Lassonde mechanical engineering student empowers women on the road

Third-year mechanical engineering student Jowana Burgan has always had a passion for hands-on work. A self-motivated, curious person, Burgan loves learning new things and challenging herself – and it was no different when it came to her car.

Jowana Burgan

When she first started driving, she watched YouTube tutorial videos to learn the basics of mechanics, and while helpful, she still felt she required hands-on experience to understand how best to service and upkeep her vehicle. The sense of joy and freedom Burgan felt when she started driving was often undercut by of the sense of powerlessness she felt over the maintenance of her own vehicle.

She approached mechanic shops in hopes of shadowing their work to learn more and eventually found a mechanic with whom she felt at ease. Finding this shop and mentor – a place and person she felt comfortable with – who wasn’t judgmental and taught with patience is what inspired Burgan to assemble her own judgement-free, affordable and empowering space for other women to learn hands-on, mechanic skills.

She founded Girls Mechanic Team (GMT) in May 2018 and the organization’s free workshops have already accommodated more than 200 participants of all ages. Burgan says it’s never too early – or too late – to learn the basics.

“Now, using my tools to fix and work on my car brings me the same happiness people might get watching their favourite show or playing their favourite sport,” she said.

As a driver, having mechanical skills is just as essential as knowing how to drive. Women make up most customers in the automotive field and understanding even the basics is crucial to knowing how to talk to mechanics, save money and prevent repair-related headaches.

“Learning these skills goes far beyond just applying them. Women gain confidence by practicing oil changes, tire changes and other modifications. As a result, they feel better equipped to deal with what might come their way and this feeling of independence can be transferred to other aspects of their lives,” said Burgan.

The Girls Mechanic Team is made up of five young women with unique perspectives, but the organization is continuously growing and evolving. For Burgan, the true team goes beyond the executive members. It is the large network of women who attend the workshops, connect with GMT and seek to build their skills and inspire girls among their community.

As a small and relatively unknown start-up organization, GMT has faced challenges finding sponsors and funding to maintain the quality of training and support that workshops, which happen across the Greater Toronto Area, require. GMT has captured the attention of media and has grown rapidly in a short amount of time with appearances on CP24 Breakfast, CP24 Autoshop, and most recently, CTV News.

Burgan agrees that her education has played a major role in delivering quality and successful workshops at GMT as it provides an in-depth, theoretical understanding behind every process an automobile goes through.

“Although I prioritize academics, I truly believe making time to focus on what someone is passionate about as well as giving back to the community is crucial,” she said.

To learn more, visit the GMT website.