'Girls in Engineering Day' - in Graves County attracted 27 young women
"Obviously, this is a nontraditional camp," Mayfield-Graves County Area Technology Center principal Mike Miller said recently, as his school hosted a special one-day project. "We're looking at a people group in a particular trade that doesn't exceed 25 percent. So, we targeted females for all three of these trades - welding, electricity, and carpentry. We obtained federal funds from Perkins grants and my teachers volunteered to participate. Then, we reached out to guidance counselors in the schools and they recruited students.
I also made a few trips to talk to kids in person. So here today, we have 24 students from the middle and high schools of both Mayfield and Graves County. We're thrilled with the students' involvement and excitement about getting their hands on some tools they've never used before. That lets us send them out to do some thinking about their career options."
Miller continued, "Employers see nontraditional workers in a favorable light because a diverse workforce is the most successful. That includes gender equity. When working for clients, it's important to have diverse perspectives to make that product the best it can be."
He concluded, "We couldn't do this without community support, without people like Lewis Yopp from Airgas, who worked to get donations of everything from gloves to helmets as giveaway prizes. Others who have provided tremendous help include Progress Rail's human resources director Bill McDaniel, Ray Black and Son Construction supplying us with one of their employees, and all my teachers volunteering their time. Female teachers in business and health science also are here, lending support. It's a real team effort."
Taghan Bills, left, graduated from Carlisle County High School this spring.
"I love welding," she said. "When I lived in Louisiana, I walked into a welding class at my high school and said I wanted to join the class. The teacher said, 'Why not?' So, I got in the class and the guys were saying I couldn't do it. I worked hard to learn and came in after class to do more. Then, when I came here to Kentucky, I got in the welding class, caught up to the guys and actually got ahead of them. So, I took Welding 3 this past year. Now, I'm going to get an associate's degree in liberal arts at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, while completing the welding program, then I'll transfer to Murray State University." Bills explained, "I love that I can do welding and that it's hands-on. It's kind of like an art. Once you learn the basics, you make it your own. You develop your own techniques."
Arnelda Thompson has worked as a welder for Progress Rail the past eight years. "I haven't seen a lot of female welders," she said, "but I actually love welding because of the technique and perfection it requires. I don't complete a job until I'm finally satisfied that the work is just right. I love that artistic aspect. I truly hope some of these girls will try welding. Women often are artistic and patient. That helps in seeing that the work is done with precision."
McKenzie Jackson will enter the eighth grade at the start of the 2018-19 school year. "I came here today because a lot of my family members work in welding," she said. "It's not something most girls get to do and a job where you don't sit at a desk. I just like how you can create projects on your own and you can make something look as nice as you want with practice."
"When I found out we were having the girls camp, I was interested," said Mayfield-Graves County ATC health sciences teacher Brandi Hungerford. "Growing up with my father, we were not taught to limit ourselves in any area. So, when the opportunity came up to learn welding, it was a no-brainer: to just do something different. Nursing is such a different creature. One of the reasons I wanted to be here today is to help young ladies learn that you can do just about anything and, as females, make it look good."
"We have a gap in this industry, where baby boomers are retiring and there's a real need for people to fill those jobs," said April Allen. She works as a project manager for Ray Black and Son Construction Company in Paducah. Her route to that position began while working at Lowe's and she brings a business sense to her job as well as an artistic bent. "As women, we tend to be more detailed, our projects tend to be a tad cleaner," she said with a laugh. "I encourage them to pursue a skill trade, like carpentry because this industry is here to stay."
Kayla Aldridge will enter eighth grade at Graves County Middle School when the new school year begins. "I am here today because I'm interested in learning new skills," she said. "I like to widen my perspective on the world. I absolutely love doing hands-on activities like the 4-H Future City competition. So, I love learning new things that I wouldn't necessarily learn in school. I think it's good to build up girls' confidence in this environment and to teach them they can do whatever they set their mind to doing. I hope things like this continue to offer possibilities."