Choosing a career isn’t always easy.
For some, it’s a hit-and-miss process. Years fly by before they settle on the right thing.
But Kandice Shedd, 26, of Gastonia has known since she was a teenager what she wanted to do. Friends didn’t always understand why she dreamed of being a mechanic. It wasn’t the traditional choice for young women.
Yet Shedd knew in her heart this was the path she should take.
She’s in her second year now at Gaston College, studying to be an automotive technician. In the shop, she works on all kinds of vehicles: Little cars, mid-size models, monster trucks.
The grease and the grime are welcome. She’s in her element.
Shedd and three other local women are in the program with 86 men.
Mike Cloninger, head of the college’s automotive department, said that during the years, only a sprinkling of women have enrolled in the class. Not all female graduates go on to work as mechanics. Cloninger said the program “can lead to other things.”
He recalled one woman who went on to head the maintenance department at a major firm; another became a truck driver.
As for Shedd, Cloninger said, “she’s mechanically inclined, understands automotive systems and doesn’t mind working.”
Today’s automotive students not only need strong arm muscles, but the ability to think logically.
“The ones who survive are keeping up with technology,” Cloninger said. “Kandice is a good student. She hangs in there.”
Shedd’s connection with things mechanical goes back to childhood, when she played with her brother’s toy trucks.
But things really clicked at age 16 when she got her first car. Something was always going wrong with the gold, 1986 Nissan Stanza. A bad radiator, oil leak, obscure noises.
Her dad fixed many of the problems as she paid close attention.
Soon she started doing some of the work herself.
Shedd’s father passed along this bit of basic advice: make sure you know how to change a tire and check the oil.
At age 18, Shedd became a volunteer at the Dallas Rescue Squad. She considered getting into the paramedic field until she went on an emergency call to a scene where a woman had been struck by a vehicle on New Hope Road. Haunted by the victim’s screams, she dropped the idea of working as a paramedic.
“I couldn’t do it,” Shedd said.
That’s when she started thinking about an automotive career.
After graduating from Ashbrook High in 2004, she worked odd jobs to save money for college.
Then the big day finally arrived. When she first showed up at the Gaston College automotive class, she got a lot of funny stares from the guys.
While they looked on skeptically, she felt nervous. But Shedd said Cloninger took her under his wing.
As the days passed, the male skepticism turned to admiration when “they saw I could do something,” she said.
The big picture
Shedd’s approach to solving a problem with a vehicle is to “think about it first.”
“You’ve got to see the big picture,” she said. “And not be scared of the job.”
She thinks of herself as a doctor for vehicles.
These days, she drives a 1991 Honda Prelude. When there’s a problem – as there often is – she fixes it. Not just changing the oil or tires. She tackles the complicated stuff.
And if she does have to take the car to a garage, “I can’t be taken advantage of,” Shedd said. “I know what I’m talking about.”
Someday, she’ll probably work in a garage at a car dealership and eventually become a master mechanic.
But this is her dream job: opening a shop of her own.
“I’ll call it Shedd’s Shed,” she said. “Or something like that.”
Whatever the name, I wish her luck.