As a young girl watching her dad work on his truck, Asha Park learned having the correct piece of equipment could solve a myriad of problems.
As a single mother to two daughters and the only female in the KC Diesel Technology program this past semester, she continues to evaluate her toolbox of skills as she strives to find the right fit for her family.
Park, 33, emancipated herself while in high school, but still saw the importance of securing an education before setting her sights on bigger things in the early 2000s. Her first pit stop was securing her GED diploma from KC.
“I was just ready to hit the adult world and knew that I had to have my schooling behind me,” she said. She arrived in Houston at 16 years old, and soon had her first real skills test.
“I was on my own with my 1991 Chrysler New Yorker and I had to fix the carburetor. I had nobody to help me,” she said. Park went to AutoZone, bought a rebuild kit, read the instructions, and put it on.
“Ever since then, I’ve felt independent,” she said. “I felt like I did not need another person to fix my car because I could do it by myself.”
This freedom greased the gears that would lead her to be comfortable as “the only female, besides office workers,” at a Houston shipyard. While she didn’t mind the work, raising Hanna (age 5) and Akira (age 9) in a big city became unsafe.
“I didn’t want them having to look behind their backs every step of the way,” she said. Park arranged to have her job, including day care, transfer to East Texas where her father and step-mother were offering support. But as the family moved into town, the lid closed on that employment opportunity. Park had to find a new dream.
“I accepted I would have to start looking for a new job, but my step-mom said, ‘No, I want you to go to college,’” Park recalled. “I wanted to go into automotives, but when I started looking around I realized, diesels are everywhere! COVID can’t stop the trucks. They still have to run and someone’s got to fix them.”
Park’s interest in smaller automobiles has endeared her to the classmates that work on bigger equipment.
“They appreciate that I know about cars,” Park said. “If I know a part, they’re like, ‘OK, I should know this too.’
“I’ve helped a couple of guys work on their vehicles after school, and I didn’t mind helping them, but I show them what to do. I’m not doing it for them. That takes away all the fun, and that’s how I learned was by fixing things for myself,” she said.
While becoming a diesel technician is a certificate program, Park plans to pursue her associate’s degree and start her own business – most likely a mobile service to repair stranded vehicles.
Know-how and initiative remain her two go-to tools as both a friend and a class leader.
“I would love for every female to be able to change her own tires and know how to change her oil,” she said, recalling advice she gave one friend who didn’t believe she had the skills to maintain her ride.
“You’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve got to say, ‘I can do that!’ And if you use the tools, even if you don’t have a man’s strength, you can do it,” she said. “You’ve just got to know how to use your tools. That’s what they’re there for.”
For more information on the Diesel Technology program at KC, click here.
Interview by Maria Bilogo, KC Marketing intern
Photo by Rachel Stallard, KC Marketing