Crashing through barriers: Mariana Garcia takes on the world of collision repair

Mariana Garcia stumbled across her love of cars by accident. Though she didn’t have prior experience in the field, taking vocational automotive classes seemed like a fun way to bypass regular classes. What she didn’t predict: breaking the mold as a Hispanic woman pursuing a career in collision repair.

It hasn’t been an easy road to get where she is today. Mariana works as an estimator with Gerber Collision after spending a few years working in an auto shop at a Ford Dealership in her hometown of Kendallville. In her current role, she acts as a liaison between customers and insurance companies after there’s been an accident.

“A lot of people request a man’s opinion,” she shares. “I run into that a lot, but my manager just backs me up.”

According to DATA USA, the collision repair industry is made up of more than 90% men. While those numbers cause unfair stereotypes for women, Mariana says men face them, too. She believes this can be a career for anyone.

“I would like for more people to see that you don’t have to be that stereotype. I think anyone should do it just cause it’s fun and something great to learn.”

Beyond public opinion, Mariana’s parents also weren’t interested in the idea of their daughter working with cars because it didn’t fit their cultural norms. She says her mother would be embarrassed to tell their family in Mexico about her passion. Mariana took a gap year after high school trying to convince herself to do something else, but her love for the automotive industry won out, and she ended up close to home at Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne.

Mariana joined the Automotive Technology program and specialized in Collision Repair. It’s a hands-on program that allows students to gain experience with the latest technology and builds proficiency in basic automotive maintenance. She says they went through everything from painting to body work. Mariana graduated with an A.A.S. in Automotive Technology in 2017 and was awarded a technical certificate in Auto Body Repair later that year.

Looking back, she’s grateful for the help of professors like Nick Goodnight, assistant department chair of Diesel Technology, Bob Huffman, department chair of Automotive Technology, and Jaron Grayless, former instructor and current manager at Gerber Automotive, who would take the time to sit down with her and other students one-on-one to go over questions they might have had about class material.

After working in the field for a few years, Mariana says what she learned at Ivy Tech prepared her for working in auto body shops, the front office, and could eventually boost her up to management, which is her goal. However, she aspires to be the best at what she’s doing now before she gets to that point, hoping to break the misconceptions some people have about the field.

“Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m accepted. But showing my work ethic and knowledge, I feel like they’re left speechless.”

Today, Mariana has her parents’ support. She says they think what she’s doing is “cool”. She hopes her story will inspire others who are thinking about going into the automotive industry to forget the stereotypes and take the leap. It’s a growing field that’s constantly in demand. To other women who think they might want to pursue a similar career, Mariana offers this advice:

“Be patient, be confident, and be okay with failing.”

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