Maurine Simons didn’t set out to be a trailblazer. She merely aspired to work with airplanes. However, the 33-year-old from Washington state, through twists of fate, has emerged as a torchbearer for female school bus technicians nationwide.
Last fall, Simons entered the America’s Best School Bus Inspector and Inspector Skills and Training Competition held during the NAPT Summit. In doing so, she became the first female competitor in the event's history. She proved to be a tough competitor, holding her own against her counterparts. While she didn’t emerge from the contest in the top spot, she wasn’t entirely disappointed. She left Richmond, Virginia, with a clear goal: Return and win.
Since 2012, Simons has used school bus mechanic competitions “as an opportunity to test my skills and learn something new, and network with other mechanics in the field.”
She has been a school bus mechanic at the South Kitsap School District outside Seattle for six years. She reported that although this latest turn of events has been an amazing stroke of luck, she originally wanted to be an aircraft mechanic, but “there was not a school close by that was an affordable option for me, so automotive was as close as I could get.”
Simons graduated in 2008 with an associate's degree in automotive technology from Olympic College in upstate Washington, only the second woman to complete the program. She started working at the local GM dealership and was also hired as an adjunct professor at Olympic College teaching Automotive 101. She soon left both these positions and began working at South Kitsap as a substitute mechanic.
The district quickly realized that they had a talented mechanic on their hands and hired Simons to a permanent position. She says the transition into this profession has been both laidback and stressful, as with any new job. Yet, Simons found certain aspects a bit nerve-wracking, mostly due to a lack of diversity in a field that remains male-dominated.
But while female mechanics are uncommon, Simons says her male colleagues have never made her feel inadequate or inferior in her skills.
“I will never be one of the boys and don't want to be. We have made a family out of our workplace and I enjoy going to work every day, because of my coworkers," she said. “I am blessed to be working in a smaller shop with a family-like atmosphere to it. We all work together using the strengths of each other to improve our skills.”
As for how it feels to be opening doors for other female technicians, Simons said she has found the role slightly overwhelming at times, since she sees herself as just another mechanic. Yet, she knows that there is still a lot of work do to. The field, though, appears to be evolving quickly.
“I hope to one day to not be the first female to do something, but in the meantime, I’m happy that I have not been met with resistance but with excitement and praise for doing something outside the norm, a willingness to help, and the ability to just be another mechanic doing the job of making sure students are transported safely,” said Simons.
Simons does have advice for all those future female mechanics, believing that some of the barriers that women must overcome when entering this field can transform them into great technicians.
“You have to be willing to step into a male-dominated field not trying to be one of the boys, but showing them the skills that you can bring to the table are just as valuable as the skills they have. Be willing to share knowledge and be willing to accept help or ask for it. This does not make you any less of a mechanic. It makes you a stronger one. Be able to accept your weaknesses and share your strengths,” she said.