Lewis-Clark State College junior Jessica Arnett doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She’s seen – and been through – a lot to know life has its difficulties. Through it all, she has persevered and is now thriving.
Arnett, 26, will be starting her third year this fall in the college’s Collision Repair Technology program. She earned her Associated of Applied Science degree earlier in May and is continuing on to earn bachelor degrees in both applied science and business.
This past spring, Arnett placed second in the Idaho State SkillsUSA competition in Automotive Refinishing (painting), which seems to be her specialty. It’s the second straight year she has finished second at state.
“I don’t want to say it’s relaxing but I enjoy going into the paint booth and being by myself, watching the paint go on,” Arnett says. “It’s kind of like drawing in some ways, but it’s also very different.”
After her second place-finishes, Arnett told her instructors that she did not want to know how close she was to the winning score. Instead of fretting about what could have been, especially if the scoring was close, she chooses to accept the second-place medallion and move on.
“I enjoy what I do,” she says. “I’ve always kind of been ahead in science and art. I like painting a lot, even though it’s hot in the paint booth, which is awesome in the winter because I don’t do well in the snow.”
Arnett won the northern Idaho region SkillsUSA competition both years, which qualified her for state. Competitors at the northern Idaho competition are judged on making a repair estimate, putting together a paint panel and then a blend to match the vehicle’s color, and painting. At the state meet, there are also exams covering different collision repair areas as well as matching a spot prime on plastic, fixing a deep scratch in plastic, paint theory and identification, blend panels, masking, and using the paint gun.
“It’s great for me because I’m not good at sitting in the classroom,” she says.
Unfortunately, Arnett found that out the hard way.
Arnett spent her childhood bouncing back and forth from California where her mom lived to Kendrick, Idaho, where her dad, Robert Evernden, had settled. She estimates she attended seven different schools before she graduated from Kendrick High in 2009.
“I really don’t know anything different so no,” Arnett said when asked if it was tough growing up always changing schools. “I graduated from high school with like a 3.8 GPA and in the top 10 percent at Kendrick.”
She enrolled that fall at LCSC with a plan to major in biology.
“But I can’t focus on bookwork,” she says. “I could read something and immediately forget it. I’m better hands on. So I’m not very good at math. I’m gifted in science and chemistry, but when it comes to reading about stuff and doing that work, it’s not very easy for me.”
Midway through her second semester, things were not going well so she decided to withdraw from school.
She continued to move back and forth between Kendrick and California when her life took a turn for the worse.
“I got into some bad stuff in California and kind of screwed up my life,” she says. “I got pretty deep into drugs, gang affiliation and stuff, and ended up on the complete wrong side of everything.”
She says she disowned her family and wound up on the national missing person’s database when her family couldn’t find her.
“I just walked away from everybody and everything,” she says. “I completely just dropped off the face of the earth I guess. In my mind, my family wasn’t treating me like I thought a family should so I was struggling and I needed help, but didn’t know it.”
She says an ex-boyfriend found where she was staying and went to see her. He told her she needed to get in touch with her family.
“He pretty much drug me back to my family and they made me come back up here,” she says. “So I was like 23 and grounded at my dad’s house. It was a good thing. I freaked out a couple of times because I couldn’t go anywhere. He lives out in the boonies, but I needed it.”
She got into rehabilitation and counseling to put herself and her life back together. She said she learned about getting back into college through vocational rehabilitation. Eventually, she decided to give LCSC another try, but this time in the Career and Technical Education area.
“I’ve always kind of tinkered around in the shop,” she says. “So I would be doing stuff out there, but not really knowing what I was doing. I knew some stuff, but I wanted to put my artistic abilities to something. I’m really not very good at figuring out the puzzles of engines, so I went with the next best thing I guess.”
Arnett says she enjoys the classes at LCSC and being able to work with her hands. She says the classes focus on basic restoration of vehicles, including bodywork and painting to factory conditions to get the vehicles back to what they looked like before the collisions. She’s also done some custom work, which she really enjoys, including painting flames on a car.
“That’s the kind of stuff I was interested in before I got into the program,” she said. “But I enjoy it all.”
Since coming back to the area, she married Billy Arnett, who is a mechanic. Together, they would like someday to own an automotive repair shop. Currently, they rent a shop in Moscow, where they live, and they have several projects they are working on.
Because LCSC has many of its upper division business classes online, Arnett plans to take all online classes next fall and work at Eric’s Auto Body in Colfax.
“I’m doing well now,” Arnett says. “When I withdrew, my GPA was like a 0.8 and now it’s like a 3.1. I’ve been doing well enough to jump almost three grade points. It hasn’t been easy, but I am enjoying it.”