As a child, Megan Bruzek spent many of her weekends watching her stepfather work on cars, and her best friend work on race cars. When she was a senior in high school, Bruzek decided she wanted to pursue automotive work full-time.
Now, at age 21, Bruzek spends her days making sure yellow buses are as safe as possible for kids in the Monticello (Minn.) School District. She started working for Hoglund Transportation in Monticello when she was 18. Bruzek recently graduated with her associate’s degree in medium-heavy duty trucking technology. She also has her Class B commercial driver’s license.
Every morning after driving her daily school bus route, Bruzek returns to the shop and takes care of any necessary bus maintenance. She wraps up her day finishing off repairs following her afternoon bus route. Bruzek tells School Bus Fleet that every school year, a group of students will find out she works on school bus maintenance when she shows up for her afternoon route a little dirty from working on the buses.
It’s really cool, they think.
But, she says, people haven’t always had that reaction.
Bruzek had a rough start. When she was in college, she says, some classmates downgraded her because she’s a woman. She says she can understand why some women may be afraid to start a career in school bus maintenance. Her advice? Just go for it.
“Just take the leap. Don’t let it scare you just because it is a ‘man’s job,’” she says. “It’s actually really rewarding to be able to show them what you can do.”
Jill Gillis, head mechanic for Iowa’s Washington Community School District agrees.
She says if this is something a woman wants to do, she should jump in without fear of what could happen. Gillis tells SBF she wishes that she would have started a job in school bus maintenance when she was younger. Confidence proved to be the greatest hurdle when she started, she says. Her supervisor and the drivers at her district have helped build her confidence, she says.
Support for Women in Maintenance
Gillis believes more women would work in the industry if they were made to believe there is a place for them there. She says if a woman is interested in working in this field and doesn’t feel comfortable, she’ll move onto something else; then, that’s one person lost from the industry.
She urges women who want to take a stab at this job, to try it.
“Believe in yourself; if (school bus maintenance) is something you want to do, go for it,” she says. “It’s better to try and not succeed than to not try at all.”
Hundreds of women work in all kinds of positions to keep school buses on the road. Charli Sanders, regional maintenance manager with National Express (Michigan region), makes sure things run smoothly at her shop by supporting the managers and technicians. Sanders tells SBF that her main focus is to make sure every staff member has the tools and training they need to do their job well.
Passenger Safety First
Sanders takes pride in working in an industry dedicated to keeping kids safe every day, she says. When a parent watches their child walk up the steps of the school bus, they are trusting their child will make it safely to and from school. That starts with making sure the school bus is running smoothly.
She credits her team and her company with providing the resources she needed to succeed in the industry.
Norma DeLung, service manager at Matthew Buses Florida, says her company is also supportive. DeLung has worked for Matthew Buses for about 11 years. She processes paperwork for the team, which services Thomas Built Buses from nearly every Florida county. The facility also goes through the inspection process with every new school bus sent to Florida from Thomas Built’s factory in North Carolina.
DeLung considers her team a sort of extended family. But it also goes beyond the service counter. DeLung says she has developed relationships with the customers too. She says it makes her excited to go to work.
So why aren’t there more women in school bus maintenance?
DeLung thinks it’s because women may be intimidated by the sense it’s still considered primarily a man’s industry. But, she says, that should change.
“We’re strong. I believe women are strong,” DeLung laughs. “They’re used to running households.”
Advice from “Diesel Girl”
Missy Albin, or “Diesel Girl,” as she calls herself, says the image of a mechanic has been misconstrued over the years. She believes that when a woman chooses this industry, they are seen as breaking the traditions of “the woman’s role that society has instilled in us over the decades.” She says more women would enter the industry if more people advocated for having them there.
Albin, who has been in the diesel mechanic industry for nearly two decades, has made it her mission to let women know she is cheering for them. She says she doesn’t want women to experience the hardships she went through while navigating “through the trenches” when joining the industry. Albin represents the female technician role for “TECH EmPOWERment,” the recruitment effort for Navistar International Trucks and the IC Bus Dealer Network. Albin is currently a lead technician for an International Trucks dealership. She’s also Master Certified in IC school buses, and in IH Truck. When it comes to industry education, Albin says, taking as many training opportunities as possible is extremely helpful.
Choosing the Right Shop
When choosing a shop to work for, Albin encourages women to work in environments where they feel valued. She has seen women take pay cuts to work in a shop where they are appreciated for their talents, experience, knowledge, and abilities.
All the women SBF spoke to for this article say they are thankful for the shops they work in and that they feel comfortable in their work environments.
DeLung says working in any job, no matter what field, is easier when you take a team approach with the people around you.
Sanders says it’s important to hold onto a mindset that you can learn anything you step into and become dedicated.
Bruzek enjoys working with a team, knowing she is treated like she’s able to accomplish anything, regardless of gender.
“Coming into this company, I’m not downgraded because I’m a female. I’m just the same as anybody else,” says Bruzek. “Nothing is too challenging.”