At a Nissan dealership just outside of Boston, one Nissan technician is not just changing parts on cars. She's changing perceptions in the industry.
Nelly Colón has earned the enviable title of Nissan Certified Master Technician. While forging her path to the top, Nelly has inspired and mentored other women to succeed in a typically male-dominated automotive technical arena.
Automotive technicians diagnose, repair and maintain cars and trucks, typically working in the service department of a car dealership, independent repair shop, collision repair facility, or for specialized shops like those that focus on oil changes or tire sales and service.
"I tell them if I can do it, you can definitely do it," Nelly says. "You can literally do anything you put your mind to. It's empowering to know that you can do something that you've been told you couldn't."
Female auto techs remain underrepresented in the automotive industry. A recent report from the TechForce Foundation reveals that women make up just 2.5% of employed technicians, and 93% of female technicians say they "were discouraged from pursuing the field" when they were younger.
Nelly's career spans nearly a decade working at Nissan dealerships in the New England area. Her dedication to customers mirrors her continual learning and career growth.
One of a small group of Nissan Certified Master Technicians in the U.S., Nelly holds specialized certifications in diesel vehicles, electric vehicles and the company's revered super sports car, the Nissan GT-R. About one in five Nissan techs hold the esteemed Master Tech certification.
"It took me three years total to achieve this, though I've heard from others that it can take much longer depending on class availability," Nelly says. "I was very blessed to have finished so quickly."
She can tear down an engine, rebuild a transmission, troubleshoot electrical issues – you name it, Nelly probably has the know-how to do it.
"Even though I became a master tech early in my career, I am still learning day by day," she adds. "It's a lifetime learning commitment."
A career in automotive wasn't always the plan. Out of high school, Nelly pursued veterinary training, but some early classes – especially when they involved dissecting animals – dissuaded her. Standing outside in the parking lot after a rather off-putting vet session, looking at the used car she had already repaired on her own, Nelly had something of an epiphany.
"I thought, why don't I try to fix cars?" she recalls.
"I'm worrying about my car, which is something I can control, so I'm going to learn how to fix it. It will save me money, it will teach me something new, and it will make me self-dependent. Then I can share my knowledge with my friends and empower them too."
Nelly attended Universal Technical Institute in Norwood, Massachusetts. At times she felt like an outsider – a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. She says there were only about five women in her 2,000-student automotive training program. Some trainees dismissed her abilities. This of course encouraged her to work harder.
"They were like, ‘Who's this person? There's no way that she's going to be able to fix cars,'" Nelly says. "I'm hopeful this is starting to change, but at the time that's how my program went. I thought, now I have to absolutely make sure I know what I'm doing. It's literally made me one of the most detail-focused techs out there."
Nelly's personal vehicle is a 2008 Nissan Rogue with more than 275,000 miles.
She uses it to show customers how vehicles last when regularly maintained.
Nelly feels her dedication to her work speaks for itself and helps inspire those around her.
"It should be empowering to anyone who ever has any doubt in themselves," Nelly says. "We as humans are capable of so much. And with the right attitude, support and resources, you can accomplish anything. I'm an honest technician dedicated to helping people protect the investment in their vehicles. That's what it is for me."
Nelly works alongside a team of women in her current role at Route 9 Nissan in Westborough, Massachusetts: a younger technician Nelly is mentoring, the service manager, and a fixed ops manager overseeing service departments at numerous Nissan dealerships near Boston.
"When I started in this business in the 1980s, there were zero women in the technical field where I worked," says Christine White, corporate fixed operations director for 24 Auto Group, the company that owns Route 9 Nissan. "The fact that we have a team of women running the technical area now says a lot about how far we've come."
From left: Nissan Certified Master Technician Nelly Colón; Alicia Mills, a young technician being mentored by Nelly; Route 9 Nissan service manager Mary Parsons; and fixed operations director for 24 Auto Group Christine White.
Nelly says her time with Nissan has been a very positive, welcoming experience.
"I feel like I've earned the respect of my fellow co-workers, enough that if I ever need anything to get a job done it's usually provided with no questions asked," says Nelly. "I believe my work has impacted my peers in a positive way."
Outside of her day job, Nelly and her wife stay busy training Brooklyn, their 2-year-old adopted German Shepherd; exploring the outdoors near their home; and working on various gardening and DIY renovation projects. For the latter, Nelly's auto repair skills and experience have proven an apt fit for learning to take on projects around the house – including wiring, rebuilding stairs and more.
"If I can tear an engine apart, I can probably change a light fixture in the house," Nelly says, reflecting on her aptitude to quickly learn how to work on things. "You only get one chance to do what you like, so I want to make what I do count."
According to the industry-wide 2022 Automotive Technician Survey (Source: Carlisle Drucker) of over 30 automotive manufacturers, Nissan technicians have ranked their company and dealerships #1 in Overall Job Satisfaction since 2020. Prospective technicians can apply to join the Nissan ranks on NissanTechAcademy.com. Another resource for aspiring technicians is TechForce, a community of students, working techs, educators, industry and donors committed to helping young people find a technical education and career.