INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A typical day at Reggie’s Motorworks in Noblesville sees exhaust pipes belching smoke and loud drill bits echoing off the walls of the garage where cars are currently being worked on.
Mechanics in uniform check engines at their respective workplaces. Among the group of working men is a girl.
With a ponytail tied back, Reggie’s Motorworks graphic t-shirt and dark jeans, Sammy Dohnert kneels beside a car lift to remove the lug nuts from a tire. Impact wrench in hand, she uses the tool on the task before heading to another station to check out an engine with a crew member.
She is a graduate of Noblesville High School. Her love of cars started with her grandparents but grew when she got her own car. That’s how she knew she wanted to do an internship at a car dealership.
“Here they are willing to let me learn everything. You let me watch. They let me grab the tools and work with them. I feel like they accepted me as part of the team,” Sammy said.
Reggie Stewart is the owner of Reggie’s Motorworks. The company has been in its location since 2011, and as a graduate of Noblesville High School, Stewart was more than happy to work with the school to offer Sammy a role. The company has been hiring interns for five years. He thinks it means a lot to them and his team when he can change a young person’s life for the better.
“I really enjoy what I do and if I can share that with someone and get them involved in the process earlier than I was involved then that seems like an asset to me,” Stewart said. “Sammy is great. To be honest I don’t work with her as much as I would like because as the owner I’m not here every day, but I do spend some time with her. When I first met her, her passion for cars really reminded me of me as a kid. She raves about cars. It’s really touching.”
Steward said he saw her passion outside of business as well.
A crew member recently invited her to a car show in Carmel. Stewart’s company was a sponsor of the event. He says he saw Sammy inspecting the engine bay of a Porsche 911.
“The sheer excitement on her face, not trying to impress me, not trying to impress anyone. I absolutely knew she was in the right place,” Stewart said.
Sammy also thought she was in the right place. A previous internship pairing didn’t work out because she felt discriminated against as a girl.
“It didn’t go well because I’ve actually had comments like this made by staff, so I understand this is a male-dominated industry. I get asked why I want to be a part of it, but I think if I learn and put in the work, I can do anything anyone else in this industry can do,” Sammy said.
Dan Nicholson is the internship coordinator at Noblesville High School. They have the largest undergraduate internship program in the country with about 300 youth in either career orientation internships or in their junior high school and elementary school cadet teacher training program. Nicholson is one of two full-time internship coordinators and it is his job to identify students’ professional interests in order to give them the opportunity to gain experience.
“My coordinator and I spend part of the spring of her junior year interviewing her to find out a little bit about what her idea is and what her idea means to her. We have students who come in who have a general career path that they are interested in. We try to ask a few questions to narrow their focus on a specific area of an industry or career that we think fits best. We’re looking for things that can be transferrable skills, soft skills that they want to build on. The city launched a soft skills initiative a few years ago. We’re still using that,” Nicholson said.
The school partners with over 150 new and established companies in Noblesville and Hamilton County for its internship program.
Nicholson said they have internships in contracting, manufacturing and trade, engineering, medicine, dentistry, law and more, all based on student interest.
“Our goal is for 100% of our Noblesville students to enter the workforce upon graduation. Some of these will be right out of high school. Some of them may be after an apprenticeship, a two-year degree, or a four-year degree. We want to offer opportunities for all of them,” said Nicholson.
From the moment he met Sammy, Nicholson said he knew right away that she had a very specific passion.
Her knowledge of cars put him to shame as she knew more about car engines, motors and styles.
“You can tell she was very passionate about it, but she didn’t know what her path would be, whether she wanted to go to school or work in an auto repair shop straight out of high school. There we could find the connection at Reggie’s. It allows her to explore and expand,” Nicholson said.
According to Stewart, Sammy’s internship role at the company is diverse.
“One day you do something dirty and bang on a wheel that’s stuck with Indiana rust. The next day you program a computer or use an oscilloscope to look at small lines on the screen to see what electronic elements aren’t working,” Stewart said.
Reggie’s has five master technicians and one other general service technician that Sammy takes turns learning from. She also spent time with her service advisor to understand the customer service side of the business. Stewarts said it’s important to talk about “car” with people who may not know about the specifics of their vehicle.
Sammy said she wants to learn as much as possible during the internship. Every time she completes a task, it feels rewarding. “It’s a lot of mental work trying to keep track of what’s going on, what needs fixing and what’s coming up next. Also, this is going back to a customer and we have a good reputation here at Reggie’s so it’s very good that everything is working, especially on my first try at something.”
She said she would like to run her own shop in 10 years and hire other women to work in it because that would be something you wouldn’t normally see.
If not, she’d love to be in a store like Reggie’s that offers the option of her own schedule and loyal clientele.
Stewart says he’s excited for Sammy’s future because her talents are needed now more than ever. “Right now in the United States there is more work to be done on cars than there are people doing the work. We need more young people in our industry.”