- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) - With her long curly hair, dramatic but elegant makeup and perfect posture, Bianca Garcia appears every bit the beauty queen. Until she starts talking about running diagnostics on a faulty engine or scavenging the junkyard with her grandfather, Ambrose Garcia.

That’s when Garcia, a first co-attendant to the 2016 Fiesta Queen, sheds her demur veneer and lets her true passion show. The 23-year-old college student is about halfway through a degree in automotive technology from Pueblo Community College. She also plans to complete a business degree at Colorado State University-Pueblo, reported The Pueblo Chieftain (https://bit.ly/2fkTjaO).

If that sounds ambitious, you should hear her end game.

“Automotive is my calling,” Garcia. “I want to eventually own my own shop, so I want to do everything.”

Automotive upbringing

It started when Garcia was a small child. Her grandfather, to whom Garcia was close, would shuttle her to the scrap yard to scavenge for automotive parts or take her to the garage to help work on the family vehicle.

When Ambrose died in 2004, Garcia temporarily set down the wrench. Until her mother, Rosemarie Valdez, met Jason Valdez. The couple married, and Garcia found another mentor and advocate for her automotive interests.

“When my stepdad came into my life, it filled that void,” she said. “We’ve built cars together. I feel like my grandpa placed him here.”

She maintained her automotive interest throughout her high school years, but focused on more traditional academic pursuits. After graduating from Central High School in 2012, Garcia enrolled at CSU-Pueblo to study medical technology.

It turned out to be a less-than-perfect fit.

“I kind of took a step back and decided automotive is more of a passion,” she said. “I took one of those placement tests and it was either accounting or automotive.”

Anything boys can do …

Statistically, anyway, the automotive industry is a man’s world.

Catalyst, a global nonprofit geared at accelerating women’s roles in the workplace, released numbers this year related to women in the automotive industry. The May study found that, although women represent nearly half of the U.S. labor force, they are only about a quarter of the cumulative automotive workforce.

And, of the 26.7 percent of female-held automotive jobs, only 7.3 percent of those positions are women mechanics and maintenance employees.

Even for Garcia, those numbers were daunting.

“At first, I didn’t think it was something I could do because I was a woman in the field,” she said.

Then came a change of heart.

“A woman can do anything a man can do,” Garcia said. “It should never define who you become.”

James Cordova, department chair of PCC’s automotive program, said developments both in the vehicles and in the equipment required to work on them have evened the playing field. For example, gone are the days of hefting tires and rims that, cumulatively, could outweigh a petite woman like Garcia; replaced instead by dollies that bear the brunt of the weight.

“The technology is advancing so fast,” Cordova said. “It’s not a male-dominated industry. There is a lot of room for women in this industry.”

Female graduates of the program have gone on to work in shops throughout the region, he said, and their attention to detail has led some employers to actively recruit female technicians. And in the rare instance that a skeptical male student “comes in thinking (he) knows everything, we pair him up with a female to watch and learn,” Cordova said.

“Whatever a man can do, a woman can do,” he said. “Sometimes even better.”

Mechanical queen

Garcia is one of a handful of women currently studying automotive technology at PCC. And she said the men in the classroom and labs have been largely supportive.

Although she did laugh when describing the general response she gets when she details her career ambitions to others.

“It’s more of a shock factor,” she said. “When I was doing pageants, it was ‘oh, she’s such a girly girl.’”

She entered the Fiesta Queen pageant, she said, to inspire other young women to step outside of the career box and pursue their passions.

“I always felt like (the fiesta queen) was the perfect role model,” she said. “I have female friends who are welders, engineers. I want them to see you can do anything you want to do.

“I’m just a girl who grew up in Bessemer who is trying to give back to the community that gave her so much.”

“I like to see hard-working women coming into the program,” Cordova said. “When she comes into class, she puts on her work uniform and gets down to work just like everybody else.”

It’s been quite the road from the humble foundation of Ambrose Garcia’s garage. His granddaughter became introspective when asked what he would have thought of her barrier-breaking ambitions.

“I think he would be proud of the fact that I did something I wanted to do with my life,” Garcia said.

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Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, https://www.chieftain.com

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