Susan Christophersen was a welfare mother of two in 1979 when the brakes went bad on her old Ford Maverick in a local college parking lot.

She was taking general classes at Oakland Community College in Auburn Hills, MI, preparing for some sort of a career that would get her off welfare.

She considered something in the medical field — until her brakes failed, and she lacked the money for repairs.

“An auto tech student helped me fix my car right there in the school parking lot,” she recalls. “That's when I got interested in auto technology, in part because, if I couldn't keep my car running, I couldn't stay in school.”

So she began taking classes to become an auto mechanic, an unlikely career choice for a single mom.

“A lot of people challenged me on that,” she recalls. “They thought it was a wrong idea.”

Retrospectively, it's worked out well for her.

First, she landed a technician job at General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac Div. under a student cooperative work program.

“That was a big break, coming from a college counselor's lead,” she says. “I was having trouble at the time finding work. I was getting ready to take a job changing tires at a gas station.”

After earning an associate's degree in auto technology, she became a GM technician trainer, moving through the ranks as “quite the minority.”

Today, Christophersen is manager of product services and training development for GM's Service and Parts Operation.

She was among the coordinators of ACDelco's Technician of the Millennium III contest in Las Vegas, overseeing the event and announcing winners at a banquet afterwards.

Her oldest son now works as a GM service manager. The youngest son was recently discharged from military service and is a member of the reserves. She became a grandmother this year.

Like her vocation, one of her avocations is not known for its abundance of women participants: she's a competitive drag racer, especially at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.