Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Women in the trades at Northern


October 28, 2016

Havre Daily News/Teresa Getten

Emma Faus has had a passion for repairing vehicles since she was a child.

When she was growing up and all throughout her teenage years in Witchita, Kansas, Faus would build or do maintenance on jeeps and motorcycles with her father and brother.

A self-described gearhead, Faus said that while her interest in auto mechanics delighted her father, it irked her mother.

"She didn't think I should be turning wrenches or anything like that, she wanted no part of that for me," said Faus.

Faus eventually applied to a technical college, but before she could accept or decline, her mother told Faus that she would not be a mechanic.

Given that her mother generally supported everything else she wanted to do, Faus said, she was surprised and confused by her mother's firm stance.

Faus's passion did not cease.

She said that for years, she continued to work on vehicles.

Her mother became more supportive when she learned that Montana State University-Northern offers a bachelor's degree in diesel technology and not just an associate degree or certificate.

Faus is now a sophomore at Northern, and is pursuing her bachelor's degree in diesel technology.

And, thanks to a new grant, Northern is looking to increase its outreach to prospective female students like Faus who are looking to enter traditionally male-dominated career fields.

The grant  

The one-time $5,000 grant  comes from the Women's Foundation of Montana which promotes and funds programs to help women gain economic independence.

Christina Estrada-Underwood, director of the Office of Diversity Awareness and Multicultural Programs at Northern, who is overseeing the grant program, said the goal is gender equity.   

"These are good jobs that many times are overlooked by women," Estrada-Underwood said. "Today these jobs could give women the financial independence that they may have been looking for for a long period in their lives."

Estrada-Underwood said those include careers in civil engineering technology, plumbing, electrical technology, automotive technology, diesel technology and criminal justice.

A portion of the money from the grant will be used to create marketing materials such as brochures, mailers, posters and a website connected to the official Northern website, all of which will serve to promote those programs at Northern and promote the benefits for women who might be drawn to those fields, she said,

Northern's public relations department is working on a promotional video that will feature six female students and five instructors talking about Northern's programs in those fields and their own personal experiences, Estrada-Underwood added.

She said she will also collect information through a survey of students at Box Elder, Chinook, Harlem and other schools as well as job placement agencies such as HRDC and the Havre Job Service Center. The survey will ask which of these programs at Northern women would be most interested in learning more about.

Estrada-Underwood said that she will recruit a speaker from the top two fields ranked in the survey. A portion of the grant money will be used to cover the cost of food, transportation and other expenses needed to bring in a woman working in one, if not both, of those fields to Northern to give a presentation.

The outreach, Estrada-Underwood said, is something she hopes will become institutionalized and continue long after the grant has ended.

The classroom

Trygve “Spike” Magelssen said that in 2006 when he started as an instructor in electrical technology at Northern there were no women in the program. He said that 10 years later, he has had three so far. Two of those women, Brenna Brewer and Joanna James, are in the program now.

Brewer said that at first she didn’t know how to act in the male-dominated class. She said that the men likely felt the same way.

Magelssen said the men in the class thought they might have to do more work and help out the women.

However, after some encouragement, he said that Brewer and James jumped right into the work and have since proven themselves.

“Their capabilities in the lab, they are right up at the top of their group,” Magelssen said. “So they are working hard in the labs to do the work, even if it’s wrong they are working hard to do it.”

Magelssen said Brewer and James are capable and extremely smart. They are not only the equals of their male peers but sometimes their superiors in terms of ability.

He said some of the male students now look toward Brewer and James for help  on math, codes and calculus.

   But Brewer and James have also proven themselves doing the manual labor that is required, at times carrying or lifting loads of pipe that can weigh as much as 50 to 75 pounds, he added.

“These two women who are in the class now, they’ve earned their apprenticeship, whereas a lot of men treat them as equal or even seek their help,” Magelssen said.

When women came into the program, there is a change in the culture of the lab and the once monolithically male class, he said, with the environment one where there is greater consideration and more respect toward each other.

“There is a sense of decorum on the job site, where it is not, as (Donald) Trump would say, locker room talk or job-site talk,” he said. “There is a sense of respect and consideration for others.”

Magelssen said he has never had a problem with how the rest of the class has conducted themselves around Brewer or James.

And James said she agrees, adding that she could not ask for better classmates.

Switching from teaching plans

Faith Martin said she had not decided to study civil engineering technology until spring of her senior year of high school.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher,” said Martin, now a junior at Northern.

She said that she remembers one instance where she saw the geometry she was learning in her math class and the drawing she did in a drafting class play into a project she was doing in shop class.

It was a moment that was a revelation for her, she said.

“And just to see that full circle relation was like a wow,” Martin said. “So once I started to see that, I thought maybe there is more for me out there then just being the teacher.”

Once she graduates and enters the workforce, Martin said, she doesn’t know how difficult it will be for her initially to compete as a woman in a field such as civil engineering technology that is overwhelmingly male.

She said that it will take her some time to prove herself in order to get the same respect professionally that her male counterparts will receive earlier.

But based on experience she has already had with internships, she said, as soon as she proves herself capable in her work, there will be no questions about her ability to do the job.

The mechanic

Faus said that already she sees evidence of more women entering the field of diesel technology. In her class of 52 students, about eight are women.

She said that she doesn’t know why more women aren’t looking to become diesel mechanics.

Maybe it’s because of the dirty and messy conditions long associated with being a mechanic, she said. Faus said while the job can be physically demanding conditions are not as unpleasant as they once were.

“That is not the life of a diesel mechanic anymore,” she said.

She said that she has talked to potential employers who have told her that there are some attributes typically associated with women that make them better prospects for employers in the world of diesel technology.

These include a tendency to be more delicate with equipment, more detail oriented and more apt to show up on time, she said.

Havre Daily News/Teresa Getten

One employer even told Faus he liked female employees more, because when they make a mistake they are more likely to own up to it then a man, she said.

“He was like, ‘Women, I have better luck with them because when something breaks they just tell the truth about what happened,’” Faus said.

She said she has received offers for internships with several companies so far, including General Electric, but she said she has not made any decisions yet.

When she does graduate and enter the workforce, Faus said, she has been in such environments before and is confident that she can hold her own.

“So they really can’t give me any crap, and if they do, like I won’t take it from any of them,” she said.

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