HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Diesel Technology instructor Jeremy Smith has been encouraging women to consider diesel technology, and recent graduate Julia Tupper is one of the program’s success stories.
Tupper’s journey at Wallace State didn’t begin with a pursuit of a Diesel Technology education. Rather, it started a little more than six years ago when Tupper, a native New Yorker, accompanied her AAU basketball coach, Brian Finucane, to watch his son, Sean, play baseball with the Lions.
Their 17-hour trek to Hanceville was two-fold. Tupper was also interested in playing collegiate basketball, and a tryout was put together by multiple parties for Tupper to showcase her skills for then coach Larry Slater.
Tupper left Hanceville with an opportunity to join the Lady Lions.
“I knew absolutely nothing about Alabama before I agreed to make the trip,” Tupper said. “Coming to Wallace State turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I feel like Wallace State, Cullman and Cullman County are the only places I could feel like I was at home even though I’m 1,070 miles away from home. I knew nothing about Alabama at first, but now that it is home, it just kept calling me back.”
Tupper carved out a solid two-year career on the hardwood for Wallace State women’s team. She played during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, averaging a career 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. She led the Lady Lions with 45 steals during her freshman season and was one of the team’s top 3-point shooters at shooting guard both seasons.
As a student-athlete, Tupper focused her time in the classroom on completing a general studies degree in applied science, adding in a lot of elective hours in visual communications. Once her basketball career was complete at Wallace State, Tupper moved back to New York with plans to further her athletic endeavors at Elmira College in her home state.
That concluded the first chapter in Tupper’s Wallace State journey.
Things didn’t materialize for Tupper at Elmira. She had more pressing concerns at home because her father, Russell, was diagnosed with throat cancer once she returned. After a grueling battle with radiation and chemotherapy, Russell Tupper conquered his cancer. Julia Tupper didn’t want to leave her father’s side until he was completely healthy.
“My focus was all on my dad. I basically went to work and took care of him. I thought about going to back to Alabama, but I didn’t want to leave him while he was in a bad condition,” Tupper said. “Once my dad got better he told me I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. He wanted me to go back to school wherever.”
As a longtime truck driver, Russell Tupper encouraged that Julia look into the diesel technology field. Julia immediately knew she didn’t want to be a truck driver, but Russell enlightened her on all the opportunities available in that particular profession.
“He told me that jobs in the diesel field will never run out. There will always be a need, whether it’s with trucks or planes or boats or whatever kind of transportation,” Tupper said. “It sounded interesting so the first thing I did was call Mrs. (Renee) Quick at Wallace State and see what my options were there. She got me in touch with (diesel instructor) Jeremy Smith, and he was interested in recruiting more women to the field.”
Tupper’s second Wallace State chapter was set to begin.
Tupper, 24, relocated to Alabama and embarked on her diesel technology certificate during the 2013 spring semester. Tupper was a little apprehensive at the outset of joining the program. She was confident she had selected the right program, but was anxious to see how the males in the program accepted her. After all, it was unique for a female to be toiling along in the diesel shop, a primarily male-dominated profession.
“I could feel like a lot of them were asking to themselves what I was doing there. I know it’s easy to think women aren’t supposed to be around trucks or in a garage. I think more than anything it just threw them off guard because I’m not much of a tomboy,” Tupper said. “Mr. (Jeremy) Smith purposely put me on a job with different people to make sure they could see I was there for the same reasons they were. Mr. Smith told me from the beginning he had a lot of faith in me and could tell I wanted to be there to learn and do something I thought I could love.”
Smith made it known up front that Tupper was going to be welcomed with open arms.
“We are all on the same team and part of the same family down here. We didn’t treat Julia any differently. Male or female, all I know is I’ve got students and I’m trying to get them ready to go to work,” Smith said. “Everything in this world is changing. What once was a considered a male-dominated profession is now open for everyone. If you think you can do it, we encourage you to try it. All technical programs are that way. We try to do our best to make sure anyone can succeed in what they do.”
Before entering the program, Tupper said her knowledge of trucks or diesels or diagnosing any problems was very limited. The extent of her experience under a hood was assisting her dad with replacing an alternator on a truck.
As is the case with many professions or particular academic programs, technology and computer-based applications have shifted the landscape. At Wallace State’s diesel technology program, it’s not always about getting your hands dirty anymore.
“With the new electronics and the smart technology, it’s anybody’s game now. It seems to be that females are more attentive to the finite details and have the ability to write up reports and diagnose problems better,” Smith said. “There’s still a lot of heavy lifting in our world. It’s still very hot or very cold in the garage. It’s very dirty sometimes, but with the new electronics we are dealing with and the smart technology, we can take a student who doesn’t necessarily want to do the hard-core mechanical side of things and make them a part of our world. It’s a world of electronics now with electronic engines and transmissions. All of these things have to be diagnosed through some sort of diagnostic equipment, whether it be a hand-held scanner or with laptops carrying the proper software.”
Smith said Tupper was highly successful on the electronic side of the spectrum and excelled through any writing and testing skills.
As she did on the basketball court, Tupper used her New York grit and determination to fight through any challenge she faced in the diesel technology garage.
“My dad has always taught me to never give up. As hard it may get, you’ve still got to finish things out, so you can say you did it,” Tupper said.
Tupper completed the second chapter of her Wallace State journey in May with a certificate in diesel technology and was among the 900 graduates who walked at the college’s 48th commencement.
Truckworx Kenworth in Birmingham has an assortment of Wallace State diesel technology graduates working for its trucking company, and Tupper accepted a job there before she graduated, a position that she specifically trained for while at Wallace State.
Tupper is a service advisor at Truckworx Kenworth. She’s one of the first employees to check and diagnose problems with a diesel truck, preparing service writings and getting them ready to be passed on to the service techs for repair.
Tupper definitely feels she has found her niche in life.
“I feel like what I do right now is like nursing for trucks. I get them ready for the technicians to see,” Tupper said. “I’m so proud of where I am now and glad I have this opportunity. I’m right where I want to be.”
Tupper’s comfortable at a place she knew nothing about before the basketball trip.
“Everybody back home can see how much I love this place. I’ve had two friends come down to visit and they see why I like it so much. People ask me what there is to do in Alabama, and I tell them it’s the same stuff you can do in a place like Syracuse (N.Y.), except there’s much more fun around here. You can go to the lake or drive six hours to the beach or go up to Nashville. You have a lot more options here,” Tupper said. “Wallace State was a great home to me, and I’ll always be thankful for it.”
For more information about Wallace State, visit wallacestate.edu.
*The pictures of Tupper at Truckworx Kenworth were contributed by the company.
Wallace State Community College
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