Christine Hill, 2016 UBI Scholarship Recipient, Continues her Good Work at the Old Spokes Home
Interview by B Vivit
“I had spent 3ish years as an assistant manager at Old Spokes Home's Community Workshop where we refurbish donated bikes for low-income Vermonters and run a few different youth and job training programs. At the time I received the scholarship, I had moved into a more administrative, marketing, and programming role as the Old Spokes Home's Outreach Director. But I still swung a wrench frequently -- felt a little self-conscious when doing so.”
Familiar stories along the same lines as her compatriots, Christine Hill found the confidence to tackle the harder parts of being involved in the bike industry; giving back to the community successfully, while battling the frustration of losing faith with an industry that seems to not want us here. But check out the awesome things she’s doing out in Vermont, and check out the Quality Bicycle Parts interview, that came out this morning; it gave me another reason to be thankful this morning.
BV: What was the most helpful skill or trick that you learned during the scholarship?
CH: I've spent the majority of my time in the industry working on used bikes, so the lessons on torque, suspension, and newer technology in general was helpful. I now feel much more comfortable talking to folks on our sales floor about the new Salsas and Surlys. Also -- setting up derailleurs. It's pretty simple once someone teaches you the right way to do it.
BV: What impacted you the most about your experience?
CH: The biggest impact from the experience was the result of simply feeling valued and wanted in the bike industry. There are so many reasons to leave -- the seasonality, the low pay, the subtle and overt sexism, the subtle and overt sexual harassment -- and giants like QBP and the many scholarship sponsors giving a leg up to women in the industry in this direct, pragmatic way has kept me energized for the past year and a half.
I believe the bike industry could set the example for other industries and movements on how to turn the tide and be truly inclusive to everyone. My experience with the Women's Mechanic Scholarship is one reason I keep holding onto that belief.
BV: What piece of advice can you give to the hopeful women applying this year?
CH: I decided to build my dream bike after the experience so I could keep my skills fresh. It took me two months and drove me crazy. I was ordering parts that weren't compatible with one another and making all sorts of mistakes and you can't avoid when you're [relatively] new to the trade. I leaned on my coworkers pretty hard to complete the build. For all the new knowledge I gained because of this scholarship, I realized that there was so much more I didn't know. And that's okay! There's no match for the 10,000 hours that master mechanics put in -- so stay humble, be patient with yourself, and love and honor expert mechanics while you're on your way to becoming one yourself.
BV: How did the scholarship help you achieve your goals?
CH: Because of the scholarship, I ran a few open shop nights for WTF riders, taught workshops that I wouldn't have felt comfortable teaching otherwise, and have generally felt on a more solid footing in our retail bike shop where I frequently interact with customers. The biggest, bestest thing that the scholarship helped me achieve: this past year Old Spokes Home launched a Youth Bike Mechanic Training program with a community partner's Multicultural Youth Program. I trained 6 teenagers in basic bike mechanics and then we spent the summer riding around with our Mobile Repair Unit (an electric Xtracycle) providing free bike repair in affordable housing areas. I wouldn't have felt capable of training youth and heading up the Mobile Repair Unit without my scholarship experience to providing foundational mechanical skills and knowledge.
I trained 6 teenagers in basic bike mechanics and then we spent the summer riding around with our Mobile Repair Unit (an electric Xtracycle) providing free bike repair in affordable housing areas.
BV: Did you restructure your goals after leaving the scholarship?
CH: I didn't realize how impactful UBI's teaching methods would be, but after the experience I started to rework the way Old Spokes Home teaches its classes and workshops based on little methods employed by the incredibly warm, disarming, and supportive UBI instructors. They're truly amazing teachers. I also started to focus more on creating opportunities for people of color to advance in the industry -- hence the Youth Bike Mechanic Training program. I was struck by how overwhelmingly white our 2017 scholarship cohort was and I was excited to see more people of color in the 2017 group. I'd like to see more opportunities like the Women's Mechanic Scholarship specifically geared towards people of color, and I'm currently looking for opportunities for the teenage mechanics-in-training at Old Spokes Home to receive professional instruction. I want them to have the opportunity to lead in this industry, if they want it.
BV: How many years did you apply before winning the scholarship? And what class were you?
CH: One. 2016.
Don't hesitate to apply!
BV: Where are you now?
CH: I feel almost sheepish admitting that I'm in the same place with the same job. It's not fashionable for a 28 year-old childless unmarried person to stick around in one place so long in the age of #cabinlife and #wanderlust, but I'm still here in Burlington, Vermont, armed with bicycles and trying to use them to make my community a better place for everyone.