Kaitlyn Schneider: Full-Throttle Career Path

By Rich Armstrong

Making waves in the male-dominated world of marine technicians.

Blending in with the crowd can be a lot easier than standing out from it. But for some people, life isn't that simple. Kaitlyn Schneider, 22, grew up in Wisconsin in a multigenerational family of recreational boaters.

"Growing up," she says, "we'd head to Sturgeon Bay almost every weekend throughout the summer" on the 25-foot Bayliner and the 34-foot Baja that her parents owned over the years. She loves time on the water, but what she didn't initially realize was that she really liked the engine inside that makes the boat go.

"It started with my dad teaching me about basic car stuff," she says. "I liked it. So in my sophomore year, I decided to do a small-engines course. While the other girls were taking home economics and art classes, I was taking automotive classes." She was also excelling in those classes, consistently landing near the top. "I just found it was easy and kept my interest more than the other subjects," she says. After graduation, Kaitlyn enrolled at Universal Technical Institute in Orlando, Florida, where she took a yearlong course in marine mechanics.

"I'd always liked going to boat shows, so I thought I'd combine my two loves," she says of the program that had her taking apart lower units on sterndrive engines to learn diagnostics and repairs. She earned a 4.0 grade-point average as well as the top-student award in most of her courses. With her certification in hand, she started applying for marine-technician jobs, first in Orlando, then back in Wisconsin. More so than many, the marine industry is extremely male dominated.

"A few of the places, when I gave them my résumé, they smiled, and then I never heard back. Others were impressed and asked me questions, but it never led to anything," she says. Kaitlyn stopped by Lakeside Marina, a full-service marina and boat dealership in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on the banks of Lake Winnebago. Lakeside president Joe Honsa says that in his 30-plus years of hiring service technicians, Kaitlyn was the first female to apply.

"She just came by one day and inquired if we were looking for any techs. My first inclination was, ‘Yeah. Do you know one?'" he says with a smile in a video about Kaitlyn produced by Mercury Marine. Two years later, Kaitlyn gets on just fine with "the boys," working alongside them and holding her own. Honsa says he would "put her up next to any of my other technicians on the jobs she knows."

"Lakeside is a good fit for me, everyone's really helpful, we're right on the water, and I'm near home," says Kaitlyn, who wants to one day run her own marine shop. "I love it. I never get bored. Every day is different, and I can brag that I get to go on boat rides while other people are stuck in an office." 

— Published: August/September 2017

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