Brown's Automotive

He had stopped taking classes at SUNY Farmingdale, but Alex Gormandy was sure he wanted to get his degree.

He just wasn’t sure when, where, or how.

Now Brown’s Automotive has answered those questions for Gormandy —and 11 other employees at the dealership on Route 112 North Patchogue.

Brown’s and the Chrysler Corporation are footing the bill for online degrees at Strayer University.

Classes start Monday.

Gormandy, 23, a Diesel technician, was a driving force in the program’s implementation at Brown’s.

He had learned about a pilot program at Chrysler dealerships in the Southeast. He then did some research on Chrysler’s partner, Strayer, which offers online courses but also has campuses across the U.S., and huddled with a couple other employees before pitching the idea to Brown’s president, Gary Brown.

Germany said Brown was very receptive; he just wanted to get a broad commitment from the other employees before acting.

“When we heard that, the news spread like wildfire,” Gormandy said.

Brown said the initial response to an internal questionnaire among his 120 employees was overwhelming.

Those who have enrolled in the program thus far have diverse professional backgrounds — some are office workers, others are salespeople or technicians, others work in parts.

The classes they’ll be taking through Strayer run the gamut as well.

“It’s business, to technology, to nursing, to veterinary studies,” he said. “Of course people have asked, ‘Why would you support somebody looking to be a veterinarian? They’ll end up leaving.’

“I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he continued. “They have to be full-time employees, and if they’re taking classes for three or four years, then I know they’re going to be a good employee for at least that long. Plus, they’ll become smarter, better educated individuals in the process.”

Brown admits online classes aren’t for everybody.

“In some ways they’re harder,” than traditional classes, “because of that self-discipline factor,” he said, though he added he wouldn’t be shocked if some people can’t handle the extra demand on their time.

Brown’s Automotive is believed to be the only Chrysler dealer in the area offering free college tuition.

“It’s so exciting,” said Melissa Badillo, of Brown’s human resources department. “I can’t wait to see who our first graduation party is for.”

A huge chunk of the employees have expressed interest in the program, said Badillo. Some are just holding off on enrolling, for one reason or another.

“But where else are you going to get this opportunity? You can join the Army, or work at Brown’s,” she laughed. “For most of us, this isn’t just a job. We’re Brownies.”

As for Brown himself, he said the program has roots in Chrysler’s National Dealer Council, which he chaired when the dealers first started talking about ways to attract and retain talent a few years back. They came up with a tuition assistance solution.

Not long after, talks between the dealers, Chrysler and Strayer, began. Then the pilot program was rolled out.

“I’m excited and highly supportive of helping our employees better themselves,” Brown said.

Considering most of the employees live in the area, he also looks at the program as an investment in the larger community.

For Gormandy, he said many of the jobs within Chrysler or Brown’s that he’d be interested in require bachelor’s degrees. He’s got about 35 credits to go before he earns his.

“If we want to do something for Chrysler Corporation, or even to become a manager — that would be good — you need the degree,” he said. “This is fun for now, but it’s backbreaking.”

Photo: Technician Alex Gormandy and Brown’s president Gary Brown on Tuesday. (Michael White)