Switching gears: White Oak sophomore only female in automotive program

Photo Illustration by Sara Holmes / THE FLARE Brigida Marsh is a student in the automotive program. This photo montage shows the many roles that Marsh fills.
Photo Illustration by Sara Holmes / THE FLARE
Brigida Marsh is a student in the automotive program. This photo montage shows the many roles that Marsh fills.

Anyone walking by the KC automotive lab on a given day will see a dozen or so men of varying ages gathered around a horseshoe-shaped table either listening to an instructor or watching a video. Among those men you will find a lone woman — Brigida “BJ” Marsh, White Oak sophomore.
At 17 years old, Marsh started KC wanting to be a physical therapist, but her life-long passion soon pushed its way to the front.
“I made it all the way to clinicals before I realized I really, really don’t like people,” Marsh, now 26, said.
With a mother who was a diesel mechanic in the Navy and a step-dad who works for Joy Global, Marsh grew up working on her own cars and learning everything she could about how they work.
Marsh has chosen to earn an associates degree in Automotive Technology.
“I love cars. I love that they are logical. They don’t have emotions you have to tip toe around,” Marsh said. “They do what they are supposed to, and when they don’t, there is a logical reason and most of the time it can be fixed.”
Last semester, Marsh enrolled in the automotive program and was elected as president of the KC Automotive Car Club by her classmates.
“When it came time to vote, one of the guys told me that I would never win without showing up half naked. I beat him with a unanimous vote,” Marsh said. “I was wearing steel-toed boots and my work clothes.”
As a mother of a 5-year-old, Marsh has taken on some physically demanding jobs, such as a trim press operator in both a factory and on a pipeline, so she could support her daughter, Emma.
“[I have] this wonderful little girl who loves pink and tutus and nail polish and other things I don’t know how to handle,” Marsh said. “It’s a learning experience, and sometimes a frustrating one.”
Marsh said there is a lot of traveling involved when working for a pipeline company and that many of companies generally are very lenient when hiring people without college degrees.
When it came time for her daughter to start public school, she knew she needed to be home instead of traveling.
“Many local companies in this field of work won’t hire people without some sort of college degree.” Marsh said.
She also knew she needed to earn a degree to be able to provide her daughter with a sense of stability and normality.
“The first day I walked into class, a complete silence fell over the room. The first couple of weeks a couple of guys made some rude comments, but (Brandon) Belken and (D’Wayne) Shaw (the instructors) were really good about… making sure I was never uncomfortable,” Marsh said. “I have had a few shouting matches with some of my fellow classmates, but for the most part, it’s pretty calm.”
Marsh said she does not care whether she is the only female in the automotive program or not.
“I really think it depends on the kind of people I’m around rather than the sex of the people I am around. If there was another female in the class who kept up with all of us, I would love that,” Marsh said. “What we don’t need is someone who doesn’t want to work or wants others to pull their weight.”
Marsh enjoys the never-ending trail of reasoning when working on cars. To Marsh, cars just make sense.
“Sometimes you get stuck on something and you just can’t seem to get past it. This sort of thing is great, because instead of just feeling like a light bulb went off over your head, you get to hear an engine start,” Marsh said. “My boyfriend and I worked on a forklift… [in] 20 degree weather… every night for a month. Hearing that forklift start made my stomach do flip flops.”
After Marsh gets her degree, she does not care where she is as long as her head is under a hood somewhere. If she had her pick, it would be a late Ford flareside pickup.
“I just want to get all the experience I can. I have worked in some pretty strange places and even though I’m home now, I would love to keep working on things a little bit outside of the norm,” Marsh said. “I really love working at [Southern Longview Automotive] and honestly I would like to move forward there.”
Even though Marsh is the odd “man” out, she has been able to work along with her male classmates.
“She is a very hard working, very driven and detailed-oriented person,” D’Wayne Shaw, department chair and automotive technology instructor, said.