Sparking an interest in welding for girls

Summer camp in Alabama provides peer-to-peer mentoring experience for high school students
By PLE Staff June 19, 2009

Even in the face of a recession, great careers are currently available in many technical fields, and throughout the nation efforts are under way to grow the workforce in those jobs through greater diversity.

A week-long free summer camp offered by Calhoun Community College is sparking the interest of area high school girls in non-traditional, high-tech, high wage careers in welding and electrical technology.
The college’s 3rd annual Summer Welding and Electrical Technology (SWeETy) camp offered participants a unique opportunity to learn hands-on about technical skills that can lead to high-paying, satisfying careers in high growth industries. The camp provides experiences in welding and electricity and helps students develop problem-solving skills and teamwork as they participate in instructor-led projects, field trips and interact with women role models during industry-sponsored lunches.
"The students are challenged to break down stereotypes that may deter girls from pursuing technical professions by introducing them to successful women who currently work in nontraditional fields and by offering them a number of convincing reasons why girls should consider technical careers," said camp coordinator Gwen Baker.
Baker added that camp participants agree that the week of SWeETy camp is both a fun and educational experience.
Athena Hinkle, 17, a student at Athens (Ala.) Bible School who is also enrolled in the welding program at Limestone County Career Technical Center, decided to attend the camp because one of the camp’s instructors is also her high school welding teacher. At the present time, Hinkle says that her plans are to enter a college welding program when she leaves high school.
Fifteen-year-old Courtney Turpen, a student at Moulton High School, signed on for the SWeETy camp "because I really like welding and I really wanted to learn how to weld."
Courtney plans on welding as her career and says that she is seriously considering entering the welding program at Calhoun after high school graduation.
"By introducing these career options to young women still in high school, we hope to guide them early on into the math and science courses they will need to prepare them for earning a degree or certificate in these high-demand, high-paying fields," said Jim Swindell, associate dean for technology education at Calhoun.
"At Calhoun, we also offer many of our technical courses at the high school level, so students can receive dual credit for classes they take now, before graduation. More importantly, after completing the two-year degree programs, they have the potential to earn up to $50,000 annually at a very young age," Swindell added.
Another SWeEty camper, senior Paige Burris of Elkmont High School, recently moved to the north Alabama area with her family. Her mom learned of the camp through a flyer posted at school and encouraged Paige to participate. Paige is familiar with basic welding and as a hunter says she uses the skill to weld deer stands.
"My dad is involved in welding and I’ve always liked it," she added. "This camp has been very educational for me; I plan to study to be a veterinarian but I’m also interested in engineering, so if I go that route, the hands- on experience I’m getting now will be invaluable, not to mention that there are a lot of jobs in that field with great starting salaries."
Sixteen-year old Casey Hamer, a student at Woodville High School, traveled almost an hour each morning to get to the camp, but felt it was worth the drive. "My mom found out about this online and I really like trying new experiences, so I decided to come. The welding is fun and it’s is something I might like to do later," she said.
The camp continues to be successful through the support it receives each year from the local chamber of commerce and area business and industry who realize the importance of investing now in the workforce of the not-so-distant future.