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Jennifer Eklund Women in Automotive Technology Automotive Tech Program

Women's Success Stories



Age: early 40's, Hispanic
Instructional Lab Technician II
Employed by: Evergreen Valley College
Automotive Technology Department

"When I first started the program I was really nervous. It was a beginning class, and everybody was new to it. Eventually, I realized that the men were just as scared as I was. I thought they knew more than I did, but they didn't. They were just as nervous to talk to another woman. I finally realized that, and we got to be really good friends. We were all just learning. That was a thing to get over, thinking they knew more than I did."

Career Quick Look
Salary: $15-20/hour to start
Up to $25 with experience
Years in Field: 18 years Evergreen Valley College
Completes her A.S. degree in Automotive Technology
June 2008
City/State: Milpitas, California  

Getting Started: Diane Ontiveros was perfectly happy working in the auto loan department of a bank, until it closed its doors about the same time as she separated from her husband. With teenagers and no job, it didn't help that her car broke down often and she had to wait for her brother or brother-in-law to come help her. One day, she decided to take matters into her own hands and took a look at her car herself. "I started messing around with it and I got it started. I did it myself!" says Diane. "That was pretty cool."

She continued to maintain and repair her own car, and as her friends and family discovered her new-found talent, she began to work on their cars as well. "I felt good about it, I liked it, and I could do it. It wasn't actually for the money, although that was nice; It was because I needed to do things for myself at the time," says Diane. "That's when people started to say, 'you should go to school for that.'" She agreed, and in 1996 she began taking automotive courses at Evergreen Valley College.

Once she started school, she sought out part-time jobs in the automotive department and at a smog referee station which was renting space there. She loved the work and was able to transfer skills she had learned at the bank, such as bookkeeping and purchasing, to her new setting. Eventually, she obtained a job as an Instructional Lab Technician I, assisting students with labs during evening classes. In early 2008, she moved into an Instructional Lab Technician II position, which allowed her to work a day shift in the department.

Education: Diane graduated from high school in 1982, married soon after, and started her family. Eight years later, at the urging of her family and friends, she enrolled at Evergreen Valley College, taking courses in auto repair and maintenance. Diane recalls this as a challenging time of her life, since she was a single mother with three pre-teenagers at the time. She found EVC teachers like Dave Ames, Brad Bergholdt, and Mark Carey extremely supportive. They understood her situation and scheduling needs and helped her find part-time work on campus.

They also encouraged her through the courses she found more difficult, such as the electrical track. Diane's teachers took the time to work with her individually, went through the steps with her, and helped her find ways to remember things. "They were great," she says. Because Diane also works in the department, she has been able to observe the teachers at work on a regular basis and prepare herself to meet her eventual goal of becoming a teacher herself.

At first, Diane focused strictly on the automotive courses, since her goal at that time was to become a technician at an auto dealership. When she realized that she might eventually want to teach, she began to add general education courses as she was able. She is now finishing up her last two courses, and she will graduate with an A.S. degree in Automotive Technology in June of 2008.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Diane claims as her greatest achievement staying focused on her own professional goal to become a technician and complete her degree, while simultaneously getting each of her four children through high school. Working and attending classes while managing her parenting responsibilities was difficult, but she is proud to report that she is now taking her final two classes and will complete her degree in June of 2008.

Barriers: At times, Diane felt she had to prove to her teachers that she was serious about working in the field and succeeding. When she approached them with a question, she found that they took her more seriously if she had already thought through and prepared the background facts that they would need to be able to respond.

Working with Men: "When I first started the program I was really nervous," says Diane, who was the only female in her initial automotive classes. "It was a beginning class, and everybody was new to it. Eventually, I realized that the men were just as scared as I was. I thought they knew more than I did, but they didn't. They were just as nervous to talk to another woman. I finally realized that, and we got to be really good friends. We were all just learning. That was a thing to get over, thinking they knew more than I did." Eventually, Diane was able to partner up with another woman in her class. They offered one another mutual support and were often pointed out by their teachers as a positive example of teamwork.

"Try to overcome that awkwardness" of working with so many men, Diane advises. Diane has noticed one advantage she has as a woman: with her smaller hands, she is able to get into tight spaces that most men cannot.

Advice for Women: When Diane began her schooling, she didn't think she would need a degree, so she didn't take any general education courses. When she later realized that she was getting older and that she might want to teach at some point, she had to add in these courses. She wishes now that she had taken them earlier, and recommends that women entering this program take their general education courses along with their automotive classes.

Typical Workday/Environment: Diane's office is in a tool room located between two automotive labs in a garage-like setting at Evergreen Valley College. When she arrives in the morning, she has about an hour while students are in the lecture to organize tool boxes for the student labs, check supplies and equipment, make orders, etc. Then she is available during the three-to-four-hour lab to support students, provide them with tools, and respond to questions. She passes tools out through roll-up windows that open into the labs.

Once the students leave, she cleans up the lab areas, repairs cars that need routine maintenance, and does additional paperwork. She also maintains equipment, such as the hydraulic lifts. Each week, she attends a meeting of the department to hear department news and discuss current issues. Diane dresses as you would expect in a car repair setting: she wears an automotive shirt with the Evergreen Valley College logo, jeans, and sturdy shoes.

Career Ladder: Diane has already been promoted from the Instructional Lab Technician I position, which has evening hours, to the Instructional Lab Technician II position, which has daytime hours, more responsibilities, and a slightly higher salary. She sees this position as a natural stepping stone to a teaching position at the community college level, which she hopes to apply for once she has completed her degree and when an opening occurs. She expects that any initial opening would likely be during evening hours. She could also transfer her skills to another setting.

Professional Associations: Diane belongs to the union at her school, the California School Employees Association (CSEA). She also heads up the EVC Women's Auto Club.

Hobbies: In her free time, Diane enjoys spending time with her family, and taking vacations and camping trips together.


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