February 5, 2012
Story and photo by Brandon Steinert
Nikki Soloman of Great Bend has known cars her entire life, as both her parents were mechanics - she grew up in the pits of demolition derbies and race tracks surrounded by popped hoods and the lingo of mechanical diagnosis.
"I always loved helping my dad work on cars," she said.
So it may not come as a surprise to those close to her that she now holds an associate degree in automotive technology from Barton Community College, and is gainfully employed at Marmie Ford in Great Bend.
She started with nursing, but quickly changed directions after working as a CNA.
"I love it here," she said. "It's a great environment, and these are great people to work with."
She said Barton was also a good fit for her needs.
"I had a great time at Barton. I learned a lot," she said. "I got the benefits of a bigger college by learning everything I needed, but on a small campus. I liked it a lot."
Automotive Instructor Ron Kirmer said people can often times relate to woman when discussing service options than they can to men, and that women tend to have more attention to details as well.
“Work ethic is the most important thing when finding a job in the automotive field,” Kirmer said. “It takes someone who will come to work every day, someone that will apply themselves when at work and someone who is willing to learn and work hard.”
Though obtaining a degree and landing a job is an accomplishment in itself, the 2010 U.S. Census suggest Soloman's accomplishment is more than a means to an end – she is breaking right through a gender stereotype.
Only 1.6 percent of all automotive service technicians and mechanics in the United States were female in 2010.
This is a statistic associated with the stereotype that automotive workers "should" be male, Barton Sociology Instructor Ed Johnson said.
"Historically, some professions have been dominated by a certain gender for a long time, but at first it might have been for a good reason," he said. "Males are typically physically stronger than females, for example. But, even after that reason was no longer valid, the job continued to be gendered."
Johnson said Soloman's success is an encouraging sign that the number of employers viewing diversity as an asset is on the rise. He added that this shift has already taken place in many of the larger cities, but has been slower to catch on in rural areas.
Soloman said she did have concerns at first, but decided the risk of not finding work was worth pursuing her ambitions."I thought it would be hard to find a place that would accept me in this male dominated field," she said, "but luckily, it wasn't."