EVERETT — When McKenzie Budrow arrived at the state SkillsUSA diesel competition in Yakima last month the only bathroom she could find in the vehicle workshop was for men.
She was unfazed that the male-dominated event was not prepared for the handful of female participants who attended. Instead, Budrow kept her focus on the upcoming Diesel Equipment Technology competition.
By the end of the weekend, she took top honors, the first female student to do so in the competition’s 53-year history.
“I was going to be happy with sixth place, because sixth wasn’t last,” Budrow, 18, of Everett, said in an interview, her long, brown hair pulled back by a pair of clear safety glasses perched atop her head.
One of only two women students in the diesel program at Sno-Isle TECH this year, Budrow is familiar with being a minority in the room.
Entering the class at the beginning of the school year, Budrow remembered thinking, “It’s going to be a harder time for me, but it’s not impossible.”
Her fondness for trucks, along with a desire for future job security, led her to the diesel program at the high school.
“As long as people need to eat, diesel trucks won’t go out of style,” Budrow said.
When Budrow began expressing interest in the field, her parents at first were hesitant about the choice. They warned her of the challenges she might face entering a traditionally male-dominated industry. Her mom, Jenette, relayed a story about a female friend who experienced sexist and crude humor while working as a mechanic, and though highly capable was often given the least desirable jobs.
“I knew, while there have been great strides in many areas of trades, McKenzie would still be facing an industry that may still be getting used to the idea of women in the workplace,” Jenette Budrow said.
McKenzie Budrow maintained women are actually well-suited to working on cars and trucks, especially when running diagnostics tests which requires extreme scrutiny.
“Girls are wanted in the industry, because by nature girls are more detail-oriented,” Budrow said.
Budrow assumed she was a long shot to take home the top prize at the state competition after coming in third at the regionals.
To prepare for the diesel competition at the state SkillsUSA event, participants were given a five-page list of skills to study. This year students were tested on precision measuring, circuit board troubleshooting, air brakes testing and overhauling a manual transmission. Students were given only 20 minutes to complete each task. Students also had to take a multi-hour test.
All of which Budrow aced.
“I hope McKenzie winning the state diesel competition will inspire other young women to follow their passions, even if others around them aren’t doing the same,” said Maggie Bagwell, director of the Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center.
In June, Budrow will represent Sno-Isle TECH at the SkillsUSA national competition. The price tag to attend the competition in Kentucky is hefty so Budrow launched a Go Fund Me account. As of Wednesday night Budrow was just a few hundred dollars short of her goal.
The win also has provided Budrow an avenue to college — part of her award includes a $10,000 partial scholarship to Universal Technical Institute.
“We are most proud of her ability to stick up for what she believes in and her determination to see it through. The last thing you want to tell McKenzie is, ‘That’s impossible … ’” said her mother.
Ultimately, Budrow has her eyes set on a career that has perhaps even fewer women than the diesel industry — smokejumper.
She wants to be on the first line of defense battling wildfires.
The older sister of twin brothers, Budrow had some advice for them if they ever find themselves in a male-dominated class or career.
“Treat the girls with respect for even having the guts to walk through the door,” Budrow said, “because it’s not easy.”
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lizzgior.