Sisters blaze the trail in UFV’s Heavy Mechanical program

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Two sisters from Agassiz have proven that women can excel in a program traditionally dominated by men. Through hard work, meticulous preparation, and natural skill, Melodie and Tanya Rempel are graduating with  Heavy Mechanical Foundations program certificates – and the respect of their instructors and classmates.

“Melodie and Tanya earned the respect of their classmates by providing an example of what engaged learning is,” says Don Weitzel, assistant professor. “They both were always near the top of the class in grades but would always go above and beyond in learning the course content. In the shop, everyone who was grouped with either Melodie or Tanya knew that if there were questions, the sisters would know the answer.”

The sisters grew up in a family that likes fixing vehicles. Their dad has done automotive repair. Their grandpa worked in a muffler shop and always has a car or truck he’s tinkering with.

“And my uncle can pull an engine apart and put it back together just like that,” Tanya says, snapping a finger.

Mechanics is in their blood, and Tanya proved it early on. In the first week of a 36-week program, students were challenged to sharpen a drill bit. She did it perfectly on her very first try.

“Some people took a couple hours to do it correctly,” Tanya says with a grin. “I took four minutes.”

Melodie says they felt the need to do things just a little bit better than the guys, to prove they belonged. She impressed through attention to detail, never settling for anything less than perfect work. If Melodie wasn’t working on a project, she was reading her textbook, or cleaning up the shop.

It was noticed.

“A lot of the students come from farming and mechanical backgrounds and knew more about machinery than we did coming in,” Melodie says. “There was stress not wanting to play into any stereotypes about women, but from day one the people here were amazing. The instructors were very, very supportive of us being in this trade because they know there’s a shortage of women in this program, and the trades in general.”

According to Weitzel, there are usually only two or three women per year in a class of 36.

Going through the program as sisters helped these women a lot.

“It was nice because we could share our struggles,” Tanya says. “But also, when we learned something new, we could celebrate together.”

Now they’ll be heading into the workforce, perhaps not together, but doing the same sorts of things. Melodie has already found part time work with a local business, coming in once a week to maintain, grease and pressure wash vehicles.

“It’s a step in the right direction, and one day soon I hope I’ll be able to work alongside a journeyman fixing things,” she says. “I like working on excavators, bulldozers, buses, and agriculture equipment, so I don’t know what I’ll eventually end up doing. But I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me.”

Tanya has yet to actually graduate high school, completing this program as an Regional Career Programs student.

“I’m not closing any doors at this point,” she says. “I just want to see what I’ll enjoy the most.”

From UFV Today, June 10, 2024

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