‘At first I wanted to be a pilot’: A Dartmouth teen’s creative thinking leads to dream job

‘At first I wanted to be a pilot’: A Dartmouth teen’s creative thinking leads to dream job

NEW BEDFORD — For some professions, the path to get there is somewhat obvious. Other times, one must think outside the box and get creative with what’s available.

That’s what 17-year-old Dartmouth resident Elizabeth Santos did when she picked diesel service technology as her shop at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School. Ultimately, Santos’ vision is to use the skills gained working on diesel trucks and apply them to aircraft.

Santos showed her dedication to her dream recently when she took the bronze prize in the SkillsUSA diesel equipment technology competition in Shrewsbury, where she was one of 12 competitors. This came after Santos took the gold prize at the district round back in March.

“I was nervous,” Santos said of her time waiting for the bus to arrive and bring her to Shrewsbury for the competition late last month. “I’m one of those people who say I’m going to place and I don’t place, and I’d if I say I’m not going to place, I do place. So I didn’t want anything in my mind.”

At the competition, contestants had 15 minutes to complete tasks at each activity station, Santos said, which included work related to air brake systems, precision measurement, electrical circuitry and more.

“I didn’t think I knew as much about hydraulics as I did,” Santos said.

Eyes to the skies

Santos traces her dream of being an aviation technician back to fond childhood memories at New Bedford Regional Airport, where she’s now employed through GNB Voc-Tech‘s co-op partnership.

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“When I was younger, my grandparents used to take me to this airport all the time to look at planes and I was always obsessed with them,” she said while working in the hangar of New Bedford Regional Airport on Wednesday. “At first I wanted to be a pilot, but as I grew up I realized I could be a mechanic — I like to build things, I like to break things.

“Then at Voc I realized if I learn how to understand tool ID and how tools work in trucks, I can eventually correspond them to planes and that’s pretty much what I’m doing now.”

Big plans taking shape

Just days before speaking with The Standard-Times, Santos says a recruiter who visited GNB Voc-Tech from WyoTech in Wyoming piqued her interest relative to post-high school plans.

“They have a nine-month course there where I’d receive a lot of diesel certifications, so I think I might end up doing that, and then from there I might do aviation or diesel long-term,” Santos said.

But on the other hand: “I was contemplating Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical University] but I’m not sure I want to uproot my life and go to Florida. However, it is right next door to the Daytona Speedway, so that might be a factor in that choice.”

Women on the rise in diesel field, teacher says

Asked if she expects any added challenges given the vastly male-populated nature of her chosen field, Santos — one of two female students in her shop class — says she’s not too worried.

“I grew up with three brothers, so being around men doesn’t affect my will to work or anything,” she said. “Hey, if someone wants to hold my tools for me, go right ahead — I don’t want to hurt my back — but don’t tell me I can’t do something because I’m a woman.”

“One of the best parts about Liz is she’s got some thick skin,” diesel shop instructor Serge Moniz said. “She’s a kid that can be kind of in a tough space, but she can dish it right back.”

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Moniz, who graduated GNBVT in 1998, says Santos and her female shop classmate appear to be part of a new, more diverse age dawning in the diesel/mechanics industry, although there’s still a ways to go.

“It’s pretty rare but we do have some companies that are kind of turning the tide … doing the right things, giving people opportunities,” Moniz said, however noting the “industry is still behind the eight-ball on equity.”

“But women like Liz are proving themselves in the industry and ultimately when these ladies are in the field that’s going to be the game-changer.”

“I usually just say: don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and do what you love,” Santos said of her advice to anyone considering what they want to do in life, observing her own grease-stained hands. “That’s what I do every day.”

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