For the longest time, Aleigha Lyons thought she would not go to college.
Lyons is from Lisbon, North Dakota, where her family owns an auto body shop. She began working in the shop as a high school sophomore. A year later, during a day off from school, Lyons toured North Dakota State College of Science’s campus in Wahpeton. The tour started Lyons on her current path as a first year auto body repair and refinishing technology student.
Lyons is one of the 2,942 females making up more than 43% of NDSCS’ total enrollment. The career and technical education program includes 1,334 females representing nearly 35% of the enrollment. Career and technical education is recognized each February, calling attention to high demand fields like the auto industry, construction, electrical technology, HVAC/R technology, plumbing, welding and more.
“If you’re even thinking about it, look into it,” Lyons said. “Don’t be scared. I was terrified. I know it sounds stupid. Yes, people are going to look at you. They might not think you’re doing to do a good job because you’re a woman. And that’s when you prove them wrong.”
Lianna Jepson is a second year electrical technology student. A fateful experience at Kennedy Secondary School, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, redirected her priorities.
“I was peer pressured into joining a robotics club meeting after school,” Jepson said, smiling at the memory. “It really inspired a new aspect of me. Before, I was very book smart, intent on being a math teacher. Now, I was working with my hands, critically thinking, looking at designs. I looked into NDSCS to (pursue being) an electrician. It felt like a natural path to there.”
The most enjoyable, and constant, experience for Jepson has been retraining her brain.
“I’ve taken so many different classes. When I started this, I was so certain, ‘I’m going to be an electrician.’ Now, I see that there’s really so many opportunities, as an electrician, or a programmer, or an estimator,” she said.
Ivan Maas is chair of NDSCS’ building systems technology department, including electrical, HVAC/R and plumbing. A student may arrive without real world experience, but he or she won’t leave without it.
“Most of our programs, or at least the three I work with, heavily involve lab work,” Maas said. “The bulk of the equipment they work on is literally the same equipment they will work on and service when they get out in the industry. It’s not trainers, it’s not just virtual kinds of stuff. This is the same equipment.”
Peer-to-peer interaction is greatly important for career and technical students, Maas said. Sexism would be a hindrance, especially when capability is the driving criteria.
“Don’t worry about what other people think,” said Carissa Gozdal, a first year Komatsu diesel student from Fargo, North Dakota. “In diesel, no one cares if you’re a woman or not. I haven’t had a teacher or guy treat me differently. If you’re doing your work right, good, on time and efficiently, no one cares.”
Gozdal is a sponsored student, whose education will be followed by time with the company that helped pay for it. Students continue to look for and pursue opportunities to either assist with or redefine education choices.
Brooke Glynn is a third year construction management student from Fullerton, North Dakota. She has already graduated from architectural drafting and estimating, as well as being a member of the North Dakota National Guard. It was through the latter organization that Glynn began her work as a carpentry specialist.
“I really loved it. It was hands-on work that I decided to ultimately pursue,” Glynn said. “After experiencing construction through the military, I went to look for a college that would provide me more opportunities.”
Glynn will graduate this year with a degree in construction management. She seeks to find a full-time job as an architectural drafter or assistant construction manager, working her way up to being a construction manager.
“Don’t care about what other people think of you,” Glynn said to young women. “Focus on your trade and doing what you can.”
Terry Marohl is head of NDSCS’ transportation department. He is also impressed at the amount of camaraderie and interest in shared success among career and technical education students.
“We’re all about getting individuals ready for the workforce, with hands-on career experience. When we recruit, we’re recruiting students for our programs. There’s so much demand from the industries. The opportunities are there, but the demand is greater than the supply,” Marohl said.
Lily Reed, a first year welding technology student from Willmar, Minnesota, is another student whose mind was broadened when she got to try something new. It was thanks to a high school all-girl’s welding class.
“I wanted to pursue my passion and do what I enjoy. I love what I do. If I didn’t go to a bigger (high school), I would never have gone to the program I’m in right now,” Reed said.
Like her peers, Reed sees making a career from a career and technical education program as of matter of doing what she enjoys and can see herself continuing to do.
“It doesn’t matter what field it’s in or if it’s men-dominated. Go and prove yourself to them,” Reed said.
“Sometimes you’re put on a pedestal and sometimes you’re put down,” Jepson said. “In either case, you have to stay true to what you believe. You have to know what you want to do, know your job and do it right. And at the end of the day, you’ll make a lot of money.”
Article written by Frank Stanko for Wahpeton Daily News on February 1, 2023.