BRATTLEBORO -- Gone are the days when girls were barred from taking part in the same school courses and activities as their male counterparts. The idea that young women should stick to "gender-appropriate" tasks like sewing and cooking are, for the most part, a thing of the past, and fields once dominated by men are becoming increasingly diverse.
This holds true at the Windham Regional Career Center, which hosts girls in several areas of study that society once thought were "for guys." WRCC Guidance Coordinator Anne Doran said programs are offered to males and females alike, and some girls are thriving in courses typically occupied by only boys.
"I think the fact that the technology and the equipment that we consistently are upgrading and offering the kids makes it sort of a unique place where girls can try on skills and try on activities and learning opportunities that they wouldn't, even in a work setting, necessarily have," she said.
WRCC is a technical center, one of many in the state, that works closely with area high schools to give students an opportunity to take an array of study programs that ready them for careers. Areas of study range from technical mathematics to protective services like emergency medical response and engineering fields like robotics and automation.
Elizabeth Gallup, an 18-year-old senior at Leland & Gray Union High School, is taking courses in EMR, sports marketing and criminal justice with the goal of becoming a police officer. She realized her dream a few years ago after meeting one of her sports coaches, who is an officer.
"I always had an idea that I wanted to be one, but seeing her as a police officer and her always talking about how great it is, it made me want to be one," Gallup said, adding that she intends to take online courses at the Community College of Vermont to earn an associate's degree after graduating high school.
She said she has had an enjoyable experience in WRCC and has never experienced discrimination due to her gender.
"I don't really notice it. I'm surrounded by guys all time, so I don't really notice that I'm the only girl," she said, acknowledging that this may not have been the case several decades ago.
Adrianna Rhodes, a junior at Brattleboro Union High School, is enrolled in WRCC's forestry program. She said she initially felt different at WRCC but has since earned the respect of her peers.
"I know, definitely, last year I was really intimidated. I was a little more shy my sophomore year and I would kind of stand back and watch (her male classmates) do it. But this year, I just go for it," she said. "I don't even care that I'm one of the only girls. I know that when I graduate from here, I want to be in a male-dominated field because I'm more interested in those kinds of fields. I'm just used to it already.
"Last year, a lot of the guys would stand back and watch me do something so that they could figure out if I did something wrong. That was really intimidating," she continued. "And this year, not as much. Some of the guys still do it but I just make sure I do it perfectly and prove them wrong -- show that I can do it, too."
Gallup and Rhodes -- along with Mae Cramp and Aurora Calchera -- were among the more than 40 girls from WRCC that attended the Women Can Do Conference at Vermont Technical College in Randolph on Thursday, Oct. 17. The conference is sponsored by Vermont Works for Women, a 25-year-old organization with a mission of helping women and girls recognize their potential and pursue economic independence. It was a full-day conference featuring dozens of hands-on workshops highlighting careers in trades and technology as a way of exposing young women to the world of possibilities that awaits them.
Workshops included those entitled "Architecture and Engineering," "Talk, Text & Tweet with Telecommunications," and "Be Your Own Boss." Gallup, who took a self-defense workshop, and Rhodes, who took one on automotive maintenance, said they enjoyed themselves and took away a lot from the conference.
Cramp, a senior at Leland & Gray, participated in an electrician's workshop as well as one centered on dairy cows, though those aren't particularly related to her areas of study at WRCC.
"I picked machine operations because I like to drive things and I'm interested in construction," she said. "And I picked architecture so that I would have a background to go into construction."
She said she wants to go to a technical college after high school.
Calchera is taking Intro to Engineering Design and Design & Modeling at WRCC in addition to a couple of English courses.
"I really wanted to pursue something in engineering," she said. "Last year, I decided I want to do industrial design and the classes that most fit that were intro to engineering and intro to design in modeling, which complement each other really well."
Calchera told the Reformer she would like to attend Massachusetts College of Art and Design to major in industrial design.
"The most popular job you could get is to work for Nike or Adidas and design products for them," she said. "Or, if you get really lucky, you could work for Apple."
Doran said the Women Can Do Conference had a record 500 girls in attendance this year and Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke about the importance of female empowerment. Each participant is charged $20, but WRCC covers the costs of its students.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.