Dowagiac Union High School senior Misty Bannow works on the paint job of a vehicle at Bonomo’s Collision Center, where she is employed as part of a work-study program with the school. (Submitted photo)
Dowagiac Union High School senior Misty Bannow works on the paint job of a vehicle at Bonomo’s Collision Center, where she is employed as part of a work-study program with the school. (Submitted photo)

Archived Story

Dowagiac senior receives state award for automotive studies

Published 8:16am Friday, May 30, 2014

Misty Bannow bought her own car when she was just 14 years old.

There was just one minor issue with it: It didn’t actually run.

Then again, that is to be expected when said vehicle was an old Dodge Power Wagon, especially one that was formerly used by the U.S. military.

Since the purchase, the Dowagiac resident has worked on restoring the truck in her spare time, applying skills picked up over the years to replace the vehicle’s worn-down shocks, engine and other necessary parts.

“I got all the mechanical work done,” she said. “Now I just need to get to the body work. I’m stuck on whether or not I want to repaint it.”

That is not a bad accomplishment for someone who hasn’t even graduated high school yet.

Earlier this month, Bannow, a senior at Dowagiac Union High School, was awarded a Breaking Traditions merit award by the Michigan Department of Education for her studies in automotive repair and bodywork. Bannow was one of only 18 students to receive the award and the only one from southwest Michigan.

The merit award is given annually to Michigan students who are enrolled in Career and Technical Education programs that are nontraditional to their gender. Bannow was nominated by her career guidance coordinator at the Van Buren Technology Center, where she was attending courses in its automotive program.

When she received news about her selection, the student said she could hardly believe it.

“I wasn’t just happy for me,” Bannow said. “I’m happy that others see that [auto repair] isn’t just a man’s job. It’s one of those things that are stereotyped for men, but women are really good at it too.”

The seed of her love for vehicles was planted at any early age. When she was a child, she spent a lot of her time on the west coast with her father, James, a motorcyclist who frequently entered land speed racing competitions.

“I always to watch him race,” Bannow recalled. “Seeing him go 150 miles per hour on a bike was crazy to me, but it was cool.”

When she was finally eligible to take auto shop classes during her sophomore year in high school, Bannow took the opportunity.

Bannow said making the shift from car enthusiast to repair expert wasn’t easy for her at first, though. Despite that, her inquisitive nature caught the attention of instructor Bruce Steen, who helped break down complex problems for her by relating them to subjects she already understood.

In addition to her work in the classroom and in the tech center, Bannow began working part-time at Bonomo’s Collision Center as part of a work-study program. Working and learning alongside professionals in the field have presented her with a set of new challenges, she said.

“You have a time frame for everything,” she said. “In class, you usually have a week to finish something. Here, you have to get it done in a couple of hours. There’s always deadlines here.”

With graduation only days away, Bannow is still considering her future plans. A longtime member of the North Red Hill 4-H club, Bannow is trying to decide whether she wants to pursue her dream of opening her own automotive and body repair shop or if she wants to work with horses for a living.

Regardless of her decision, Bannow said her lifelong obsession with speed and vehicles isn’t going away any time soon.

“It’s something I love, the idea of making things go faster,” she said.

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