Training to become a mechanic is a Minneapolis teen's dream come true

She grew up working on cars with her dad, but at the Metro Transit Garage on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, Samantha Calderon Vega is firing on all cylinders – working on much bigger automobiles.

"We changed the brakes on the bottom of one of his cars. Little stuff, oil changes, changing tires, stuff like that,” she said.

Vega is one of 19 interns in Metro Transit's Technician Program, which teaches young people the nuts and bolts of how to be a bus mechanic. For 20 weeks she's getting paid to learn the tools of the trade and get experience fixing everything from engines to electrical systems, hoping the education under the hood will turn into a fruitful career.  

Often thought of as a boy’s club, Vega’s gender and ethnicity stand out amongst her classmates; she is one of a few Latinos in the garage, and the only woman in her program.

“At first my dad was like no there's a lot of men in this field. He got over it, because I told him I don't want to work in the kitchen. I don't want to be a nurse, don't want to be a secretary. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I want to do something with my hands.”

Metro Transit says they need new mechanics to help replace the ones who will be retiring soon.

"We can't hire enough mechanics to meet the current need or identify enough mechanics to meet future needs. 50 percent of mechanics are over the age of 50 which puts them in line for retirement pretty quickly," said Gary Courtney, the manager of the Metro Transit Technician Program.

Vega says the other mechanics have been very supportive, but occasionally comments about being a woman are made.

"Sometimes it will be weird. They will turn around and say stuff like you have to start weightlifting and they'll just look at me."

When this internship wraps up, Vega plans to enroll at Hennepin County Technical College to get her A.A.S. truck technician degree. She then plans on working at Metro Transit as a mechanic.

"I hope one day it won't have to be a question. Why is a female mechanic? It won't be weird to find them."