CALAIS, Maine — They may have been dressed to impress, but the young women who attended the 2012 Totally Trades Conference held at the Washington County Community College on Friday were not afraid to roll up their sleeves and build a tool box or winterize a car.
More than 130 young women in grades eight through 12 from Jonesport-Beals to Baileyville’s Woodland Junior/Senior High School participated in the daylong event designed to encourage young women to consider careers in fields traditionally dominated by males.
The day featured everything from carpentry and automotive repair to heavy equipment operation and bridge building.
“We want to give girls a hands-on workshop experience to spark their interest and raise their awareness about a career field they may have not previously considered, as well as provide female role models — women who can lead by example, having already succeeded in pursuing work that traditionally is viewed as ‘man’s work,’” said Suzanne Senechal-Jandreau, conference planner and regional manager of the Aroostook Center for Women, Work and Community, a statewide organization committed to improving the economic lives of Maine families.
The community college classroom in St. Croix Hall was abuzz with voices and laughter as the girls settled into their seats. They were welcomed to the conference by college President Emeritus and Interim President William Cassidy, who talked about the opportunities available to young women. He assured the girls that they could be whatever they wanted to be. “We only want the best for you and your future,” he said.
Students also watched a video produced and directed by St. Croix Regional Technical Center junior and senior students Quinn Sluzenski and Kelli Bailey about a fellow student, Makalya Cobb, a senior at Woodland High School. Cobb, who takes classes at the Regional Technical Center, completed American Welding Society certification during her junior year and as a senior is working toward certification in truck driving.
Cobb explained that she took the classes because they would mean a job regardless of the state of the economy. “We will always need welders, we will always need truck drivers,” she said.
After that, the young women went off to one of 16 workshops, including ones on welding, electrical, heavy equipment operation, and plumbing and heating.
During a morning workshop, 11 young women who signed up for the Tool Box Construction project at first seemed somewhat uncertain as they studied the pieces of wood alongside the large electric hand drills on the table in front of them.
But then Courtney James, 16, of Woodland High School, and the other students measured the pieces and began to assemble them. When James was asked what she intended to do with her tool box once it was done, she paused, looked at it and said she would add some glitter to spruce it up. Later she decided that purple glitter would do the trick.
Across the way in the Building Trades classroom, Kelsey Jones, 17, a senior at Jonesport-Beals High School was building a knickknack shelf. She was joined by Hope Clevenger, 11, of Robbinston Grade School.
Then it was back to the gymnasium for lunch and a group exercise in building catapults and sending marshmallows into target areas.
Following afternoon workshops the youngsters were back in the gymnasium for a training session in self-defense taught by Carl Bailey of Calais.
The event was sponsored by the Maine Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration and the Maine Department of Education. In addition to WCCC, Time Warner Cable also provided support for the daylong event.