From racecar driver to humanitarian
Grease monkey, Daddy's Girl, speed demon, Corvette aficionado and compassionate volunteer - all labels that Keely Albers wears with pride as she sets her sights on volunteering in Tanzania, East Africa.
At first glance Keely Albers, a young woman with a self-described "need for speed" and an affinity for grease under her fingernails, looks more like a candidate for America's Next Top Model than a future mechanical engineer. But underneath that poised and pretty exterior beats the heart of a competitive mini-sprint race car driver and Corvette fancier - AND a young woman passionate about helping others.
The Chickasha, Ok., native recently set her sights on volunteering in Tanzania, in East Africa, for Cross Cultural Solutions, an international not-for-profit organization with volunteer sites in 10 countries.
Half way through her junior year at Kettering, majoring in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Bio-Mechanical Engineering, Albers has decided to pursue a passion to help others by volunteering to work with orphans and HIV/AIDS patients in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro for six weeks beginning May 11.
"A couple of years ago, I researched volunteering programs online and found Cross-Cultural Solutions, and I have been trying to find the time and money to go ever since," said Albers.
"I have always had a deep interest in the medical field after seeing my mother suffer from diabetes as I grew up," she said. "Shortly after I turned 16, she passed away suddenly and since then I have felt a strong need to help others that are less fortunate.
Learning more about African culture and the HIV/AIDS crisis in Tanzania drew her to the volunteer opportunity there. More than 68,000 children under 15 years are living with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, she said, and it is estimated that from 1990 to 2010, AIDS will have increased the crude death rate in the country by more than 50 percent. "These staggering figures compelled me to choose Tanzania as my volunteer location. The country is in dire need of help to care for these affected children and adults," said Albers.
To take on the volunteer job she has had to do some juggling, switching her academic and co-op rotation at Kettering, going from B-Section to A-Section. Her family and friends, the university and her co-op employer, General Motors in Bowling Green, Ky., have all been supportive of her plans.
"All of my family has been very supportive and is very proud that I am taking this opportunity while I'm still young and able to take time off," she said. "My dad trusts my judgment and decision-making, but I'm sure that he's a little bit nervous seeing his only daughter flying off to Africa for six weeks."
Albers and her father, Paul Albers, share a special bond. "My dad and I really relate to John Force and his daughter, Ashley Force (both drag racers). The bond that they share at the racetrack is the same that my dad and I have experienced," said Albers of her six-year participation in mini-sprint racing under her father's sponsorship. Mini-sprint racecars have 600cc, 750cc and 1200cc motorcycle engines and compete on an eighth-mile dirt track.
"My dad calls me his "lil' buddy." We are a team, on the racetrack and also in life. We've been through some really tough times together and managed to survive," she said. An only child, Albers grew up helping out in her father's business Performance Plus, a company that rebuilds engines for mini-sprint racecars.
"My dad has centered his career on making the fastest motors the dirt-track has ever seen," bragged Albers, "I grew up working in his shop tuning carburetors and such. I love getting covered in grease and I love driving fast," she said. "I'm pretty sure that I was supposed to be a boy. I grew up playing with racecars instead of Barbie's," she added. Albers claims her father is the cause of her lead foot. The senior Albers was a drag racer in the 1980s with a team called "Risky Business."
Added to Dad's support, Albers is getting both emotional and financial support from friends and co-workers. "My co-workers in Bowling Green, and also up at GM Headquarters in Warren, (Mich.), have openly supported my trip through many generous donations and a lot of moral support. Unfortunately, GM's matching grant program is not available to co-op students, but individuals have come to my rescue," Albers said.
Her friends at Kettering have pitched in as well. Sorority sisters from Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority have given her donations and moral support. "I have been saving all of their encouraging emails so that I can take them with me to read again while I'm in Tanzania.
"My boyfriend, Marc-Ellis Brandt, is one of my biggest supporters and inspirations," Albers said. Brandt, of Danville, Ill., spent six months volunteering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He encouraged Albers to pursue the volunteer opportunity with Cross Cultural Solutions. His fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, has lent support to help Albers on her trip.
In addition to raising funds, Albers is preparing for every contingency by getting extra shots. "I decided to take every precaution available and have received yellow fever, typhoid, malaria, influenza, and polio booster vaccinations. None of these are mandatory to enter Tanzania, but are a very good idea," she said.
After Africa Albers said she will be ready to return to school and get back to work on her long-term goals. Her dream job is to work on the Corvette Race Team. She is currently trying to land a co-op position with the team.
"So far my career at GM has mostly involved alignment equipment, which is what I am currently working on at the Corvette plant. I am hoping that my racing background, paired with my alignment experience will allow me to work with a race team on car setups and alignments," she said.
"My dream growing up was to design Corvettes, and here I am working at the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, staring at Z06's all day long with the Corvette Museum right across the road. I'm living the life I used to fantasize about thanks to Kettering's co-op program and networking capabilities. Life couldn't get any better for me right now," she said.
"I hope to always have Corvettes be a major part of my life wherever my career leads me," she said. "On a recent visit to the Corvette Museum, I did see a perfect spot for my name and picture on the Corvette Hall-of-Fame Wall. That might be my next goal after my trip to Africa," she said.
"However, if when the time comes for me to graduate and I do not manage to secure a job on a race team, I have seriously looked into joining the Peace Corps and doing a two-year stint," said Albers. "The good thing about Kettering is that it opens doors and gives me opportunities that I never dreamed I would have."
For more information about Cross Cultural Solutions visit their web site at http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org.
For more information about mini-sprint racing visit the American Mini Sprint Association web site at http://www.americanminisprints.com/.
To learn more about Kelly Albers' mini sprint racing circuit visit www.microoutlaws.com.
Written by Dawn Hibbard