Mercury Marine works with the Marine Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Florida, to train some of the best boat mechanics on the planet. One graduate of the institute, Kaitlyn Schneider, has found a home at Lakeside Marina in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Watch the video below to see her story, then check out OutdoorHub’s interview with Kaitlyn to learn more about her unusual career path.
DM: According to the Mercury Marine video above, you grew up liking engines and cars, which aren’t considered normal for a girl. Who influenced these interests?
Kaitlyn: My father, Grant Schneider (below), was the one who got me into engines and cars. When I was about 12, he took me to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, to see the Champ Car Series, and I got an autograph from one of the female drivers at the time. This helped inspire my interest in the automotive world. I loved seeing how she could race just as well as the boys. My father also taught me the basics in car care, by changing oil and rotating tires. Then, when we got our second boat, he showed me how to do tune-ups, change spark plugs and also drive the boat.
DM: You enrolled in small-engine and automotive classes during high school. How did your fellow classmates react? Were your teachers supportive?
Kaitlyn: Most of my classmates were boys in the small engines class besides one other girl who I didn’t know very well. But soon she and I proved we could learn faster than the boys, and we put that toward taking the small engines apart and reassembling them before anyone else. My teacher was supportive, but my favorite teacher was Peter Worley for auto mechanics. He always pushed to challenge me, and was never surprised when I surpassed the boys in either tests or labs. In his class I learned about Universal Technical Institute, which had the marine program in Orlando. That is what really helped me decide that I wanted to go into the marine industry.
DM: Walking into a business and asking if they’re hiring is always stressful. How did you get up the nerve to step through the doors at Lakeside Marina in Oshkosh, Wisconsin?
Kaitlyn: My mother, Michelle Schneider, was always the one who pushed me to go further. So when I came back to Wisconsin to search for jobs, she was the one helping me find places to send in my resume. She remembered a marina in Oshkosh, where my parents had looked at a boat for sale, so we looked it up and went to take a shot at it. I got there and then slowly made my way around to the service area, put on a smile and asked to fill out an application. And you know the rest. I didn’t have to really build up any nerve to walk through the door because I was pretty confident in myself.
DM: Is it intimating working in an all-male environment? Any advice to other females who might be facing the same challenges?
Kaitlyn: It was intimidating at first until I got to know them and got used to being around them. After a couple of months, I felt at home at Lakeside Marina and got along great with the guys, with the occasional age jokes because I am about 15 years younger than most of my co-workers. My advice would be to stay strong, don’t be afraid to show weakness, keep your motivation to improve yourself, don’t take the boys too seriously because they love to be sarcastic, make jokes with them, and be comfortable with your place of work. I see Lakeside as a second home, which makes being there surrounded by boys not so bad.
DM: I love the “I know me” line in the video because that showed confidence, even in a difficult situation. Where did you get this confidence? Did you have some success in the classroom or in sports?
Kaitlyn: My confidence came from the past classroom settings where we would compare test scores, and I would normally have the top scores or be able to perform diagnostic labs. My favorite part was helping some of the older guys in my MMI classes with explaining electrical math. You see, I had just went through a class in high school about it, and they hadn’t touched the subject in 15+ years. They were very grateful of my help, which in turn boosted my confidence.
DM: Do you have much interaction with the end-user? If so, are boat owners surprised to find out the person who worked on their Mercruiser is a female?
Kaitlyn: I don’t get much interaction with the customers of the boats I work on. But every now and again I do get a chance to explain or help a customer out then the subject comes about how I am actually a tech in the marina, and they are surprised, but in a good way. Most respond with “good for you,” or ask how I got into it, to which I say my dad. In the past 2 years I have had a couple males who’ve questioned having me working on their boat, but my bosses come back with a good defense for me, and I do my best to answer any of the customers’ questions to show I know what I’m doing. I’m very grateful to have such supportive people standing behind me in this industry.
DM: Enjoying your job is a big key to living a happy life, but hobbies are important, too. What do you like to do away from work?
Kaitlyn: I’m currently in two bowling leagues, and during the summer a golf league, and I try and get out to do some boating, too. I like to hang out with my family, watch some sports, and shop with my sister.
DM: Final question – If you could take part in only one more adventure, where would you go, what would you do, and who would join you?
Kaitlyn: I would love to go to a foreign boat show, probably in Europe. I really love the European yachts designs like Azimut, Lazzara, Lurssen, Benetti, and Oceanco. I would take my grandparents, parents and sister. That would be a dream come true to travel over there.
Editor’s note: Check out the original “Women Who“ series on CarbonTV that explores a woman’s take on typically male-dominated pursuits. Whether it’s shooting, hunting or farming, these women make no apology for who they are and aim to inspire the same passion in others.
Images courtesy of Kaitlyn Schneider and Lakeside Marina