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Olivia Peterson made the drastic career shift from a librarian to taking classes in automotive collision repair back in 2020. The change has brought her a promising new career, and it also allowed her to win the gold medal at the SkillsUSA Collision Repair Technology national competition in Atlanta.
Peterson was one of three CLC students to compete in the state competition. The winners from each state competed in the national competition in June.
For the competition, students had to demonstrate their skills in plastic repair, metal repair, welding, structural analysis, a written test and mock interview.
Peterson liked competing, but she especially enjoyed meeting so many people with similar interests.
“At your own school, you sometimes forget there are other people doing the same thing,” she said. “Seeing other students like me taking their career seriously was a great experience. I made some good friends and connections out of it.”
After being strongly encouraged by her instructors to compete, Peterson is happy to enjoy the career benefits that come with being the winner.
“My name is now out there,” she said. “At the same time, it gave me a chance to evaluate my skillset. The competition tested typical things I do daily in my field.”
In a male-dominated field, Peterson is one of only a handful of women to ever medal in the Collision Repair Technology competition. She was happy to represent women in the trades when she stood on the podium.
“After two career changes, I found a job with purpose, helping promote women in trades,” she said.
Peterson came to CLC as part of an apprenticeship pilot program in 2020. For the program, she spent the first half of each semester in the classroom full-time taking classes and the second half working as an apprentice in a body shop.
She credits this experience for her being able to practice her skills that helped win the competition.
“I had a spectacular mentor who helped me become who I am today,” Peterson said. “Having the theoretical background and hands-on experience, you have everything you need to be set up for any career you want.”
Peterson did her internship with Gerber Collision & Glass in Crystal Lake, and before graduating, was offered a full-time job and is currently working there.
Peterson’s instructor, Octavio Cavazos, was not surprised by her success at SkillsUSA after observing her performance in the classroom.
“Olivia excelled at both the hands-on and theoretical parts of the course,” Cavazos said. “She was inquisitive and always asked a lot of questions. Our program is designed and delivers the curriculum and hands-on skillset that allows our students to do the best they can do at SkillsUSA and in their careers.”
College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.
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