When Cecilia Stevens was 14 years old, she did what many young teenage girls do. She followed her older sister’s example, which meant joining the Summer Exploration cosmetology program at Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Riverhead.
During the two-week course, Cecilia, now 17, learned something very valuable: Cosmetology wasn’t for her.
She wanted to attend the BOCES summer program again the following summer, and asked her mom for advice on what career to try next. Her mom suggested she try a field altogether different from cosmetology, something like automotive technology.
Turns out mother knows best.
Three years later, the Mattituck High School student is still active in a field she was initially nervous to pursue, especially since she knew boys would outnumber girls in class.
“Who knew you could just fall in love with something within eight short days?” said the Cutchogue resident, who goes by the nickname Ceci. “As soon as I stepped into the shop something kind of just changed about my attitude toward automotive.”
It was this changed attitude that inspired Ceci’s teacher, Michael O’Hara, to nominate her for the Vanguard Student Recognition Award presented by the Nontraditional Employment & Training Project at the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, University at Albany. This statewide award is given to four secondary education and four post-secondary education students who succeed in a career and technical education path considered nontraditional for their gender.
School counselor Caroline Boettcher said BOCES has nominated students many times in the past, but Ceci is the first to win.
Only two other girls are currently enrolled in the BOCES automotive technology program, Mr. O’Hara said, and about 40 boys between the morning and afternoon classes. Ceci said this stark difference made it difficult at first, as some of her classmates taunted her and didn’t take her seriously. But, she added, this only made her work harder.
Earlier this year, when her classmates were using their free time at an auto competition to relax, Ceci could be found reading an auto textbook. And at least once a week she spends an additional two hours after school working on cars in the shop and expanding her knowledge of the field, gaining respect from her peers.
“Honestly, I think it is [harder for women in auto] just because I remember being scared of being in an all-guy class because it does show, like, ‘Oh, look, you’re different from us,’” she said. “But eventually you kind of start working with the people and if you’re good at what you do and you know what you’re doing you realize that it doesn’t matter that you’re female … it takes a little bit longer to earn the trust of the people in the shop, but once you do that, it gets a lot easier.”
Today, Ceci is one of the program’s most promising students.
In addition to winning the Vanguard award, she is a member of the National Technical Honor Society, placed second in the SkillsUSA regional competition and the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association competition, served as a teacher’s assistant at the Automotive Technology Youth Summer Career Camp and has a paid internship at Lucas Ford in Southold through her participation in the Automotive Youth Educational System.
Mr. O’Hara said Ceci has also received numerous scholarships and job offers. She hopes to attend Ohio Technical College in Cleveland and study in the auto-diesel program. She said the scholarships she’s earned have put her only $7,000 away from a free ride.
Ceci doesn’t shine only in the automotive field, however. She’s an honor student at Mattituck High School, a longtime Girl Scout, an outfielder and former catcher for the MHS softball team and works at Krupski’s Farm and Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library. She’s also a volunteer firefighter with Cutchogue Fire Department.
“Ceci’s awesome,” Mr. O’Hara said. “She came in the summer career program and she started talking to me about Ohm’s law … and it was like a bright light shone down from heaven.”
Photo credits: Nicole Smith