Women Techs Rock: Working on a private collection of vintage cars
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Women Techs Rock Highlight
Name: Riley Mahl
Employer: Private Collection
Location: Coopersburg, PA
School: Pennsylvania College of Technology
Who is Riley Mahl?
Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Riley Mahl’s case, the daughter doesn’t stray far from the father. Understandable when her stay-at-home, chemical engineer dad was the editor for a Studebaker club newspaper and was willing to allow Riley’s mother to name their daughter–in exchange for permission to buy a classic Packard, that is. Riley literally grew up alongside the vintage Packard, leaving a significant imprint as she watched her dad work on it her entire childhood.
In high school, Riley served her community as a volunteer firefighter and water rescuer. Already possessing several practical skills, Riley was naturally skeptical of the merits of a college education, despite her father’s suggestions. They compromised, and Riley attended the technical high school where her father was an automotive instructor to prepare herself to join the workforce. Not wanting to be caught in her father’s shadow, Riley elected to take machining courses for two years instead.
With her firefighting and rescue experience, Riley originally planned on becoming a paramedic, attending classes at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. However, after taking some anatomy classes she found that her passions and ambitions lie elsewhere. Riley was reminded of the auto restoration student who gave her a campus tour and was intrigued. She instantly fell in love with the program, being surrounded by classic cars in class, and learning about automotive history and painting. She even loved that old car smell. Riley finally had an avenue to express her newfound natural ability to troubleshoot and fix things.
Riley was introduced to the curator of a local private car collection through the program, and was even interviewed for a summer internship. When the interviewer saw “Riley” on the application, he wasn’t expecting a young woman, but quickly moved past the initial shock, offering her the position. Over the summer, Riley learned a great deal about vintage automobiles and was taught to work with a high attention to detail, giving her the edge over her peers. Riley became a standout student as a very skilled pupil and the only woman in the program. While there was often headbutting with her male classmates, Riley was able to work past these differences and earn the respect she deserved from the very beginning.
In her own words, “for every great man in automobiles, there was a woman behind him.”
Q & A:
What would you tell your 16-year-old self about standing up for yourself?
“Don’t back down on your opinion. Don’t back down on your values. Learn to deal with the boys’ club mentality. When I started showing them up, the men made life harder, so you must find a way to balance doing your best and managing the male and female rivalry. Think about why the men might be giving you a hard time. Most of the time it’s because they are jealous of your abilities!”
What mantra do you use when things get challenging?
“Don’t give up. I face obstacles but find my path forward. If I struggle, I look for a solution, and if I can’t find one it is okay to ask for help. We [women] may be more physically challenged, so sometimes you have to ask for help. If you fall off the horse, dust yourself off and keep going. There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
What is your dream form of transportation?
“Ride a horse everywhere! It’s just a different kind of horsepower.”
Riley also dreams of inheriting her father’s 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood, which belonged to her grandfather.