Monday, 16 February 2015 00:00

Jessica Smith of Shelbyville, TN Blazes Trails in the Body Shop

The moment she was handed a spray gun, she knew it was what she wanted to do.

Jessica "Jess" Smith recalls the reaction of her father, Erik Dale, the first time he let her assist in painting a horse trailer. She was 12 or 13 years old and had always admired her father's ability to transform the mundane into the beautiful.

Jessica Smith has become one of the top students in her class through hard work and dedication.
(T-G Photo by Derrick Hill)

 According to Smith, whether it was re-painting horse trailers, vehicles or construction, her father was a very talented individual. It must have been transferred down through family blood, because Smith recalls her dad being ecstatic watching her paint for that first time. She didn't leave any runs, her hands flowing gracefully from side to side.

Determined

"Once I got a spray gun in my hand, it felt natural," said Smith. "I knew it's what I wanted to do."

At 22, it's a dream that Smith has worked hard to make a reality. As of last September Smith joined the Collision Repair Technology Program (CRT) at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Shelbyville (TCAT-S), a program predominantly pursued by males.

This hasn't stopped Smith from becoming one of the top students in the program. Course instructor, Eric Brown, has witnessed her excel in the classroom. According to Brown, Smith had perfect attendance last semester and is always ahead in her coursework, deeming her an "excellent student."

Pursuing dreams

After receiving her GED, Smith took a job at a factory in order to make ends meet for her and her three-year-old, Jacob Smith. The whole time she dreamt of the moment she could start making her dreams become a reality. Following being laid off last summer, Smith knew it was time.

"I wanted to make the future better for me and my son," said Smith. "That's when I finally took the steps to come here."

Smith weaves through the program's shop, between stripped down automobiles and heavy machinery, with a look of determination, eager to learn everything she can. This particular day, she's preparing to realign a vehicle's frame for the first time. She takes a moment to explain the machine she is using, a sonar device that measures a vehicle's alignment, before she focuses in on the instrument's technical panel.

Future goals

"I plan on opening my own shop one day. I also want to learn mechanic work," said Smith, "so I can do everything from top to bottom."

When she does reach that goal, Smith wants honor her dad's legacy with the business and has considered naming the business "Sidewinder" or some play on the word, which was her father's nickname. Smith isn't hesitant to speak about her goals, her voice full of confidence. As she recalls all those early moments assisting her dad with body work that helped prepare her for the classroom, it's obvious Smith was close to her father.

Smith isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Here, she prepares to realign her first car frame

(T-G Photo by Derrick Hill)

 

Special moments

"Being here, working with body filler and spray guns," said Smith, "You can stay here and the fumes and [smells] will remind you of a certain moment."

Those certain moments were spent with her dad, a subject Smith admits is hard to talk about. She is quick to point out that they are "happy moments."

When her father passed away in 2011, Smith turned to art and poetry to help her cope with his passing. Yet, it's in the spray booth and in the shop where Smith feels at home.

"When I get in the [spray booth], it's like I'm in my own little world because nothing else is there," admits Smith. "It's just me and that gun."

When she isn't in the shop, Smith spends her times studying up on the most recent technologies for her field and talking dirt bikes with her son.

"I'm always trying make sure I'm up to date on everything. My little boy, as soon as I come home with my books, asks, 'Mommy, have you got homework?'" said Smith. "I say, 'Yeah baby, I've got to study.'"

Smith adjusts an instrument that uses sonar technology to take measurements.

(T-G Photo by Derrick Hill)

 

Rising above

Although people are often surprised to learn that Smith is in the CRT program, she has no qualms about it.

"People ask, 'How does that work? You're in a man's industry," explained Smith. "You just have to learn to get along with the guys. I tell my instructor, 'Whenever I'm here, I don't want to be set apart from anybody else. When I'm here, I'm part of the guys.'"

At one point a student comes up and teases her about being the best in the class and being interviewed. She chops back and keeps on moving, excited to explain the different areas in the shop and points out a bumper that she painted, quickly noting that the light scratch on the side was done "after" she painted it.

"I'm very competitive and I want to prove to myself and everyone else I am capable of doing what I want to do what most men can do," said Smith." They don't believe females can do that as well, but I'm determined to set that record straight -- that we can do it, if not as good, better."

A proposition that Smith should have no trouble supporting.

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