Ashland's United Bicycle Institute secures more diversity in the cycling industry

The United Bicycle Institute, one of two of its kind in the country, hosts annual scholarships to encourage women, transgender, and non-binary individuals to advance their careers in the cycling industry. (Genevieve Grippo/KTVL)

On Friday, a group of 32 women will graduate from an exclusive scholarship program that is trying to open up what's traditionally been a male-dominated field.

The United Bicycle Institute is one of two schools of its kind in the country. Over the past two weeks, they've been holding their Women's Bike Mechanic Scholarship, a program is open to women, transgender and non-binary individuals.

The purpose of this scholarship is to increase gender diversity within the cycling industry by giving women, trans and femme (WTF) individuals the in-depth knowledge they need to help advance their careers.

"This particular program is really important because it's still a male dominated industry," said B Vivit, a former graduate of the scholarship program who later became an instructor at the school.

"I'm hoping that by making female oriented or femme-oriented mechanics more regular in the industry, you're going to see this kind of culture shift," she said. "It's just going to become normal."

The students involved in the program come from all over the country, and must work in bike shops in some capacity.

Scholarships and lodging are funded by biking company Quality Bicycle Parts (QBP). A similar two-week "pro class" at the institute would cost a traditional student $2,100.

According to Vivit, the scholarship has been offered for the last five years. Over that time, more than 100 WTF students have graduated the program.

But the intensive and in-depth program has only been offered to a select number of applicants.

"There are usually about 300 applicants each year. We've had up to 800 applicants," she said.

Applicants are selected based on a number of factors-- one of which being their willingness to share their biking knowledge with their communities.

"These are mechanics aren't just putting in the hours nine to five," said Vivit. "They are also mechanics that have gone out into their communities and created programs where they're disseminating information."

Sage Saatdjian was one of the 2019 scholarship recipients. Coming from Humboldt County, Calif., she owns her own bike shop and is largely self-taught when it comes to cycling mechanics.

She had applied for the women's scholarship three out of the last for years before being selected for the most recent session.

"I cried," she said. "I want to take this education and spread it so that more women can compete and be comparable to men in the industry."

Kit Melton traveled from New York City to attend the program. She works in a multiple bike-related jobs-- all of which, she said, are dominated by men.

"It's almost stifling, staggering. My goal has always been to push back against that and make a change, and also to maybe inspire other women and non-binary people," she said.

Vivit, Saatdjian and Melton all share a common hope of seeing as many WTF individuals behind the the counters of bike shops and on cycling trails around the country as possible.

The Women's Bike Mechanic Scholarship is helping to make it happen, one graduate at a time.

"There's also just this inculcated thought that women are not at mechanics, that women can't be good mechanics, that women suck at science and math and all that jazz," said Vivit. "Not true. Completely not true."

UBI also has a campus in Portland. A second scholarship session started there this week. You can learn more about the scholarship program and criteria to apply by visiting their website.

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