When Jessica Kryssing uploaded her mandatory first day of work wish-me-luck pic to Twitter, it got a couple of hearts and retweets and a few replies from friends excited about her new position at at Piazza Honda of Springfield. That was expected.
What the 20-year-old Long Island native and recent Philly transplant did not expect? That her post would go viral. It happened after she quoted her original selfie snap with an empowering note:
“By the way,” Kryssing wrote, “I’m the first female technician EVER to work at my dealership.”
And then her phone blew up. Thousands and thousands of notifications expressing love, support and yasss queen! solidarity poured in. People from all over the country began toasting Kryssing for her achievement, commending her for being a brave “badass” and for bringing attention to the ongoing issue of gender imbalance in the automotive industry.
Within a couple of days, her tweet had more than 10,000 RTs and close to 120,000 likes.
Kryssing was especially touched by all the other young women who reached out to say they felt empowered by her pursuit of a career in a traditionally male field.
“I must have gotten about 30 messages from different girls that said things along the lines of, ‘You’re the reason why I finally decided to go back to school,’ and asked me what my technical school had to offer,” she told Billy Penn. “It was cool because I’ve never had anybody tell me that before.”
Growing up in the biz
Kryssing has been fascinated with metal contraptions moving at maximum velocity since she was a kid.
When she was 7 years old, her father George “Kook” Kryssing said, she became obsessed with making a GoKart go faster. “She’s always had a competitive edge,” he recalled. “Before she got her license, I let her drive our GRUMMAN box truck, which is a challenge to drive because of its ‘loose steering wheel’ feel.”
She became a fan of fan of NASCAR’s Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, and soon was asking to drive her father’s racing AMG at 160 mph down an airstrip, he said. While doing so, her curiosity was piqued, so Kook taught her all about threshold braking, how to get a car prepared for an emergency situation, how to handle a car in wet and sandy conditions.
Kryssing attributes some of her early car love to attending lots of races with her family, but it’s also in her blood: back in 1962, her grandfather founded Kooks Headers and Exhaust, a still-flourishing automotive business.
“My grandpa…started building his own headers out of his garage and was in the drag racing community in the ’60s,” she explained. “He started beating everybody and people were like, ‘Well, what do you have under the hood there?’ so he ended up building custom headers for other racers.”
Years of encouragement from her family made a career in the car world seem like a normal thing for a young woman to chase.
“My dad inspires me every day — and so does my mom of course — but my dad especially does,” Kryssing said. “He is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen in my life. He can tell any kind of car from just the sound, the year, the make anything like that…He’s everything that I strive to be.”
The elder Kryssing is proud of his daughter, not only because of her “excellent work ethic” and “great heart,” but also because she’s showing other women that the automotive industry is not just a man’s world.
“Women can find a sense of empowerment and a nice revenue path to succeed,” he said.
From learning in school to educating customers
Kryssing is currently a student at Lincoln Technical Institute, in a 13-month program about the ins and outs of automotive technology, service management and mechanics.
She’s learned a lot in school so far, such as how to masterfully do an oil change, where to find the air filter and how to analyze an engine issue meticulously, figuring out which tools to use to resolve the problem. But she didn’t need to go to school to learn that women face barriers to careers in the auto industry.
So when she found out she’d be the only female auto tech on the floor at her new dealership, she wasn’t all that surprised.
“Women are discouraged from getting into the car and oil industry because they feel intimidated,” Kryssing said. “Women may not feel as welcome in this environment as they would, say in a female-dominated industry like makeup artistry. As a licensed aesthetician I can tell you that it’s way different for women when they’re working by and for women.”
Though Kryssing feels that she has the respect and support of her co-workers and manager, she’s already been the target of a couple of snide remarks from male customers.
“Some guy was perplexed that I was sitting in his car, testing the battery. He argued, saying ‘But why? I only came here for my tires,’ and I had to calmly explain to him that, like going to a doctors appointment and getting your weight and height checked, cars need to be looked at completely before diving into the root of the problem. Even after that explanation, he looked like he didn’t believe that I knew what I was doing,” Kryssing said.
No chance she’s going to let that attitude deter her from her dreams.
After she graduates, Kryssing has plans to work with a race team or help build car engines. For now, you can find her at Piazza Honda of Springfield at 780 Baltimore Pike, Springfield, Pa.