With her loved ones having grown up outside of the U.S., no adult in Janette Ramirez’s family ever had the opportunity to pass the second grade. Now, the 20-year-old Joliet resident will soon be proud to call herself the first college graduate in her family after she finishes her last few summer classes at Joliet Junior College.
Ramirez, who participated in JJC’s graduation ceremony last May, came to Joliet Junior College because it was affordable and close to home, but also because she wanted to study teaching and education.
“But after taking a few classes, I realized I didn’t want to be a teacher,” Ramirez explained.
Since teaching was not for her, she began to realize that maybe something on the opposite side of the career spectrum would be. And that was about the same time she heard about JJC’s automotive service technology program.
Even though she had never worked on a car before, something about the program sparked her interest. Working with her hands and helping others sounded like a rewarding career path.
Determined not to give up on achieving a college degree, and confident that this was the direction she wanted to go, Ramirez signed up for JJC’s automotive program in 2012.
In the beginning, Ramirez admitted she wasn’t sure what she was getting into. It was a lot harder than it looked, and even a little intimidating. Many of her male counterparts had been working on cars with their fathers since they were kids – and Ramirez was a blank slate.
“It was a challenge at first, and it was a little scary,” she admitted. “But I’ve learned a lot, and I’m not the same girl I was in high school. I can deal with difficult challenges. I have worked hard.”
Seeing the other students do well when she made mistakes only motivated her to work and study harder. She spent a lot of time in the library and the counseling center. Her favorite counselor, Counseling Professor Mildred Holmes, helped Ramirez connect with JJC’s Project Success as a high school senior. Project Success is a program where qualified students are provided mentoring and extra support to complete their degree.
“She is my mentor, and whenever I need help, I go to her for advice,” Ramirez said.
Holmes has helped Ramirez during her struggles and successes. Last year, Ramirez and her family were struggling with a financial burden. To help support her family, Ramirez worked two jobs in addition to keeping up her 3.5 GPA at JJC.
Even though she was doing well academically, she contemplated dropping out of school because of the cost.
Holmes saw Ramirez’s potential, and encouraged her not to drop out, but to apply for JJC scholarships instead. So, Ramirez started looking. After applying, she received two JJC Foundation scholarships that covered her tuition costs for her final year at JJC.
“Janette is a remarkable young lady and a shining bright light. She’s a great example to others,” Holmes said. “She took advantage of the many support services that JJC offers, stayed focused on her goals, and never gave up, despite the obstacles that came her way.”
In addition to the Counseling Center, Ramirez also spent a lot of time in the Writing and Reading Center. Since English is not her first language, the staff at the center helped her with her research papers. Ramirez also used the Math Center, and when she needed a break, she would walk down to JJC’s Fitness Center to unwind.
Even though she was one of the only females in her automotive classes and labs, Ramirez said she fit right in with her classmates, and has made a lot of friends.
“They treat me like I’m just one of the guys,” she said.
While in the program, Ramirez got a part-time job at AutoZone in Joliet. She enjoys working there, especially now, because many customers ask for her by name. Now, Ramirez works as a manager at AutoZone. She said she couldn’t picture her life without working in the automotive field.
“My job is like being a doctor, but on cars, and I don’t get to see all the blood,” she said.
In a year, Ramirez plans to apply for the automotive engineering program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Further down the line, Ramirez hopes to start her own automotive business, run by women, just for women.
“I want to start this shop because you don’t see a lot of automotive shops with a lot of female workers. And I want more women to feel comfortable when bringing in their cars to be fixed,” she said.
One of the most important lessons she learned at JJC was that a good education can take a person far in life. Ramirez believes she wouldn’t have been able to achieve her education at JJC had it not been for the numerous professors and counselors that helped guide her along the way.
“Every teacher I’ve had here has been influential. They have motivated me to try harder, to keep going,” she said.