Imagine a helicopter pilot. How about an automotive technician or cybersecurity expert? Did you envision a man in those roles? Most people do—and not without reason. These are some of the “hot” jobs featured on the U.S Department of Labor’s list of non-traditional jobs for women. A non-traditional career for women is one in which 25 percent or fewer of those employed in the field are female, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Believe it or not, more than 100 occupations fall into this category.
For the first time since 2010, women outnumber men in the U.S. workforce, yet they still face challenges. Tarrant County College, one of the region’s top economic generators, is doing its part to change the narrative for women in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by empowering them to become difference-makers in several industries. If local businesses don’t understand the importance of women in the workplace, they truly are missing out.
Meet five TCC alumnae who are forging ahead in their respective careers, shattering stereotypes along the way:
Pedal to the Metal
“I enjoy working in the shop listening to the hustle and bustle of the air tools, lifts going up and down,” said Jennifer Kite, who works closely with Automotive Technology students as the learning lab manager at TCC South. “I like the idea of everyone working toward a common goal, which encourages others to learn and grow.”
When Kite isn’t providing tips to students trying to improve their skills, she’s mentoring students participating in the Automotive Technology Club.
Kite always knew she would work in the automotive industry. She remembers listening to her mother’s colorful stories about working in quality control for Painless Performance, an automotive wiring harness and electrical components producer in Fort Worth. After high school, Kite spent 14 years working at Painless Performance, eventually rising to plant manager.
In 2014, Kite decided to “broaden her horizons in the automotive industry,” by joining the Automotive Technology Department at TCC South. After a few months on the job, Kite enrolled in the Automotive Technology program as a student, sparked by a passion for becoming a talented technician.
“Working for TCC during the day and going to classes at night made for very long days. I didn’t mind, though,” explained Kite. “I truly enjoy all the automotive instructors, students and curriculum, so spending the extra time at TCC made for some great experiences. Working for TCC and taking automotive classes has given me a unique perspective to share with current and future automotive students.”
Understanding that women in skilled trades such as automotive technology are in high demand, Kite went on to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Automotive Technology in 2019. Although juggling work and school responsibilities may have been challenging, the support of her male co-workers made the road a lot smoother to navigate.
“My male colleagues always have treated me with respect. I am very fortunate to work with a great bunch of guys,” Kite added. “I do know that is not always the case for women working in the automotive field. So, I try not to take my co-workers for granted.”
With fewer than three percent of all automotive technicians being women, there are great opportunities for women to enter the industry and flourish.
“More women are needed in this field because they would be great at it,” she said enthusiastically. “The automotive field is continuously expanding and needs talented technicians. Although it’s not a traditional career path for women, times are changing, and it is a rewarding career to pursue. It is great to be a part of this positive change.”
Kite’s future plans include working part-time at an automotive dealership while studying to become an ASE Master Technician, an automotive professional who has earned all eight industry certifications offered through the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Once she achieves this designation, Kite plans to become an adjunct automotive instructor at TCC.
“When it comes to Automotive Technology, there is a common misconception that we are just mechanics,” Kite explained. “We are more than that. We utilize technology to diagnose and fix automotive related issues.”
In addition to enjoying troubleshooting and solving problems, women interested in automotive technology should have an analytical mind and must be inquisitive, according to Kite. “They also should enjoy working with their hands, and not be afraid to get dirty.”
Recipe for Success
Alma Jauregui enjoys creating works of art in the kitchen. “My favorite thing about working in the culinary industry is the fact that food brings people together,” said Jauregui, a 2018 graduate of the Culinary Arts program at TCC Southeast. Growing up, Jauregui learned how to put her heart and soul into cooking while helping her mother cook traditional Mexican cuisine at home.
Jauregui initially planned to attend a San Antonio culinary school, yet her sister suggested attending a community college to save money. What she found at TCC was an accredited program with an award-winning faculty, state-of-the-art facilities and relationships with area employers. A talented cook, Jauregui took advantage of those connections by working part-time for Delaware North at Globe Life Park’s Jack Daniels Club for two seasons. Delaware North has a comprehensive partnership with TCC’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management programs, providing students with a chance to gain real-world experience.
After graduating with honors, she was promoted to full-time corporate pastry chef, responsible for making desserts for fans at the new Rangers ballpark. Although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed her progress for a “season,” Jauregui was on track to become the new pastry kitchen supervisor at Globe Life Field. After being sidelined for several months due to the pandemic, she started working in the kitchen at Tiff’s Treats in Arlington. “It’s no ballpark, but I still get to work around desserts,” said Jauregui.
Women typically are associated with being pastry chefs, not executive chefs, according to Helen Sidoti, head chef and head of recipe development for HelloFresh. This makes it hard for some women to break the mold. While professional kitchens are still male-dominated spaces, Jauregui hopes to change that. “More women are needed in this field because we can offer different ideas and perspectives that a man may not have,” said Jauregui.
