Waubonsee Community College auto body student, Melanie Thomas, has placed first three times in regional SkillsUSA competitions.
Melanie Thomas decided her senior year that she was going to take every automotive course offered at Marengo High School in Illinois.
“I wasn't the type of student who wanted to sit in the classroom and read about how to do something,” she said. “I wanted to get my hands dirty.”
Thomas said before learning about the collision repair courses from a friend, she had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to do after high school, and that she changed her mind constantly.
“I knew I didn't want to go to a four year school from the beginning, but I wanted to go for at least two years and decide from there,” she explained.
Thomas chose Waubonsee because she wanted to commute, and it was the closest community college to her home that offered an auto body program.
“I had heard about it from students who graduated from Marengo before me,” she said. “When I visited the school, I saw how great the shop looked and how all the students seemed to know what they were doing.”
Thomas said she enjoys her painting courses the most.
“I love being able to see what a car comes in looking like and being able to fix it and paint it myself,” she said. “I love getting to make the cars look brand new again!”
When it comes to challenges she’s faced thus far, Thomas said a lot revolve around her being underestimated or overlooked because she is a woman working in a predominantly male field.
“During school, some students would say I was only in the automotive classes for the boys, but that wasn't the case,” she recalled. “I was there to learn how to fix cars. I wanted to be able to do everything for myself and not rely on someone else to change my brakes or oil for me.”
Thomas added that “some business owners may not want to even consider hiring a woman, because they may be used to the idea that this is a men's industry.”