An Important Impact
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of female mechanics has slowly increased from 1.4% to 2.1% between 1999-2018. While the growth of female mechanics may be a recent trend, ladies have made an impact in the automobile industry for over a century.
• During World War I, women drove ambulances and other vehicles for the Red Cross in Europe. They had to furnish their own cars and were also expected to maintain them.
• Mary Anderson invented the first windshield wiper in 1902.
• Alice Ramsey became the first woman to drive coast to coast.
• Silent film star Florence Lawrence designed the first turn signal, called an auto signaling arm, that attached to a car’s rear fender.
Auto mechanics and nursing are two diverse career paths, but Nursing Director Cindy Blacketer, MSN, RN, has enjoyed both careers in her lifetime. Cindy, age 44, holds the title of Master ASE Mechanic, the highest level in the profession, and in May she obtained her master’s degree in nursing. Not bad for someone who didn’t like school as a child.
Growing up, Cindy’s dad, Jim, encouraged independence and confidence in his three daughters, Cindy, Tina and Jamie. He believed they should learn to fix the things they used, including the four wheelers and dune buggies they drove on the weekend.
Cindy naturally gravitated to mechanical tasks and delighted in repairing things, especially her mom’s household items. “I liked to tear apart the toaster and iron and put them back together,” Cindy laughed. “Something would break, and I would fix it for my mom, so she didn’t have to buy a new one.” As a teenager, Cindy delighted in helping her grandfather, Don, restore a 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe that she owns today (pictured above).
In high school, Cindy found her niche with auto repair classes at the local vocational-technical school. After high school, she continued training as a mechanic. Along the way, she proved herself time and time again to her male counterparts.
At automotive school, she was the only woman in the classroom. Words like powertrain, hydraulics and combustion engine became second nature. “There were tough days and sometimes tears, but the experiences made me bold, strong and happy with myself,” Cindy said. She graduated with an associate’s degree in automotive repair and in diesel technology.
As she started her mechanic career at local dealerships, once again, she worked among an all-male crew. And, when General Motors selected her for an elite training program, she shared the classroom with only men, including the man who would be her future husband. Dennis and Cindy married in 1997 and even incorporated automobile lingo in their vows with, “Love, honor and help bleed brakes.” Cindy explained before they were married they were bleeding brakes (which takes two people) on their wedding car: the 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe.
In 1996, Cindy and Dennis graduated from the GM program and Cindy became the first woman in the nation to be GM certified for automotive and diesel repair.
Throughout her automotive career, some of Cindy’s on-the-job stories make her laugh and some aren’t so funny, like the time a man took his car from the dealership when he discovered Cindy was the mechanic. He later returned and asked her to make the repairs (she declined).
The experiences that make her smile are when her smaller hands came in handy to help a coworker access a car’s dash. Or, when her fellow mechanics razzed her about wearing gloves to keep her hands clean. Later, they started wearing gloves. “Every time I started at a new shop, the HR staff would talk to the guys about sexual harassment, and they would be afraid to talk to me for a few days,” Cindy explained.
Cindy always appreciated the support of her bosses and coworkers. “Once I gained their respect, I became one of the guys,” she said. “Sometimes they called me their little sister.”
A New Challenge
Cindy transitioned from her 15-year career in the automotive industry after 9/11 when the industry became more competitive and less profitable. Her sister, Jamie Rogers, RN, a nurse on 10th Floor Pavilion, convinced her to try nursing. Cindy loved her new profession and never looked back.
As a nurse, she enjoys when she can connect her seemingly diverse careers. She remembers one patient, a 90-year-old farmer, who didn’t understand his condition. “I told him, ‘It’s like when your tractor is out of time and it doesn’t run properly. It spits and sputters. This is your heart. The doctor wants to time it. I heard him on the phone later telling someone, ‘They want to time my heart. I don’t know why they didn’t say that in the first place.’”