Domonique Mabry isn't intimidated by her big move halfway across the country.
When Domonique Mabry moved halfway across the country, from Kansas to Virginia, she had no job lined up, but she had a dream: to be an engineer.
She’s making another big move, this time from Hampton to Austin, Texas, and she has a job lined up with Tesla, one of the biggest automobile plants in the country. She will be a controls technician working on new batteries for the company’s electric vehicle.
“I’m very excited,” she said, and a little nervous. “I would say that it’s a good nervousness. It’s not a negative thing.”
About six years ago, Mabry was working as a receptionist in Kansas, but she wanted to be a chemical engineer. Her research showed Hampton University would be a good fit, so her plan was to work for a year or two, save money and then move to Virginia.
Unfortunately, she lost her job, but she took that as a sign.
“I guess I’m going now,” she said to herself. “I just packed my things in a U-Haul, and I drove to Virginia. I’ve been here for about six years.”
Mabry, 31, was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She joined the Air Force at the age of 17, and after a short stint in the military, moved to Kansas.
“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “I decided engineering was what I wanted to do, and at the time, it was chemical engineering.”
Hampton University has a well-regarded chemical engineering program, but working (she got a job as a gas lead technician for a gas company) and going to college seemed daunting. A better first step, she thought, would be to go to a community college. She found Thomas Nelson and professor Julie Young, who recalls their first meeting.
Upon hearing Mabry express a desire to be an inventor and design things, Young suggested mechanical engineering might be a better route.
“I said, I think you might want to get involved in the mechatronics because that's really hands on,” Young said, adding that led to Mabry is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering technology as well as earning career certificates.
Mabry doesn’t have her mechanical engineering degree yet, but is just a few courses shy. She has earned a number of certificates in the mechatronics program, which has fast-tracked her career. Before taking the job at Tesla, Mabry was working for Muhlbauer, a high-tech production company based in Germany with offices in Newport News. She was the first female field service engineer for the company.
“That was a traveling job,” she said, adding she spent a lot of time in Germany. “I got to work on RFID (radio frequency identification) machines, and troubleshooting them and installing the machines and diving deep into that.”
Neither position would have been possible without Thomas Nelson or her mechatronics certificates, according to Mabry or Rich Wilcox, the lead instructor in the program.
“Companies want people who are certified,” he said.
Wilcox noted many companies prefer certifications over degrees because the former show proficiency in specific equipment, often the same equipment used by these companies. Mabry said that was the case with her at Tesla.
“They said a lot of people have the degrees, but we don’t see a lot of people that have specific mechatronics certifications like this, with the PLC programming,” she said. “They were really impressed.”
Added Wilcox: “She didn’t even apply to Tesla, they came after her.”
Mabry said someone at Tesla reached out to her through her LinkedIn profile, which highlighted her mechatronics certification and schooling.
“Thomas Nelson is a very big part of why I’m embarking on this journey with Tesla,” she said. “Tesla looked at the schooling that I had, but they also saw the mechatronics certification.”
Mabry said that certification and staying in school was a direct result of the teachers at the College and the Great Expectations program. She grew up in foster care.
“Without those components, it’s hard to say that this is the route that I would have gone,” she said. “Maybe Tesla wouldn’t have reached out to me, but they did.”
She’s still trying to wrap her head around working for Tesla and CEO Elon Musk.
“I think what has made me think bigger has been the staff here,” she said of the College. “Great Expectations helped keep me level-headed to stay in school, and not eventually fall off and just work.”
She said Great Expectations, Wilcox and professors Stephanie Cruz and Young played key roles in her development. In addition to classwork, they also helped her believe in herself.
In one sense, she said it’s “unbelievable” she will be working a company such as Tesla. In another sense, it’s not. She started thinking, “Why not me?”
“This is not some kind of fluke or accident,” she said. “I worked hard to get here and it’s OK to embrace that.”
Looking back, she calls the decision to move to Virginia on a whim a good one. And while there are similarities in the two moves, there is one significant difference.
“The first time, I was headed toward some unknown factors, and there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen,” she said. “Now going to Texas, I’m going toward a job. I’m going toward a next step and level in my career. And that’s just really exciting.”
Mabry has grown so much in just a few years, Young said, and it’s great to see how excited she is about her chosen field.
“She’s a really good person,” Young said. “I don't know if you would call her a dreamer. But I’m just really happy. And now she's working at Tesla. That's a good dream.”