INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A typical day at Reggie’s Motorworks in Noblesville looks like exhaust pipes puffing out smoke and loud drills echoing off the walls of the garage where cars are currently being worked on.
Mechanics in uniform are inspecting engines at their respective work stations. Among the group of men working is a girl.
With a pulled-back ponytail, Reggie’s Motorworks graphic T-shirt and dark jeans, Sammy Dohnert kneels next to a car lift to remove the lug nuts off a tire. Impact wrench in hand, she uses the tool on the task before heading over to another station to check out an engine with a crew member.
She’s a Noblesville High School senior. Her love for cars started from her grandparents, but intensified when she got her own car. That’s how she knew she wanted an internship with an automotive shop.
“Here they’re willing to let me learn anything. They let me watch. They let me grab the tools and work on it with them. I feel like they’ve accepted me as a part of the team,” Sammy said.
Reggie Stewart is the owner of Reggie’s Motorworks. The business has been at its location since 2011, and as a Noblesville High School grad himself, Stewart was more than happy to partner with the school to offer Sammy a role. The business has been taking on interns for the last five years. He thinks anytime he can affect the life of a young person for the better, it means a lot to them and his team.
“I really enjoy what I do and if I can share that with somebody and get them involved in the process earlier than I got involved in it, then that seems like a win to me,” Stewart said, “Sammy’s awesome. Honestly, I don’t work with her as much as I would like to because, as the owner, I’m not here every day, but I do get to spend some time with her. When I first met her, her passion for cars really reminded me of me as a child. It’s the way she lights up about cars. It’s really touching.”
Steward said he saw her passion, even outside of the business.
A crew member invited her to a car show in Carmel recently. Stewart’s business was a sponsor of the event. He says he saw Sammy inspecting the engine bay on a Porsche 911.
“The sheer excitement on her face, not trying to impress me, not trying to impress anybody. I totally knew she was in the right place,” Stewart said.
Sammy thought she was in the right place, too. A previous internship pairing didn’t work out because she felt discriminated against as a girl.
“That didn’t go well because of comments like that were made to me actually by the employees, so I get that this is a male-dominated industry. I get questions on why I would want to be a part of this, but I think that if I learn and I put the work in, I can do anything that anybody else could in this industry,” Sammy said.
Dan Nicholson is the internship coordinator at Noblesville High School. They have the largest internship program for students in the state with approximately 300 teens either in career-exploration internships or their cadet-teacher-training program at the middle and elementary schools. Nicholson is one of two full-time internship coordinators, and it’s his job to see what students’ career interests are to give them opportunities of gaining experience.
“My co-coordinator and I spend part of the spring of their junior year interviewing with them to find out a little bit about what their idea is and what their idea means to them. We have students that come in and have a general career path that they’re interested in. We try to ask some questions to narrow down their focus into a particular area of an industry or career that we feel will be the best fit. We look for things that may be transferrable skills, soft skills they’re looking to build on. The city put together a soft skills initiative several years back. We still use that,” Nicholson said.
The school is working with over 150 new and established businesses in Noblesville and Hamilton County for its internship program.
Nicholson said they have internships in contracting, manufacturing and trades, engineering, medical, dental, law and more, all based on student’s interest.
“Our goal is that 100% of our Noblesville students go into the workforce after graduation. Some of those are going to be directly after high school. Some of those will be after maybe an apprenticeship, a two-year degree or a four-year degree. We want to provide opportunities for all of those,” Nicholson said.
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 since she knew more about automobile motors, engines and styles.
“You can tell she was very passionate about it, but she didn’t know what her path was going to look like, whether she needed to go to school or get started at a garage right out of high school. That’s where we were able to find the connection at Reggie’s. It allows her to explore and expand,” Nicholson said.
Sammy’s internship role at the business is diverse, according to Stewart.
“One day, you’re doing something dirty and hammering on a wheel that’s stuck on because of Indiana rust. The next day you’re programming a computer or using an oscilloscope to look at little lines on the screen to see what electronic items are malfunctioning,” Stewart said.
Reggie’s has five master technicians and another general service technician who Sammy takes turns learning from. She’s also spent time with their service adviser to understand the customer-service side of the business. Stewarts said it’s important to “speak car” with people who may not know about the particulars of their vehicles.
Sammy said she wants to learn as much as she can at the internship. Anytime she accomplishes a task, it feels rewarding. “It’s a lot of mental work with trying to keep tabs on what’s going on, what needs to be fixed, and what’s next. Plus, this is going back to a customer, and we have a good reputation here at Reggie’s, so it’s very good to have everything work out, especially on my first try with something.”
In 10 years, she said she’d love to be running her own shop and employ other women to work in it because that wouldn’t be something you would normally see.
If not that plan, she would like to be in a shop such as Reggie’s that would offer the option of her own schedule and loyal clientele.
Stewart says he is excited about Sammy’s future because, now more than ever, her talents are needed. “Right now in the United States, there is more work that needs to be done on cars than there are people doing that work. We need more young people in our industry.”