Lois J. Gray, College of Education, 319-335-5347
Revving up his career
Revving up his career
Revving up his career
As Daniel Nikolai Paulsen Peters shines the surface of a burgundy colored Altima, he rattles off some of the car’s features.
“It’s got touch-screen navigation, a CD player, air vents, a horn, a key fob, everything you need,” says Peters, 27, a 2010 graduate of the University of Iowa’s REACH (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes) Program, who landed his dream job as a lot attendant at Iowa City’s Carousel Nissan in fall 2012.
Peters’ passion for cars inspires him to go to work each day, and he credits the UI REACH Program for helping him achieve this goal.
The REACH Program, located in the UI College of Education, is a two-year certificate program for students with multiple intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities.
Launched in the fall of 2008, REACH was one of the first programs of its kind at a major public university. Since the program began admitting students, 75 students have graduated, with 64 receiving the two-year certificate and another 11 being third-year option graduates.
The students come from nearly 20 states, and BestCollegesOnline.com recognized the REACH Program in 2011 on its list of “20 Incredible Colleges for Special Needs Students.”
The REACH philosophy focuses on helping students become independent and learn to make positive life choices.
Peters is doing both.
A lifelong curiosity about cars and an internship at Whitedog Auto while in the REACH Program helped cement Peters’ decision to pursue a career with cars.
Ready for a new challenge
One of Peters’ friends through his church knew he was looking for a new job. Peters had worked part-time for eight years at Hy-Vee, and was ready for a new challenge.
“My friend knew that I wanted to work in a car dealership so he asked around and turns out Carousel Nissan had an opening,” Peters says.
As a lot attendant, Peters does everything from conducting inventories of cars on the lot to doing odd jobs like picking up trash and putting gas in new vehicles.
“I’ve always loved cars, and I have always wanted to get a job related to cars,” Peters says. “So it’s a good fit.”
He adds that he also likes the routine and the fact that the job isn’t physically demanding.
He works four days a week (he gets Thursdays off), and averages about 20 hours a week. His workday typically starts at 11 a.m., though his end time varies from 2:30 to 6 p.m. depending upon the workflow. He’ll work an occasional Saturday.
When new cars come into the dealership, Peters peels off the protective wrapping, drives them before they’re titled to ensure they are working properly, fills them with gas, and takes them to the detail department.
He also fills out paperwork on the vehicles and shines up the cars in the showroom, removing smudges and fingerprints. If the sales guys are hungry, he’ll grab lunch or run other errands for them.
“I do whatever the salespeople don’t have time to do,” Peters says. He adds he enjoys bantering with his co-workers, whether about their weekend plans or the weather.
Car connoisseur known as ‘The Vault’
“He’s a great team member, a hard worker, conscientious, and very dependable,” says Ken Williamson Jr., dealer principal and general manager of Carousel Nissan, “all things we need for the job he does. He also does a lot of car lot management, and he has a real passion for cars. We enjoy having him here.”
—Brian Campbell, REACH transition program specialist
That enjoyment is mutual. Peters has also gotten to know a lot about the Nissan lineup during his tenure, adding that his favorite car in the Nissan family is the Maxima with a double sunroof.
“Our smallest car is called the Versa—it’s a little hatchback,” Peters says, “and our biggest vehicle is the Armada, which is an SUV. I think I’ve driven about every vehicle Nissan has.”
He’s so knowledgeable, in fact, that co-workers think of him as a car connoisseur. Peters’ nickname is “The Vault,” since he can store so much information about cars in his head.
He’s also gotten to know the atmosphere of the dealership, and says he enjoys the diverse genres of music in different departments.
“Depending on what building you’re in, the background music changes wildly,” Peters says. “In the showroom, you’ve got Top 20 hits. Out back, you’ve got every thing from borderline pop music to hardcore rock, and if you go to the detail department, it’s all hardcore rock. It’s like a dance club back there.”
‘Good to be a spare hand,’ giving back to community
Since the REACH Program also strives to develop well-rounded citizenship, civic engagement and volunteering are important parts of Peters’ life.
Brian Campbell, REACH transition program specialist, says that many of the program’s alumni are active community members and volunteer their time in local organizations. In fact, currently 79 percent of UI REACH alumni are employed and/or pursuing continued education.
“While attending UI REACH, one of the important concepts that students learn is that of community,” Campbell says. “They learn the importance of being engaged in the community—as citizens, workers, friends, volunteers, and contributors. Communities can be large or small. Communities with active, caring members create positive environments for everyone. Daniel is a perfect example of this.”
Peters is active in his church and also volunteers each Thursday at the Antique Car Museum of Iowa in Coralville on his day off from Carousel Nissan.
“It’s a very different atmosphere because there are no deadlines, and you’re not trying to make a sale or rushing to do something,” Peters says.
While there, he helps the mechanic, shares history about the cars with people taking tours, or occasionally moves a car out of the collection.
He’s memorized the entire car collection as well as categorized car magazines that date back to the 1950s.
“I think it’s good to be a spare hand because they can’t do it all themselves,” Peters says.
Peters credits the REACH Program for helping him with his career success, especially gaining patience and strengthening interpersonal and communication skills.
“I’ve learned how to give five minutes to people that I normally wouldn’t give any time,” Peters says, “and living with different cultures and just trying to keep my sanity.”
He also learned to drive while in the REACH Program and got his license when he was 21, an achievement of which he’s particularly proud.
Most exciting, Peters says, is his recent transition from living with his parents to sharing a condominium with a roommate, whom Peters describes as “a fiercely independent elderly man” who has been blind since infancy.
“REACH also helped prepare me because I never had to share a room growing up,” Peters says. “Having a roommate at college was a huge culture shock for me.”
Peters adds that he’s learning to communicate in different ways with his roommate since communication often involves nonverbal gestures.
“And I didn’t realize how often I used colors in my language, so I’ve had to find different ways to describe details to my roommate,” Peters says.
He’s also learning to manage a budget, paying $220 a month for rent and utilities.
The timing was perfect, Peters says, because his parents are moving in August to Helsinki, Finland, for 10 months because his father, John Peters, a UI professor of communication studies, will be on a fellowship overseas.
In his free time, Peters enjoys biking and playing Ultimate Frisbee, and he collects silver dollars.
His ultimate dream is to retire when he’s 46 and move to rural Wyoming and find and repair used cars as a hobby. But in the meantime, Peters says he loves his job and hopes that it will eventually become a full-time position.
“I’ve had a lifelong love affair with cars,” Peter says. “This job gives me the chance to do what I love.”