PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Even though times have changed significantly, it is still rare to see a woman stringing lines for cable service or sawing lumber at a construction site. Officials at Northern Maine Community College have been on a seven-year mission to change that, and it was clear Wednesday afternoon that their efforts are working.
Approximately 100 girls gathered at NMCC during the day for the Totally Trades Conference, an event geared toward generating interest among girls in occupations that primarily are dominated by men.
Students in 11 schools from Danforth to St. Agatha attended the daylong conference, learning everything from computer-aided drafting, carpentry and heavy equipment operation to surveying and bridge construction. The students were in grades eight through 12.
“This is really an event that helps open up their minds,” said Suzanne Senechal-Jandreau, conference planner and regional manager of the Central Aroostook office of Women, Work and Community. “Some of these girls have attended this year after year.”
Clad in black T-shirts and carrying their own tool boxes and related goods, the girls moved from workshop to workshop before taking part in a self-defense workshop in the afternoon. That workshop fit into the conference’s other goal of empowering young girls to be self-confident, self-sufficient and independent.
The event always has attracted a significant crowd to the college, and is held in April to coincide with National Community College Month.
Participant Emma Jandreau, 13, an eighth-grader at Caribou Middle School, said she decided to take part in the event to “discover new careers.”
“I am particularly interested in welding and heavy equipment operation,” she said between a break in workshops. “Today we go to see different kinds of welding and how some of the machinery works, and I got to work a crane.”
She was joined by approximately 10 other students from her school.
Jessica Day, an eighth-grader from Ashland District School, said she also was having fun learning about potential careers. She said she learned about green energy and the work done by cable technicians to connect homes and businesses with Internet, TV and phone services.
April Godsoe, another Ashland student, attended similar workshops and was intrigued by the work done by cable technicians.
“I’d like to try it,” she said.
The day ended with a workshop on self-defense techniques conducted by Loren Gordon, owner and senior instructor at the Caribou School of Martial Arts and certified teacher of the Lessons In Violence Evasion program. He was joined by instructor Crystal Levesque.
The conference was free for young women in Aroostook County, with funding provided by a number of agencies, including the Maine Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Maine Department of Education, Northern Maine Development Commission, K-PEL Industrial Services, McCain Foods USA and NMCC.