Contra Costa College’s dean of its collision repair school Laura Salas had a great time at SEMA 2019 when her school was awarded a grant from the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) in addition to gaining national acclaim for her involvement in an all-female car build sponsored by Girls Garage.
Again this year, CREF awarded scholarships to students and grants to auto tech schools in order to support collision repair educational programs, schools, and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities.
A $5,000 grant from CREF will help the school, with the money that is already earmarked, Salas said. “We are going to use this money to apply epoxy to our laboratory floor, something that was much-needed. The grant will cover the materials and then during our winter break, we will do the work with our buildings and grounds people. Our floors get a ton of wear, so this money is timely and a pleasant surprise.”
To participate in the all-female build, Salas traveled to Girl Gang Garage in Phoenix, AZ. “I got the call, and had 24 hours to get there, she said. “We had just hosted a CREF Job Fair, so I was a little tired. But, I thought this is a big deal, so I went there and worked on the ‘High Yellow’ truck for three days.”
More than 50 women techs, painters and mechanics worked on the vehicle in shifts, which provided a great opportunity for Salas to work with some of the industry’s best. “I met more than a dozen women while I was working on this project,” she said. “I handled a few paint emergencies; prepped before polishing, did a little wet sanding and assisted with some minor mechanical issues.”
The producer of "Girls Garage," a reality automotive TV series, project director Bogi Lateiner was in charge of the SEMA build and oversaw every little detail to create an eye-catching vehicle. “Yes, we built a ’57 Chevy Pickup with a BMW S62 engine that was unveiled at SEMA at the BASF booth, but this build is about so much more than a car,” she said. “Gathering women from across the world of all skill levels, to send a statement that the automotive industry is a great place for a gal to be. We’re celebrating each other, we’re celebrating our passion for working on cars and we’ve built one helluva awesome car. But it doesn’t end there--the journey continues!”
Salas graduated from Contra Costa College's Automotive Collision Repair Technology Department in 2010 and was named the school's dean in 2016. Her full title is Collision Repair Faculty and Automotive Department Chair, a position her predecessor Peter Lock held for 36 years.
CREF Director of Development Brandon Eckenrode enjoys SEMA for many reasons, and giving tech schools money to improve their departments is one. “Our Benchmark Grant Program (formerly the Ultimate Makeover Grant) has been in existence for ten years,” he said. “We get a ton of applications every year and we spend a lot of time reviewing them all before we pick our recipients. In some cases, the money is designated for a specific purpose, like buying computers, equipment or improving their facilities.”
Girl Gang Garage Builds provide professional development for women in the trades, additional learning opportunities for newbies, and a consistent cadence of builds, according to their website.
At one point in her career, Lateiner was an outsider to the automotive industry, but today she is well-known as an advocate for young women entering the industry. After attending Universal Technical Institute, Lateiner went on to BMW factory training through the BMW STEP program and worked as a dealer technician for seven years. She then opened 180 Degrees Automotive in her driveway in 2006 and embarked on her mission of encouraging women, providing learning opportunities, and fostering connections between women of all ages and skill levels within the industry, she explained.
Today, Lateiner’s shop is called Bogi’s, where she is able to continue on her journey to help women in the industry. “The goal is to provide an environment where newbies and experts can come together, commiserate, contrast, and collaborate in the real world, hands-on learning opportunities,” she said.
In addition, Lateiner hosts the Automotive TV show “All Girls Garage,” is an industry spokesperson, teaches women’s car care classes, and performs shop evaluations for independent repair shops across the country.