Over the course of six years, Chattanooga State’s associate instructor of collision repair Tim Chastain has welcomed females into a predominantly male setting with no regrets whatsoever. In fact, his female students competing in SkillsUSA for the past five years outnumber the males, 3-2. After each winning a gold medal during statewide competition in March, Breanna Britton and Caitlin White are headed to the national SkillsUSA competition on June 25 in Kentucky to show judges just what they’re made of – and they plan to win.
Not really knowing what collision repair was, Ms. Britton thought she was signing up for an easy study hall when she entered her freshman year of high school in Milan, Tn. On her first day of class, she was not listening to her instructor until he noticed her drawing on her hand and stopped to ask her if she liked to paint. Unsure what he meant, Ms. Britton followed him through the school’s body shop and into the paint booth while he explained its purpose. Before she knew it, he had placed a paint gun in her hand. “At that point, I hadn’t yet realized that refinishing was what I wanted to do with my life,” said Ms. Britton. Later into freshman year, after she had a little body work experience, she found out about SkillsUSA and asked her teacher who he was taking to the competition. When he replied that she wasn’t ready, she doubled down her efforts to focus on becoming ready.
That opportunity came during her junior year, but she let a friendship get in the way and chose not to compete. Her friend won first place at state instead, yet chose not to attend nationals and Ms. Britton realized her mistake. “I decided that I was not going to allow anybody to get between me and these opportunities again,” she said determinedly.
During her senior year, Ms. Britton’s opportunity to compete finally came and she won second place at the state SkillsUSA competition. She then made the decision to put her passion first and sought out the advice of her shop teacher who suggested that to be the best, she needed to attend the best collision repair program in the state at Chattanooga State’s Tennessee College of Applied Technology. Moving more than 200 miles from home and leaving her parents and five siblings behind was not an easy decision, but with financial help from the Tennessee Promise grant and landing a full-time job as a painter at Card Monroe Company, Ms. Britton knows what she wants and how to make her dreams a reality.
“Breanna sets high goals and is a goal achiever 100 percent,” said Mr. Chastain of his talented student, who is also a National Technical Honor Society member.
Ms. White’s obsession with cars came much earlier in life thanks to her father, Raymond, who took her to car shows, drag races, “and anything to do with cars,” said Ms. White. By the time she was 16, her dad said he was getting her a truck, which they looked at together before she fell in love with it. It took two years for them to refinish the truck, which only further served to fan her desire to be in the automotive world.
Putting her knowledge of rebuilding a car to work using her years of hands-on experience led her to investigate the world of collision repair at Chattanooga State while she was a high school junior at Whitwell High School. In 2017 Ms. White chose Chattanooga State’s collision repair program to do work with the cars she loves.
Instructor Mr. Chastain is quick to point out that when students first enter the program, he gives them the chance to explore all the aspects within the program during their first semester so that they can find their best fit. Ms. White’s experience and personality steered her toward becoming an estimator and her recent gold medal at SkillsUSA state proves it. “Caitlin greets everyone with a warm smile and she looks at everything methodically,” said Mr. Chastain.
As Ms. White prepares for the national SkillsUSA competition, she is most looking forward to another new experience, meeting new people, and seeing what other opportunities await. “I’m preparing for it as I work at Padgett’s Red Bank Body Shop,” said Ms. White. “Owner Rick and estimators Tim, Dale and Nathan are all so helpful and just a blast to be around! For every estimate they do, I tagalong and write my own estimate while they write theirs, then we compare estimates. If it’s on a car parked near the body shop, we go over both estimates and I can actually see what I missed,” she adds.
With a total of five SkillsUSA medal winners, Mr. Chastian says it takes a lot of dedication and drive to be the best in your field. “SkillsUSA builds winners for life. Winning shows that you are the best in your field and that you want to succeed in your career. It sets you apart from the rest of the applicants,” he adds.
Both Ms. Britton and Ms. White have not let the fact that they are women deter them from entering and excelling in the male-dominated world of cars. Ms. Britton wishes to pay it forward by staying involved in SkillsUSA and making a name for women wishing to work in the industry, while Ms. White says, “I’m a girl and the first Skills winner in Estimating for Tennessee. I hope moreyoung women realize they can do whatever men can do – probably better!”
The Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Chattanooga State Community College consistently offers a high-quality education with an 18:1 student-to-teacher ratio, 96 percent job placement rate, and 98 percent licensure pass rate. For more information, visit www.chattanoogastate.edu/tcat.