The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

Best of SNO

The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

Best of SNO

The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

Best of SNO

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Shop talk

New shop/tech teacher Bonnie Thoe Austin is breaking the glass ceiling in her field and is an inspiration for young girls.
Blake Johnson
Bonnie Thoe Austin advises two of her auto mechanics students

“A mother, once teary-eyed, shared with me at parent-teacher conferences that I was the father-like figure her son was missing.”

This is a very good example of the stereotypes that people think when they hear this kind of story. They picture a male in this position, but in fact it was Bonnie Thoe Austin. “I suppose because she categorized my interests/career as ‘guy stuff’, it was sweet and I knew what she meant and it will stick with me forever, especially since I was eight months pregnant when she told me.”

This story is a prime example of how rare it is to see people in the position of Austin. She was recently hired by the Cannon Falls Schools District to be the Industrial Arts teacher. She has fit and adjusted into positions that women are not usually comfortable with and made the best out of the situation. Her example is very inspiring and has encouraged high school and middle school girls to follow their dreams and persevere no matter what.

This amazing staff member here at Cannon Falls Middle School/High School is very inspiring and oftentimes head-turning. Austin fixes cars and vehicle engines, actively farms, teaches a STEM class, redefines “Cannon Falls norms,” wrote her own interactive textbook for their class, and works with electronics and the Innovation Lab.

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Kinzley Rezac

Austin  is a very inspirational figure for many girls who want to pursue a career in a male-dominated field of work.

Grace Miller, a student who takes Austin’s Small Gas Engines class says, “I really enjoy Small Gas Engines. I’ve never really taken a class that was as hands-on as this one, but it was really interesting to learn more about how engines work. Mrs. Austin also made the concepts easy during the engine take-down and reassembly.”

In 2022, women made up about 12% of all auto mechanics in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers are showing improvement, though. Ever since the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, AAA reported a 20% rise in women in the auto repair industry.

The way that women get treated in the auto-repair workplace is very unfair. Women are more likely to be a victim of unequal pay, less likely to get a promotion, especially if a male is competing for it as well, and sometimes (though rarely) even experience harassment.

Along with that, there are also the false ideas and statements made by men that women cannot do the same as men and therefore should not be treated as equals. Austin is a great example of not listening to those voices trying to limit her and pushing through to pursue her dreams and goals.

Although it is very common to see unfairness in the workplace, Austin has not been a major victim of this type of treatment. “There are times interesting comments or looks are made,” she says. “But I have to say, The bizarre comments and looks come from all types of people and I really don’t have many stories of negative situations. The phrase I hear most often is, ‘Whoa, I didn’t expect you to say that. You don’t look like a shop teacher.’”

Austin says that most people are encouraging and genuinely interested in what she does.

Before Austin came to Cannon Falls, she worked at Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota for 12 years. She taught unique classes such as “How to Make Almost Anything,” and “Geometry in Construction,” along with “Small Engines,” “Photography,” and “Metals.” She also taught in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Texas while she and her family were trying to find a good place to settle down.

Austin grew up on a dairy farm working with her mom, her dad, and her Grandpa. She cared for animals, drove tractors, fixed fences, picked rocks, tinkered with this and that, and many more crazy farm chores at a very young age. She knew she enjoyed building, creating, and problem solving on the farm which she believes was “the spark that initiated this journey.”

The phrase I hear most often is, ‘Whoa, I didn’t expect you to say that. You don’t look like a shop teacher.’

— Bonnie Thoe Austin

Even though she knew she liked farming and mechanics, she still had to make the decision to go into the engineering field. The story of how she became a Technology Education Teacher isn’t really a glamorous one. She played collegiate basketball, and that was her number one priority at that stage in her life until she realized that she was struggling with the “applied math” degree path. She scheduled a meeting with her advisor to review her future and it was in that meeting that she thought, “Hmm, maybe I could be a shop teacher.”

Austin is an excellent example that women can do anything that they put their mind to. Austin has traveled around the US while looking for a good place to settle down with her family, and Cannon Falls is fortunate to have been the home she was seeking. Austin is enjoying her time here and reminisces about memories she has had, including people saying unexpected comments like, “You can’t be a shop teacher because you have all of your fingers.”

Austin proves to those voices that not only can she be a shop teacher, but she can excel at it.

This story was originally published on Lantern on January 9, 2024.