Jessica Suda knew that SIUC's automotive technology program was in her destiny during student move-in day in August 2008, when she noticed now-department chair Michael Behrmann carrying a large stuffed lion from her dad's truck up into her University Hall residence hall.
That "shameless kind act" still brings a smile when Suda, who herself is now an assistant professor in the program, recalls the moment. Whether it's carrying stuffed animals, making sure students understand course material, hauling vehicles to car shows, or meeting with industry partners to secure nearly $500,000 in donations annually, Behrmann "is the consummate ambassador for all of SIU," according to another colleague.
That dedication puts Behrmann in the spotlight as the 2020 recipient of the E.J. and Mary C. Simon Distinguished Faculty Award for the College of Applied Sciences and Arts. E.J. Simon was dean from the college's inception in 1951, until his retirement in 1970. Both he and his late wife, Mary C. Simon, remained strong supporters of the university and the college.
The Simons left a "powerful imprint at SIU" and the award carries with it "responsibility in continually accelerating forward," said Behrmann, who donated the award monies to SIU for student support.
"It touches me for being selected amongst so many exceptional people. In earning the award, I look back to those that came before me and gave so much. It is because of them that I even had this opportunity," Behrmann said. He added he could not have the fulfilling career he's enjoyed without the understanding, support and love from his wife, Chris and daughter, Jill.
Suda nominated Behrmann and said the "strong impression" of Behrmann deeply caring for each student success both in and outside the classroom continues to resonate.
Arthur Ross, a May 2020 automotive technology graduate, was involved with the Automotive Technology Organization while on campus. He noted Behrmann took time even while program director and associate dean of academic affairs to drive the club's truck, trailer and race car to an event in Springfield, Illinois or attend club racing events, even in other states.
Ross noted that Behrmann is regularly recruiting students to the program and works late nights, early mornings and weekends in the Transportation Education Center.
"Every time he is in the building his office is open, for whatever you need," Ross wrote.
Behrmann said many people have helped him during his time at SIU and that "even the smallest thing can make a big difference."
"Here in automotive, everyone works together, students, instructors, and staff alike," Behrman said. "Whether it be helping students move in, face a new challenge, or just day-to-day activities, we all help when needed. Each of us realizes the importance of supporting, mentoring, and taking the time to give guidance."
Behrmann has been department chair since 2010 and spent more than 35 years with the nationally recognized automotive program as a student, instructor, and assistant and associate professor. He earned an associate degree and bachelor's degree from SIU and followed with a master's degree in workforce education and development. He also has more than 2,000 hours of automotive industry certified training.