As women’s roles in the food industry continue to change, a growing number of women are becoming employed and self-employed in cooking. “For the most part, I’ve worked with decent male colleagues,” Jauregui said. “There have been occasions, though, where I feel like I was treated ‘lesser than’ because I am a woman. But once I proved that I knew what I was doing, the men treated me more like an equal.”
An accomplished cook, Jauregui has dreams of becoming a sous chef and beyond. The median average salary for chefs and head cooks was $51,530 in 2019, with employment projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028. However, for women looking to advance in the food industry, it can be difficult to find opportunities. In 2019, only seven percent of head chefs and restaurant owners were women.
“I would like to get rid of the stereotype that women can only work as line cooks and prep cooks,” she said. “Women can be sous chefs and executive chefs just like any man. Women just need to be given the chance to excel.”
As she ascends, Jauregui is looking forward to working with more women, especially talented graduates from her alma mater. “I have not had a chance to work with any fellow TCC graduates, but I would welcome the opportunity with open arms.”
Fixing things has always been in Melissa Chaparro Santillan’s blood. Growing up with two parents working in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC/R), she was fortunate to ride along and assist on service calls. These confidence-building moments helped Santillan make a smooth transition from Texas Christian University to TCC in 2015 to pursue her passion. It was the right move.
Two years later, Santillan earned her Associate of Applied Science in HVAC from TCC, learning from skilled instructors in the state-of-the-art Center of Excellence for Energy Technology at TCC South. Months before graduation, Santillan joined AC Supply, one of the area’s top wholesale air conditioning suppliers, as a sales rep. Today, she is enjoying her expanded role at the company.
“I work both on the sales side at a wholesale distribution warehouse and in the field doing install and service,” said Santillan. “I really enjoy knowing more about the ins and outs of the industry as a whole going down the supply chain from the manufacturer to the end user. There’s always something new to learn about in both settings. I’ve always been very curious so I’m always up to learning something new, and I get to do that in this field.”
Santillan is doing her best to try to change the face of the industry. Female installers and techs are not very common in the HVAC/R industry, with only 1.4 percent of the 367,900 Americans employed in 2018 as HVAC/R technicians and installers being women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary of most female HVAC technicians is $45,110.
“I would love to see more women in the industry and more young women going into training and trade programs for this field,” she said. “It will take a long time to see numbers increase and I wish there were a way to fast forward to that point. Personally, I would love to change the general mentality that HVAC has to stay a male dominant field because it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.”
She describes an HVAC/R industry that’s facing a huge personnel deficit, with many contractors aging out and not enough younger people being available to fill those positions. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity not only for younger people, but for women to get into the industry. There are jobs in many different areas from the very beginning of the supply chain, in manufacturing, to the very end of it with homeowners and end users.”
Women generally possess strong interpersonal skills, which can be combined with HVAC skills to position them for success in the industry. The rise in female talent is paving the way for women-owned businesses in the U.S.
Melissa Chaparro Santillan
Associate of Applied Science in HVAC Graduate
So, what are Santillan’s future plans? “I actually just passed the State HVAC Contractor’s exam a few months ago and am now in the process of setting up my own business, D&D AC Service. I’m very excited to continue to grow my career in this way.”
Japan native Yuno Niwano faced many obstacles—a language barrier and low self-confidence—when she headed to Texas to pursue an aviation technology degree at TCC Northwest, which is home to the Erma C. Johnson Hadley Northwest Center of Excellence for Aviation, Transportation & Logistics (CEATL). Although her dream ultimately was to become a news helicopter pilot, it wasn’t her first choice.
After graduating from high school in Japan, Niwano decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry. However, her first tour flight in a helicopter shifted her career path 180 degrees. “I felt a tingling sensation run up and down my body at the moment of take-off, and I knew that would be the career that I should seek,” said Niwano. “I didn’t know anything about helicopters before I started my flight training, so I had no idea this would be the most challenging thing that I’ve ever accomplished in my life.”
Interestingly, Niwano believes her lack of knowledge about the field actually allowed her to jump right in without any fear. She seemed more concerned about her limited English-speaking skills.
“It seemed like this language barrier really delayed my progress throughout the courses,” Niwano said. “Although being an international female helicopter pilot really made me stand out at the CEATL campus, I felt lucky at the same time because it was easy for me to make new friends at TCC. I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far without help from all my friends and faculty at TCC. I can’t wait to see all of my pilot friends accomplishing more and more, and to keep up with them.”
Currently, Niwano is a certified instructor for Florida-based Tomlinson Aviation, where she helps students prepare for a checkride—the final exam for pilots. Since her company doesn’t have designated ground instructors, Niwano teaches ground lessons and practical training. “In one-on-one lessons, we discuss aviation regulations, aerodynamics, human factors and aircraft systems; pretty much everything that’s crucial to be a safe pilot,” said Niwano.
Her short-term goal is to become an Electronic News Gathering (ENG) pilot and fly for a news company. The average salary for an ENG pilot is $50,000 to $60,000 annually, with pilots typically getting paid weekly. “It’s going to be an ‘on-demand job,’ meaning I will need to stay close to an airport and stay alert for calls to cover breaking news stories.”
