She was the only girl facing off against 21 guys--the best of the best in the state--in a New York state SkillsUSA competition in collision repair held in Syracuse, NY on April 28.
“I was totally in shock,” she said when she took second place.
The 17-year-old town of Florida, NY resident had finished a two-year collision repair program at the HFM BOCES Career and Technical Center in Johnstown while still in high school.
“I wish I had 10 students like her every year,” said HFM collision repair instructor Keith Hanchar. “She’s an extremely hard worker, very dedicated and respectful, and whatever she does, she does 100 percent,” he said.
The fact that in her collision program, all her classmates and statewide competitors were male wasn’t a drawback, but possibly an advantage. Hanchar opined that, “women typically are more detail-oriented than we are.”
The contest required the competitors to repair a dent, repair plastic and do welding, and then submit a cost estimate for the supplies and labor, he said.
Megan Alikonis, left, with first-place finisher Dillon Groover and third place winner Richard Neamon. (Photo submitted)
Alikonis said credited Hanchar with helping her achieve by being totally honest with her about her work.
“My teacher was very critical of me,” she said. “He pushed me to do my best.”
She said even though his criticism “got me down sometimes,” it paid off for her a lot in the end.
Scoring well in the competition “really showed to my friends that I really could do good,” Alikonis said.
As a result of her second-place win, Alikonis now has a choice of three scholarships: the University Technical Institute and Lincoln Tech, both offering $5,000, or WyoTech at $7,500. Plus, she was given some $300 in tools from SnapOn. Only the first-place winners go on to the national SkillsUSA competition.
Growing up, she often would help her father, Harold, at his Precision Speed and Custom car and motorcycle repair and restoration shop in Florida. Alikonis said she was never afraid of getting her hands dirty. In fact, her mom, Sandy, said she learned to change oil at 4 or 5, and her dad recalls her refinishing and painting handbars on a dirt bike at 13.
Alikonis said what she likes most about repair and restoration work is “the reward of seeing the finished product” after a vehicle is brought in “really in rough shape.”
The Amsterdam High School senior said winning the contest has created some ambivalence for her since she is enrolled for the fall at the University at Cobleskill in the dairy production program.
“I’ve always liked cows,” she said. “I’ve grown up with cows. I love animals.”
She said she has helped her grandparents care for cows and saw collision repair as extra work on the side.
“I am rethinking what I should be doing,” Alikonis said.
Alikonis is doing a two-week internship at Alteri’s body shop off Route 30, and Hanchar said typically 80 percent of his students get jobs from their internships.
Hanchar said that if Alikonis chooses to attend one of the programs offering a scholarship, she will have more skills, better opportunities in the job market and better pay.
Alikonis’s father said he and her mother are “really proud parents.”
“Megan worked hard for it [the prize] in a male-dominated career,” he said.
“It’s certainly up to her” what she decides to do, he said, adding, “We’ll see where that leads.”
We would like to thank The Leader-Herald for reprint permission.