Washington State Community College mechanics student breaks auto industry mold

Photo by Peyton Neely Brittany Reed, 20, of Williamstown, grinds valves for a truck during her diesel mechanics class.

MARIETTA — It’s a profession that has few women, but that’s never discouraged 20-year-old Brittany Reed from pursuing her passion for fixing cars.

Working with her father inspired the interest and now Reed is pursuing a degree in auto diesel mechanics at Washington State Community College.

“Honestly, my senior year in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do or go to school for,” said Reed. “In today’s world, you need a degree in just about anything to get a job so I chose the easiest thing for me.”

The Williamstown resident said she’s always loved vehicles and working on them. She attended the Wood County Technical Center in Parkersburg and studied auto body and later worked in a collision repair shop. Reed said the work comes naturally to her, although it’s not without a few challenges.

“Some things are super hard to do,” she said. “I can’t exactly lift a whole lot of heavy things because I’m little.”

Reed said aside from physical work, the biggest challenge are getting her name out there to eventually find a job at an automotive shop, and of course, being a woman in a man’s world.

Fewer than 2 percent of auto mechanics are women, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Everyone has their own views on women being in a man’s workforce,” said Reed. “Most old-timers will look at you like you don’t belong in the shop and even some younger ones. Men think that way but it’s all about how you come across to people and how you show your value.”

In the classroom, Reed’s skill and desire for the industry earned her recognition as January’s Student of the Month at Washington State Community College.

“I don’t even look at her gender but rather her ability,” said Auto Diesel Assistant Professor Jeffrey Starkey. “She goes above and beyond in the classroom and she never turns her back on a challenge. Her communication skills with writing and speaking are excellent and her ability to show attention to detail will help her succeed.”

As part of a requirement for class, Reed must maintain a weekly blog reflecting her learning experience in the industry. Recently, her blog received national attention from the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation and Luscious Garage, a female-owned service center in California that has been featured in publications such as The New York Times.

“There are instances with non-traditional students that are leveling out the playing field and this is one,” said Starkey. “We live in a dramatically changing world now.”

Her classmates said they don’t see her as anything other than another student. Dalton Shaffer, 21, of Belle Valley, said he forgets she’s female.

“She’s just like anybody else,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter that she’s a girl. She’s just as good as any of us guys.”

Reed is enjoying an internship at McMahon Truck Center in Marietta, and has long-term aspirations to move West and expand her skill in performance vehicles and race top-performance dragsters.

“It’ll always be harder for me to get a job because I’m a girl but I will prove my worth in the diesel world,” she said.

“Some people have become more accepting the longer you’re around and some people couldn’t care less and treat you exactly how they would treat any other mechanic.”