When Emily Blanco entered the auto collision repair classroom at the San Jacinto College North Campus for the first time, she was nervous.
"I had never worked on a car before," Blanco said. "I didn't even know to mix paint or anything. So many of the other students had been doing this for years with parents or grandparents, but it was all brand-new to me."
In fact, Blanco didn't even tell her parents what she was going to major in until one week after she started her classes.
"I have always been different and thought outside of the box. My parents assumed I would go to school to get a license to do makeup, and for a while I was going to do that," Blanco said. "I started getting into cars in 2017. Then I started thinking, 'I want to do something different.' I want to challenge myself to learn something new and go into a field where you don't see women very often."
After only a month of instruction, Blanco's father, who owns a heavy-duty towing business, asked her to paint one of his 18-wheelers.
"I was shocked," Blanco said. "I barely knew anything, but he had complete faith in me. To date, I've painted about seven of my dad's vehicles."
This practice outside the classroom is what Blanco believes helped her learn so quickly. By doing side work on her own time, she was "able to learn from her own mistakes and experiment."
Her biggest project was on her own car, a Lexus GS350 that was involved in a major car accident earlier this year.
"Emily is definitely a rising star," said Ron Daugherty, auto collision repair instructor. "I helped coach her on the body work of her Lexus. She picked a very difficult paint color, and when it came time to work on it, the College was closed for COVID-19."
At first Blanco thought she would have to wait until the College reopened to work on her car again, but then she felt inspired to complete it on her own.
"I took my car to my dad's shop, and I just went to work. I sanded the entire car and started adjusting my doors, my trunk, and re-welded part of the quarter panel," Blanco said. "I didn't know much about it but taught myself along the way through trial and error."
Blanco continued to work on the car throughout the COVID-19 altered operations of the College. With four days left before classes resumed, Blanco prepped her car for the final paint job.
"I tarped up a makeshift paint booth and started on the custom paint," Blanco said. "I finished with hot pink and a custom metallic flake. I love the outcome, and I love that I did it 100% myself."
When Blanco returned to class for the first time, she asked Daugherty to take a look at the car but left out the detail that she'd finished it alone.
"I couldn't believe the work she'd done in our time out," Daugherty said. "She has always been determined, and I'm impressed with her talent."
Blanco hopes one day to own the ultimate custom paint and body shop known for bold colors and designs.
"I love how people are shocked when they find out I did the paint myself," Blanco said. "I'm proud to say that I did it myself, and it feels good when other people appreciate my work."
Learn more about San Jac's auto technology programs.