While it is no secret that the automotive industry predominantly consists of males, three female students from the Ratteree Career Development Center are working to change that.
Karleigh Johnson, Jenaeh Jimenez and Brenda Chicas are all part of the automotive career development program at Ratteree. Students in this program receive a hands-on education as they explore the fields of automotive technology, diesel technology and collision repair.
Get to know each of these barrier-breaking trailblazers.
Johnson, a senior at Nimitz High School, has been around cars from a young age, so naturally this program caught her attention.
“I grew up around a lot of this stuff, so I’m used to being around it,” says Johnson. “I had a lot of friends who were part of the program, and when I saw what they got to do and how much fun they were having, I decided to join.”
The skills she has acquired from this program have allowed her to secure an internship at Toyota of Irving.
“At Toyota, I work on light hits, anything from small rear-end collisions or sideswipes, things like that,” says Johnson. “We have all the same equipment, resources and tools here [at Ratteree] as we do over at my job, so I’m very used to it.”
Johnson admits that occasionally she has encountered doubt from others who think she might be unable to do something, but she does not let that rattle her. Instead, she uses it as fuel to motivate her.
“You just have to keep going and ignore it. Sometimes, I get the urge to say something to prove them wrong, but at the end of the day I know that if I am better than them, then my work will speak for itself.”
As the old adage says, actions speak louder than words. Johnson recently received a gold medal for collision repair at the SkillsUSA District Contest and will represent her school at the state competition in Corpus Christi later this month.
“I definitely was not expecting first place, so that was a nice surprise,” she says. “I think that going into the competition and not stressing out over it allowed me to perform better than I did last year.”
In the future, Johnson hopes to keep proving the doubters wrong as she has big dreams in mind.
“I definitely want to stick with this industry. It’s something I really enjoy,” she says. “One day I hope to open my own shop and run my own business. I know it will be a lot of work, but it is definitely something that I want to do.”
Jimenez, a junior at MacArthur High School, has been enthralled in the automotive industry for as long as she can remember as her family members work in body shops.
“Being around that vibe piqued my interest, and as I got older and became aware of the programs available, I was interested in learning more,” says Jimenez.
When she decided to sign up for the program at Ratteree, Jimenez remembers hearing negative comments about why she would sign up.
“‘She’s probably just doing it for attention,’” Jimenez recalls other students saying. “But in reality, that wasn’t the case at all. This was something that I was passionate about and saw myself pursuing in the future.”
While she may have experienced some less-than-ideal comments from classmates, Jimenez has some powerful advice for other females looking to break into the industry.
“Go for it! Don’t let a guy bring you down,” says Jimenez. “If that’s what you want to do, then do it!”
Jimenez uses this level of attention and determination every time she welds something.
“I focus on where I’m going to weld, how much, how far, and I envision what the finished product needs to look like.”
In the future, Jimenez will break away from the family business of collision work, but she will not be too far removed.
“I want to continue welding, but I want to explore other avenues. There’s underground, piping, underwater, whatever it is, I want to go into welding,” says Jimenez.
Chicas, a senior at MacArthur High School, wanted to step foot in the industry after watching movies and seeing her dad work in his shop. Once she finished the auto tech course at Ratteree, Chicas discovered that they also offered welding and decided to give it a shot.
“Students taught me how to do it, and I got the opportunity to see how it worked. I fell in love with it,” says Chicas.
While she now has grown to have a passion for it, Chicas’ first experience with the welding machine wasn’t quite as smooth.
“I was scared!” Chicas says. “I had never seen the machine before, and I remember realizing that this was the equipment I would be working on. Seeing the sparks flying was a little frightening, but the more I practiced and got more comfortable with it, the better I became.”
Her teacher, Felix Cano, has been a big motivator along the way and has helped Chicas and all his students grow and improve.
“He always believes in us and consistently pushes us to be the best version of ourselves,” says Chicas. “But he also expects a lot from us. Perfection. He tells us to imagine if we were working on our mom’s or dad’s car. We would not want anything to be wrong with it that may cause an injury or an accident.”
In the future, Chicas hopes to branch out of the automotive industry and pursue a career in law.
“With my dad’s knowledge and his business career, I aim to one day open our own shop or our own learning center,” says Chicas. “Seeing what we do here and knowing that not every school offers this career path inspired me to want to expand it into other communities and possibly other states.”