Randi Hearne Smith of Dunlap will walk the aisle for Illinois Central College’s commencement ceremony on Saturday with nearly 300 other grads. While she may look just like any of the rest of the group in cap and gown, she will be making history.
Smith will be the first female graduate of ICC’s General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program (GM-ASEP), a two-year cooperative work training program aimed at preparing students for work in the automotive service technician career field for General Motors dealerships.
Smith and husband Brian have been married for 17 years and have two teenagers whom she homeschooled as a stay-at-home mom between a few small-business ventures throughout the years. It wasn’t until recently when her father passed away that she returned to her passion for cars.
“I’ve always loved cars. When I was five years old, I told Daddy that I would own a shop someday. He used to get broken lawnmowers for us to take apart,” she said. “When he passed in May of 2012, I decided to use a little money he left me for school because he always wanted me to go to college.”
While the field has been a traditionally male-dominated one, Smith took entering the ICC program all in stride.
“Being the only female was more of a source of pressure than an intimidation. I felt a lot of pressure to be the best because I felt like I was representing the whole of my gender. No one made me feel that way, of course, but when you are different than everyone else, you are very aware of it,” she said.
At 35 years old, Smith said she was surprised that her fellow GM-ASEP students not only treated her well but enjoyed special bond, often eating lunch together, visiting her home and even attending her son’s recent Bar Mitzvah.
“Being so much older and a woman, I went into this thinking there would be a separation between us, but I was part of the group immediately,” Smith said. “I came to be somewhat of a parental figure at times, and a couple of them called me ‘Mama ASEP,’ which I loved.”
According to ICC’s GM-ASEP lead instructor, Trevor Imm, Smith has been a true behavioral and academic role model, both in and out of the classroom. She earned President’s List honors every semester while in the program and was one of only two students in the group to receive recognition for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification in brakes. She also was awarded the GM Certified Service Leadership Award for academic achievement and leadership.
“I’ve had the chance to witness Randi’s never-ending drive and passion, as well as her dedication and work ethic, both as a student and as a dealership intern,” said Imm. “Her efforts raise the bar for students around her and continue to open the doors of opportunity in her young automotive career.”
“ICC is very lucky to have both of them. They genuinely care about their students,” Smith said, referring to Imm and ICC GM-ASEP Program Coordinator David Morgenstern. “There is a love for their subject that definitely shows through in the curriculum. I can’t really speak for other programs, but I can’t help but think ICC’s GM-ASEP must be one of the best programs available.”
During the two-year program, students alternate between eight weeks of training at ICC and eight weeks of paid internship at their sponsoring GM dealership of ACDelco Professional Service Center, where they receive hands-on training in all aspects of vehicle repair.
“I chose ICC’s GM-ASEP program because of the paid internships,” Smith said. “It allowed me to make a little money while I was in school and to graduate with two years of experience in my field. The internships are a pretty big deal.”
And for Smith, her internship at Uftring Weston Chevrolet Cadillac in Peoria turned out to be a very big deal. She recently secured a position as a service advisor with the dealership as a result and found a mentor in Uftring’s Assistant Service Manager Denise Doyle in the process.
“Denise and other mentors at the dealership made sure I was getting a good apprenticeship,” she explained. “I think the most intimidated I ever felt was walking in to the shop on day one. Everything after that was fine.”
After graduation at ICC, Smith plans to continue her education in Automotive Management at Ferris State University in Michigan this fall, and she shares words of advice for women interested in the industry.
“Prepare yourself. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but it is well worth it,” she said. “Find a woman in the field that you respect. That will help you stay focused. And if all else fails, call me. I’ve been there.”
This pioneering spirit is apparently in Smith’s DNA. Smith’s daughter Bree is just 15 years old and is a sophomore at ICC with a 4.0 GPA. ICC has invited mother and daughter to be recognized at the board of trustees meeting on Thursday, May 21.
Smith joins the more than 1,900 students receiving degrees or certificates from ICC this semester and the nearly 290 graduates expected to participate in the ICC commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 16, at 9:30 am, at the CougarPlex on the East Peoria Campus.
The ceremony also will be available via live streaming and may be accessed for free by clicking on the banner on the College’s homepage – icc.edu.Next: ICC Softball at Nationals!