School of Technology hosts second annual construction camp for girls

Welding masks are a common sight at the Shelby County School of Technology, but a less common sight are long ponytails sticking out from underneath them. This week, however, it’s nothing but ponytails as the SOT hosts its second annual construction camp for girls.

“The camp is called ‘Girls Can’”, said Tom McNeal, a workforce development director at Alabama Power who helped with the camp. “The stereotype with construction work is ‘girls can’t do that.’ Well, of course they can.”

About 20 girls attended the week-long camp to learn to create birdhouses, jewelry holders and metal flowers with their own two hands. The girls were even able to completely wire a radio and take it home with them at the end of the day.

“A lot of girls have been told what they can and can’t do all their lives and they don’t realize the other opportunities are out there,” said Amy Lee, career technical education administrator.

The camp was made possible by support from Vulcan Industrial Contractors, E.C. Gaston Steam Company, Alabama Power and a host of other area businesses.

“Without financial supporters, we wouldn’t have been able to do it because of material costs and paying instructors,” Lee said.

About 20 girls gathered in the welding shop Thursday to show off their newly created metal-art flowers, which they each welded themselves with help from the qualified instructors at the SOT.

“Safety was the core of everything this week,” McNeal said. “We began each day and ended each day with it.”

The girls, ages 13-18, were all excited to flaunt their hard work.

“It was a challenge for everyone,” said 13-year-old Victoria Cox.

Haly Boothe, 14, said she was inspired to possibly build a house in the future, while 13-year-old Lauren Simmons said “I loved the birdhouses. Maybe I might want to be a carpenter.”

McNeal said another of the camp’s goals was to train the workforce of the future.

“We’ll have many people retiring in the next five years, which will cause a huge gap in what we’ll need as far as electricians, boilermakers and welders,” he said. “We just want to expose more people to it and if they like what they see…”

Lee said the camp emphasized how math and science can be utilized in the real world. She also emphasized students’ ability to use the skills in a college setting and go on to become an architect or an engineer, for example, rather than a laborer.

“People often think SOT is for kids who aren’t going to college, and we want to get rid of that mindset,” she said.