The Jessi Combs Foundation is changing the automotive landscape for women.
Mechanic, manufacturer, TV personality, and racer Jessi Combs may not be with us anymore, but the Jessi Combs Foundation is working hard to maintain her legacy via hefty scholarships for women looking to get into automotive trades—which is a pretty huge deal, considering young girls can still be actively discouraged from joining the auto industry in any capacity.
From welders to engineers, seven women have been awarded a total of $30,000 to spend on their education in trade school. The hope is that these women will become the new faces of the auto industry, providing visibility and fresh ideas to a field still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
The Foundation and Its Goals
There was very little that Jessi Combs didn’t do. She wanted to race cars from a young age, but she also learned how to work with metal and leather to build and repair cars herself. She graduated from WyoTech in 2004 with a degree in Custom Automotive Fabrication, then found herself as a guest fabricator on the TV Show “Overhaulin'” later that year.
From there, her career blossomed. She developed a line of protective welding gear for women and co-hosted “Xtreme 4×4” on Spike TV. She appeared on “Mythbusters” and “All Girls Garage.” She started diving into motorsport via some of the toughest rallies in the world, like the Baja 1000.
On August 27, 2019, Jessi went out to the Alvord Desert to attempt to break the overall women’s land speed record set by stuntwoman Kitty O’Neil in 1973. Her speed of 522.783 mph earned her the title as World’s Fastest Woman—but Jessi died in a crash during her final run.
The Jessi Combs Foundation was developed a month after her death, a way for her loved ones to honor her memory by providing financial aid to other young women pursuing the trades—things like welding, machining, and fabrication. These are normally the kinds of pursuits traditionally labeled “masculine,” which means there are all kinds of barriers that keep women out, be it financial, emotional, or social.
The 2020 scholarship program initially intended to provide two women with $10,000 each, but so many young women submitted video applications that five more scholarships of $2,000 each were created to give more women a chance in industries that have traditionally kept them out. The goal is to keep the scholarship going year after year via public donations.
“It was hard for women to come by opportunity in the past, and there’s a lot of opportunity now,” Bogi Lateiner said in a recent interview with A Girl’s Guide to Cars. Bogi has dedicated her life to training women to become more skilled at auto repair and to feel comfortable working on their own cars via her own sets of mentorship and scholarship programs that are similarly aligned to what the Jessi Combs Foundation does. “That’s a good thing. It’ll translate into more substantial change in the not-too-distant future. I’m hopeful.”
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2020’s Scholarship Winners
The seven women awarded the scholarships this year are:
- Sana Anderson, Welding Program (College of Lake County, IL)
- Hannah Stout, Custom Fabrication and Welding (Wyotech, Laramie Campus, IL)
- Melissa Jester, Structural Welding (Summit College, CA)
- Erin Joseph, Automotive Mechanical/Electrical (Lansing Community College, MI)
- Akai Longo, Motorcycle Mechanics/Metal Fabrication (Motorcycle Mechanical School. NM)
- Heather Holler, Mechanical Engineering with a focus in motorsports (Mitchell Community College, NV)
- Sarah McConkie, Rope Access Welding and Pipefitting (Davis Tech College, UT)
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THE JESSI COMBS FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS – Seven Scholarships, totaling $30K, awarded to women pursuing careers in the trades MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA (November 4, 2020) –The Jessi Combs Foundation (JCF) is honored to announce the winners of The Jessi Combs Foundation Scholarship program for 2020. In addition to the two previously announced scholarships for $10,000 each, continued fundraising efforts allowed the foundation to add five additional $2000 scholarships. In total, $30,000 worth of scholarships have been awarded to the following women: Sana Anderson, Beach Park, IL – College of Lake County – Welding Program Hannah Stout, Sterling, IL – Wyotech (Laramie Campus) – Custom Fabrication/Welding Melissa Jester, Huntington Beach, CA – Summit College – Structural Welding Erin Joseph, Lansing, MI – Lansing Community College – Automotive Mechanical/Electrical Akai Longo, Taos, NM – MMI (Motorcycle Mechanical School) – Motorcycle Mechanics/Metal Fabrication Heather Holler, Incline Village, NV – Mitchell Community College – Mechanical Engineering (focus in motorsports) Sarah McConkie, Bountiful, UT – Davis Tech College – Rope Access Welding and Pipefitting With continued plans to issue scholarships to women pursuing advancement and careers in the trades, the JCF scholarship will become an annual program; additionally the Foundation plans to leverage their extensive network of industry contacts to help applicants and program graduates with the introductions designed to kick-start their first opportunity in the trades industry. “Jessi is smiling right now, of that I am certain” said Steve Elmes, Board Chair for The Jessi Combs Foundation “She’d be so incredibly proud of not only this year’s recipients, but of all the women who applied and their determination to see their dreams come to fruition. As an organization dedicated to fulfilling Jessi’s mission, we can’t think of a greater legacy than to grow this family in Jessi’s name. The future is oh so bright.” #thejessicombs #thejessicombsfoundation #belikejessi #doitforjessi #womencantoo #realdealrevolution
It’s Not the Only Scholarship Program
Women are being more actively encouraged to pursue work in the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry across the board, not just by the Jessi Combs Foundation. The Women of Color Automotive Network is offering their 1000 Reasons Why scholarship, which provides $1000 to women of color pursuing automotive careers to use toward any expenses they may have. The Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation offers $2,500 yearly to women studying automotive topics. The Southern Automotive Women’s Foundation offers anywhere from $1000 to $5000 to women enrolled in STEM fields who intend to pursue the automotive industry after graduation.
There are tons of other organizations that are developing mentorship programs, which provide one-to-one training alongside professional women that work on or design cars.
But as you can tell, a $10,000 per person scholarship is one of the highest prizes available right now—and it’s focused on trades as opposed to, say, the traditional four-year degree from a university. The Jessi Combs Foundation is doing great work to open up non-traditional career paths for women.
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The next generation is ready to carry your torch @thejessicombs Our mission: educate, inspire and empower. Come share the love from 9/22 – 9/25 at the “Jessi Combs: Life at Full Speed” tribute exhibit at @petersenmuseum 📸 by @charlietravelingchopper #belikejessi #lifeatfullspeed _ For everyone who was inquiring about the #belikejessi t-shirt, please stay tuned for announcements on tribute t-shirts coming soon.