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Career and Technical Programs - Meet Esme Rodriguez

Students working on a machine
Tags: Announcement
Published 02/23/2024
ECC student Esme Rodriguez

ECC student Esme Rodriguez

Elgin Community College student Esme Rodriguez said that as high school graduation approached, she was still unsure about which career path to take. In fact, the Carpentersville resident took a gap year after graduating. But it turns out she didn’t have to search for long. Her passion for automotive work stemmed from a young age.

Growing up with four sisters, Rodriguez was the one recruited by her dad to help with his work as a mechanic. She accompanied her dad at the automotive shop where he worked on weekends, tagged along to junk yards to scour for parts, and tinkered on cars and parts in their home garage, she said. 

“My dad always looked to me to help him and get my hands dirty,” Rodriguez said. “At first, I hated it, but it was the way I learned how to bond with my dad, and I fell in love with it.”

In the fall 2023 semester, Rodriguez enrolled at ECC to pursue an Associate of Applied Science – Automotive Service Technology degree. She said she chose ECC because it was close to home, she could continue working, and it was affordable.

Following in her father’s footsteps, she seeks to prove herself in a male-dominated industry. “At first, I was super scared because I don’t have that much experience and because of my gender. I was even asked if I was in the right room my first day,” said Rodriguez. “My first class was on engines, and I felt like I had to prove to them that I was serious about this and that I wasn’t here to expect other people to do my work. I want them to see me as a good asset to the team.”

Rodriguez’s pursuit of work in the automotive field is confirmed by how she feels after finishing a project. “I just feel this sense of relief and accomplishment,” she said. “To know I worked for it and that people rely on this industry.” 

On a two-year track to graduate, Rodriguez hopes to one day work for a dealership as a technician (GM as a preference), where she can “go to work and come home tired with my hands dirty. That’s how I’ll feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Read more about Rodriguez’s life in and out of the shop.

What’s something you do outside of ECC? Most of them are automotive-related because whenever I have a day off from work and school, I tell my dad, and we go to work on something. I’ve been applying much of what I’ve been learning to the truck that I’m trying to build. I try to pack my schedule – I go to work and school, but I also make time for the gym. I just try to have a consistent schedule to hit everything I can for my mental and physical well-being.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? I wanted to be a math teacher because I thought it was cool to be at that age, and I was really good at math. I never had to study for tests; it just came naturally. Now, the more I get into automotive, the more I see how math is incorporated. Being good at math is helping me out a lot.

What’s your favorite spot on campus? The big shop in automotive. What they have in there – the lifts, cars, etc.- is just cool. It just looks like a place I want to be, and it makes sense. When I’m in there, I always feel like this is where I want to be, and this is what I want to do, and I can’t wait to learn about the equipment I haven’t been exposed to yet.

What’s on your playlist/podcast list? I love music a lot. Right now, I’m into older Hispanic music; we call it “Saturday Cleaning Music.” It’s what my mom listens to.

Shout out an ECC Staff member or peer! Gary! (Gary Norden, professor of automotive). He is just so sweet. He was my first teacher, and at first, I was too shy to talk to him and scared and embarrassed about the things I didn’t know. When I started cracking jokes with him, we started to bond and talk. Then I wasn’t scared because he was there to help me. I’d ask him for a lot of reassurance, and because of that, I did build more confidence. In his class, you come out learning what you are there to learn, so you’re ready for the field. He’s my favorite – I tell my family and boyfriend all about him, and we’ll even throw dad jokes at each other to liven up the class.


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