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The 2017 FenderBender Awards: Melissa Marscin

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One Student at a Time

Category: Wild Card

Director of Operations / Collision Repair Education Foundation


Day in and day out, without fail, Anthony showed up to class wearing the same bright blue shirt. It got to the point where his grandmother had to wash that outfit each night, so that the next morning, he could proudly put on his Collision Repair Education Foundation gear.

And when Ken Cook told Melissa Marscin this story? Something unexpected happened.

“When I told Melissa about it, you could see her heart melt,” says Cook, collision repair instructor at Norwalk High School. “A few days later, this young man received a week’s supply of tech shirts.”

Anthony, an autistic student once under Cook’s program at the Norwalk, Calif., high school, has since graduated on to the Cerritos College collision repair program. And you better believe that, each day at class, Anthony is still rocking those very shirts.

It’s an ostensibly small example of philanthropy on Marscin’s part. But, when you really think about everything Marscin has done as the director of operations and administration for the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), you can’t shake the importance of this casual donation, which has carried beyond a high school classroom and into Anthony’s future. This moment meant so much more to him. It wasn’t just a simple set of technician shirts; it was emblematic of what Marscin promises the students at Norwalk and every other automotive program across the country: a future.

That’s the sentiment expressed in each and every one of the dozen-or-so FenderBender Award nominations written for Marscin. Automotive instructors detailed story after story about how CREF has changed their programs for the better, largely thanks to the work Marscin has put in over the past 14 years. Cook, who won the Wild Card Award in 2016, says his award-winning program would be nothing without Marscin, who dedicates her time to allocating funding and resources for collision repair students across the country.

And she loves every second of it.

“I really do have one of the most fun jobs in the industry,” Marscin says. “Sometimes what we give these instructors is more than their entire budget for the year. Without what we’re doing, they might not have enough tape to get through the year. So, I get the fun job of every day telling these instructors, ‘You have something coming in the mail.’”

Like many of the students she helps each day, Marscin once had no idea what to do with her career. With a bachelor’s degree in French and political science in tow, she took a chance on a small organization that, back in 2003, had high hopes of improving the collision repair education system.

Starting out as an administrative assistant at CREF, Marscin has gained more and more responsibilities over the years. Her role exponentially evolved in 2008 when the foundation established a grant program for schools, partnering with industry donors to fill the funding gap that hinders the collision industry.

With the grant program established, CREF held its first-ever Ultimate Collision Education Makeover Grant ceremony in 2009. It’s actually one of Marscin’s fondest memories with the foundation, as she announced—to a small, packed, stuffy room—which school had won a $50,000 grant.

Today, Marscin fully manages that grant program, and that $50,000 prize is a distant memory.

“This year, we gave away $1 million in 20 minutes … I talk fast,” she says, laughing.

Marscin’s accelerated success with the program rests in her communication with both industry donors and collision repair instructors. It’s a twofold approach that keeps money coming in from companies and organizations, and gives schools the opportunity to promote updated curriculum and equipment to students.

Marscin’s constant contact with huge industry names, like 3M, CCC Information Services, I-CAR and Nationwide, have resulted in scholarships available year round to students and grants for schools. Marscin is often even able to secure equipment and material donations, from tape to used frame racks to hand and power tools.

“I made a point to get the word out to [companies] that these schools need everything,” Marscin says. “If you don’t need something, or have extra of something, I guarantee someone wants it and will put it to use.”

On top of that, Marscin has encouraged automotive instructors to be in constant contact with CREF, noting any areas where their programs are hurting. She sends out surveys to each participating school, asking them to detail any tools or materials they need.

“If someone donated a computer, I can see exactly who needed a computer and sent it over that day,” she says. “We try to give schools what they need, when they need it.”

By getting both ends of the industry on board, Marscin has been able to lead her small team toward making huge changes in the industry, tackling the talent shortage one school, one grant, one shirt, one student at a time.

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