A community college from the Houston area recently sent representatives here to learn about our diesel technology program. I also recently got a call from a college in New Orleans that wants to model our program. Jones County Junior College in Mississippi modeled their program after ours. Southwest Texas Junior College modeled their program after ours. Lakeland Community College (near Chicago) modeled their program after ours.

Q: Why did those colleges choose San Jacinto College as a model diesel technology program?

CLAYTON: I think it’s largely because our program maintains strong partnerships with respected industry leaders through our advisory committee, and industries like Detroit Diesel recommend San Jacinto College as a model program. Our advisory partners help us keep up with industry trends and developments and new technology. Our classrooms and lab also feature computer-driven curriculum, state-of-the-art engines, and other new equipment so our students receive the best training possible.


Clayton serves as the lead diesel technology instructor at the San Jacinto College North Campus. He grew up in Saint Jo, a small town north of Dallas. Clayton holds a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies from Abilene Christian College, and a master’s in occupational education from the University of Houston. He lives in Baytown, and has two adult sons.


About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 credit students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career and workforce preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College. For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit, or follow us on Facebook.