From left, Jessica Scolaro, Sara Taylor and Abriel Echols are three no-nonsense students seeking non-traditional careers in the automotive service industry.
First all-female team in DSC’s automotive certificate program
Abriel Echols loves puzzles and, to her, car engines are puzzles with a purpose.
“Being able to make a car push to its complete limit, knowing what to do to make it perform better, more efficiently and with more power; to be able to know that kind of stuff is just awesome,” said the 22-year-old second-semester student in Daytona State’s Automotive Service Technology program.
She and classmates Jessica Scolaro and Sara Taylor are the first all-female team in the college’s four-semester vocational certificate program, geared to prepare students for success on all eight Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) industry credentialing tests. Whether they’re poring over their training manuals or elbow deep in transmission fluid, these women are learning to become top auto mechanics while earning the respect of their counterparts in what is traditionally a male-dominated program.
“We typically put the students into teams of three, giving them project vehicles to work on together,” said Assistant Program Chairman John Tesauro. “These young ladies are amazing, and I have to tell you, I’m really proud of the guys in the class, too. Everybody steps up and helps each other.”
Taylor, 19, earned a culinary credential from Spruce Creek High School and, while she currently works as a salad-prep chef at a local restaurant, she now realizes her true passion lies in another field. “What I really enjoyed growing up was helping my stepdad and my grandfathers work on their cars,” she said. “When I told my mom that what I’d really like is to go into the automotive business, that I want to help people fix their cars, she told me she thought it was a good decision and was very supportive.”
Scolaro, 29, and a mother of three, became a teaching assistant after earning an associate degree in communications from the University of South Florida, Tampa. But her low wages kept her from economic independence. Her future was uncertain until a family conversation opened a new door. “My father is a mechanic in Deltona, and he started talking to my brother and me about someday wanting to retire and turn the business over to one of us,” she said. “Well, my brother wasn’t interested, so I figured that maybe I can do it. It just seems like the natural thing to do.”
Scolaro is doubling up on her studies, taking both daytime and evening classes at Daytona State’s Advanced Technology College. She plans to complete the automotive program in a shorter period of time and join her father in his business, learn as much as she can while updating the shop and help her father ease into retirement.
Echols envisions a promising career where she opens an auto-service business that specializes in catering to women. But as she and the team began checking fluid levels in her 1990 Honda Civic, she revealed a little secret that motivated her to enroll in the automotive program.
“I love to race,” she said. “But I kept blowing up my cars. I finally figured out that I better learn to fix them myself because I couldn’t afford to have someone else fix them for me.”
The three echoed Tesauro’s perspective on how their all-female team is viewed by the all-male teams in the class. “We all help each other,” Scolaro said. “Most of the guys have more experience working on cars when they come into the program. But we are a lot more book smart than they are. We learn the procedures by the book and we haven’t developed any bad habits when it comes to working on vehicles that some of them will have to break and learn to do things the right way.”
Their advice to other woman seeking a non-traditional career such as auto mechanics? “Don’t be discouraged if you’re the only female in the class,” said Taylor. “Everything will work out.”
Added Scolaro: “Make the choice and treat it like there is no turning back. Take notes, learn good study habits and remember this isn’t backyard mechanics. It’s important to make sure you’re learning how to do things the right way.”
Of course, Echols couldn’t help but show her competitive nature in her response. “There’s actually an advantage to being a female in a male-dominated program,” she said. “It makes you want to work harder to match up with them and be viewed as an equal.”