When Hailey Tuchtenhagen was young, she didn’t consider herself an automotive enthusiast.
Now a graduate of BYU-Idaho’s automotive program, she works in Minnesota as a routing design technician engineering snowmobiles for Polaris.
“I didn’t grow up around cars,” Tuchtenhagen said. “My dad actually hated working on cars. It wasn’t even something that crossed my mind until I came to BYU-Idaho.”
Nonetheless, Tuchtenhagen knew she loved working with her hands to figure out complicated puzzles. When she found that BYU-I had more technical courses, she opted against attending BYU in Provo where she was also accepted.
Upon arriving in Rexburg, Tuchtenhagen immediately began taking engineering classes.
“Eventually the automotive program began to feel like a good fit,” Tuchtenhagen said. “It also had a good job outlook, which definitely played a part in my choice.”
Ultimately her love of problem-solving swayed her to choose the automotive program.
“Cars to me were like a giant puzzle with different layers,” Tuchtenhagen said. “You have the electrical system, you have the cooling system, the brakes, the suspension and the steering. You have the bodywork. You have all these different layers, and it’s all a big puzzle to make sure the car works right.”
Tuchtenhagen said the automotive program felt perfect for her even though most of her classmates were male. She said despite this, she felt no prejudice nor favoritism from anyone in the department. The professors were simply there to teach her.
Even though she felt comfortable studying automotive engineering, Tuchtenhagen said fellow students would ask her daily what it was like to be a woman in a male-dominated program.
“It’s a feeling that’s hard to explain,” Tuchtenhagen said. “When I was in school, people would bring that up a lot. They would say, ‘It must be weird being one of the only girls in the auto program.’ But it was such a day-to-day thing that it’s not even something I noticed.”
Another graduate of BYU-I’s automotive program, Hailey Byrd, joined the program during her third semester in college because she loved the auto maintenance and welding classes she took the semester before. She said she saw an abundance of opportunities for women in the automotive industry.
Now working as a service engineer at the Ford Technical Assistance Center in Michigan, Byrd said because she was a female in a male-saturated industry, she stood out from the crowd — not to mention she had a stellar record of involvement in automotive groups on campus.
“I involved myself as much as I could,” Byrd said. “From the first semester I was in the auto program, I was in an automotive student society. I was also the tool room manager for almost the whole time I was there.”
Like Tuchtenhagen, Byrd also grew up without much of an interest in cars — at least not at first. She said her family always had bad luck with cars, and they didn’t really know how to fix them. It wasn’t until Byrd was nearly in high school when she discovered cars might be something she was interested in.
“My dad always had a Car and Driver magazine when I was growing up, and I remember in eighth grade, there was a Shelby GT350 Mustang on the front cover,” Byrd said. “I think that was the first time I thought about cars as more than just a way to get from point A to point B — more than just a mode of transportation.”
But Byrd also had a dream to teach. After graduating from the automotive program and accepting a job at Ford, she fulfilled her dream by accepting another position to work concurrently as an adjunct faculty member teaching online automotive courses for BYU-I.
Both Byrd and Tuchtenhagen said the automotive program helped them follow their passions even though neither was especially interested in cars.
To women considering the automotive program, Tuchtenhagen said, “Go for it. Have no fear. The only thing that might hold a woman back would be her confidence going into a male-dominated industry, and honestly I’ve run into no issues with that.”
Byrd said the best thing women can do in college is get involved.
“When I feel involved in something, I learn better and care about it more,” Byrd said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the automotive program so much.”