Her long-term goal is to help invigorate the helicopter industry in Japan. “It’s not a popular way of transportation due to the limited number of helicopter pilots and aircrafts,” Niwano explained. Japan is not a big country, so she believes the industry has great potential for development.
As for being a woman working in a male-dominated field, Niwano claims she has never felt any sort of discrimination at work. “All my colleagues are very respectful,” she explained. “We have a safety meeting once a week, and the owner always respects my opinion. I truly appreciate the work environment where I can share my ideas with everyone.”
According to Niwano, being a pilot offers a steady dose of “new” with each flight.
The one thing I like most about my job is that you will never fly the exact same flight. Even if you are flying in the same area, it will be with a different student or passenger, in varying weather conditions and different maneuvers will be performed. No flight will be the same. It has been more than three years since my very first flight lesson, but this joy of flying never gets old.
Certified Instructor for Florida-based Tomlinson Aviation & Aviation Technology Graduate at TCC Northwest
Jona Turner loves everything about the world of Information Technology—especially cybersecurity. “I think I really enjoyed risk assessment and identifying vulnerabilities. I liked using all the different tools/software to find exploits, vulnerabilities and high-risk factors. I like the process of finding the risk factors, the ability to fix the vulnerabilities and implement how to move forward. It’s very interesting to me,” said Turner.
Turner, a dental assistant for the past 14 years, knew she wanted a different career—a challenge for herself that would enable her to better provide for her family. Initially, nursing looked appealing, but the waiting list didn’t. After some thought, Turner found herself enrolled in engineering courses and was on her way. On her way, that is, until she had the chance to attend a presentation about Information Technology (IT) that would lead her to professional sleuthing and protection within the world of Cybersecurity.
“I was given the chance to attend a presentation on cybersecurity. The speaker told us about the field, his backstory and how he made a career in cybersecurity, which was incredibly encouraging,” said Turner. The guest speaker described the stability of the field, the fact that the field was diverse and one that consistently expands as technology advances, all while offering job security with competitive salaries.
“After leaving that presentation, I did my own research into the field. I realized this field would give me room to grow, advance and make a good salary. It was then I made the decision and I switched my program to cybersecurity,” said Turner. Additionally, as there aren’t as many females in the field, Turner discovered that with the right certifications, females typically land job interviews easier and get that coveted job with the good salary over other lesser-educated candidates.
“My time at TCC was amazing. I was learning new things and that kept me motivated. I completed the Associate of Applied Science—Information Technology—Cybersecurity degree along with the certifications for Ethical Hacking and Cybersecurity Specialist,” she said. Additionally, after reviewing her credits, Turner realized she also would receive her Associate of Arts degree in Summer 2019.
TCC allowed Turner to “get educated at a low cost, keep working as I attended classes, meet some great people and learn a new trade. I accomplished what I set out to do,” said Turner.
She completed the program in three semesters with a few summer classes. “The only disappointing aspect was I noticed that most of my classes would only have two to three women in them. Sometimes, I would be the only one. The males didn’t treat me any differently. The professors encouraged that the class help one another, because in the job force, you would be working as a team,” said Turner.
“Professor Sellers and all the teachers in the program were always great to me and available anytime I needed help or career advice. Professor Sellers kept telling me, ‘There are few women in the field. You’ll move more to the top of the list because you are a woman and a woman of color.’ I felt like I really have a chance to make my mark because of who I am,” said Turner. “I was told by friends and family to ‘Do it. Max it out. You will make it,’” she said. Turner feels confident her job search will be quick, even amidst economic uncertainties caused by COVID-19. “If they know I’m a woman, I’m going to get thrown in the mix first, because there’s so few women in the field,” said Turner.
“Jona was an excellent student. She helped all of her peers in the classes I had her in. She already had some background in information technology but was attending to expand her knowledge and achieve her AAS degree,” said Richard Sellers, instructor of computer science and department chair at TCC Northwest. “Jona excelled, and Jona can continue in her education with a BAAS in Cybersecurity if she chooses. Jona has gained a firm foundation in IT that will help her succeed in any Information Technology career she chooses.”
Turner’s end goal is to be placed into Cybersecurity or Cloud Services at a management level, a goal that will take Turner several more certifications, building toward the credential of Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).
Turner is evaluating job opportunities while completing the CompTIA Security+, a global certification that validates the baseline skills needed to perform core security functions and pursue an IT security career. With an associate degree and advanced certification, Turner is likely to advance over other applicants and easily land a job.
I would encourage anyone who wants to change their life to pursue getting an education. If you feel stuck in life, if you’re unhappy with your life, you have the choice of changing it. I did it and will always encourage others.
Associate of Applied Science Graduate
Women continue to make significant contributions in many male-dominated occupations and as they achieve success, they will inspire other women to consider similar pathways. Today, one in three jobs held by women has been designated as “essential,” according to the federal government’s essential worker guidelines.
TCC is committed to increasing female employment in male-dominated fields, providing students with full opportunities for economic security through accredited, award-winning degree and certificate programs.