In “My Cousin Vinny,” Marisa Tomei charmed her way to an Academy Award with her portrayal of a true anomaly: a woman who knows about cars.
In real life, meet Annie Michalski. The Peters Township High School senior is one of two national Collision Students of the Year, as selected by the Collision Repair Education Foundation.
Nominating her for the honor was John Warabow, her instructor in Western Area Career and Technology Center’s Collision Repair Technology program in Canonsburg, PA. “I’ve been teaching 30 years. Very few people come across my plane with the skill and the knowledge that Annie does,” he said while introducing her to enthusiastic auto industry professionals before her award acceptance speech.
Since the start of the school year, the daughter of Walt and Andrea Michalski has worked at a Peters Township dealership as part of a cooperative education program, and she plans to attend business school following graduation.
How did you become interested in collision repair?
Two years ago, I really didn’t know where I was going. I went on a tour of the vocational school, and I was going to think about going into culinary or cosmetology, which are traditionally more female things. I got into the (collision repair technology) classroom, and I thought that it was just so cool! And I said, “This is what I want to do.”
My mom was not very enthusiastic; not because she didn’t want me to succeed there, just because it was kind of abnormal. She said, “You’ve never even been interested in cars. What are you talking about?” The whole summer, she thought I’d change my mind, and I didn’t. So I said, “I’m going to fill out the forms.” And she said, “Go for it.”
I just kind of fit in, as soon as I started the class. Honestly, I could say I set foot in there, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.
What did you do to qualify for Collision Student of the Year honors?
My teacher said there was a checklist, here’s 10 things. He had to write a letter of recommendation about how he thought I earned this, and I had to do a one-minute video. It was a really intense process. It’s so good that we’re in this school, because we had some people from networking come and edit it. The school really did come together for this. Everyone was extremely supportive. We had one guidance counselor help film the video, and our old math instructor (former Western Area teacher Carol Roman) came and helped me with my confidence, because we were really close.
How do you react when someone gives you a quizzical expression about your chosen field?
It’s like a reward in itself, because I can say, “Yeah, I do that.” It makes me really happy because my family is really proud of that. My grandfather used to work on cars, and he has pictures of me all over his office. When people walk into our shop in Sun Chevrolet and they look at you, there’s definitely pause. There’s a brief moment of, she’s supposed to be here? Yes I am, and I’m working hard.
What are your plans with regard to collision repair?
After my acceptance speech, a lot of people came up to talk to me. I had a stack of business cards to go through. Especially the women in the industry were very enthusiastic. They were like, “Do what you want to do, but stay with us.” The part that I’m nervous about is finding a spot for me in the industry. It’s a huge industry, and now is the time to jump in, but I have to wait four years because I’m going to college.
What are some of your favorite vehicles?
I used to say I wanted a Volkswagen, and I would put a skull on it or something funny. There are five drivers in the family and one who’s about to be, in a year or two. It’s a big family. We just got our third car, a Chevy Equinox, and I love it. I think it’s a cool car. It fits perfectly between a van and sedan. Other than that, I do like the (Corvette) Stingrays we have at work. They’re so cool. I’ll walk by and keep my distance. I do not want to scratch that. Then again, I would not say no to any expensive car if I had the chance.
What are some of your other interests?
I’m naturally artistic. I love writing. I love reading, too. I love drawing. I really like painting cars. That’s the thing I really enjoy, which I think is the more artistic side.
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