Tanesha Prince went
to camp this summer as an ordinary 13-year-old. After one week
at BE&Ks Construction Camp for girls, she had become
a bonafide "handy girl." Now, her mother Dorlinda says, "were
prepared; we have an electrician in the house."
school students learn about construction at BE&K summer
The construction camp was envisioned
by Robin Paulding, director of communications at BE&K
Inc., a large industrial and power contractor based in Birmingham,
Ala. "I created this camp in response to construction
groups wanting more women in the field," Paulding says.
The camp was first held near Birmingham three years ago on
the campus of a nearly technical high school. Since then,
the number of attendees has grown from 9 girls to 52 this
past summer. The camp also held a session this summer in Georgia,
which was also quite popular. There is even a waiting list
for next summer.
Paulding brings in women from the
field to introduce the youngsters to their areas of expertise.
The specialists teach the girls basics in carpentry, welding,
and electrical work. The goal of the camp is to "break
down stereotypes," she says.
"When the girls come
out of here, they should be ready for the job," says
Mary Hodge, a BE&K electrical foreman, who has been in
the industry for 30 years. "I wish I would have had this
opportunity when I started out." As an instructor for
the program, Hodge teaches at both the Alabama and Georgia
centers. Her task this summer was to teach the girls how to
make lamps. "Its easier than I thought it would
be," Andrenette Poole, 15, says, about the electrical
portion of her lamp project. "I got to wire it, decorate
it, and make it light up."
However, the camp isnt always
full of fun and games. "I burnt my shoe when I was welding,"
Poole says. Fortunately, the camp is prepared with rigorous
safety standards, including a strict dress code. Participants
had to wear closed-toe shoes at all times. Violating any regulations
would result in dismissal from the program. Camp directors
also distributed hard hats to each girl. Luckily, Poole's
mishap "just left a little mark," she says.
Even with these safety risks in
mind, Dorlinda Prince didnt have any qualms about sending
her daughter to work with the tools formerly reserved for
the men. "[I had] no fears," Prince says. "I
want my children to venture out and see all things."
She also felt the company was well equipped for safety, and
had prepared the children well for their experiences.
The projects also helped the campers
overcome the intimidation associated with industry tasks.
"[Welding] was scary," Tanesha Prince says. "The
welding was with fire," her mother added. [Students]
"didnt realize they had the proper protection."
Not only did campers walk away
with industry knowledge, but they also received toolboxes
and "Rosie the Riveter" T-shirts. The girls learned
to use about a third of the tools in the camp toolbox. "Were
just as good as men," Hodge says. "Were the
future of the trade."