‘Girls can:’ Students hone construction skills at weeklong camp

Students build a wooden table June 17 during a Girls Can Construction Camp at the Shelby County College and Career Center in Columbiana. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

Students build a wooden table June 17 during a Girls Can Construction Camp at the Shelby County College and Career Center in Columbiana. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Shelby County High School sophomore Lexi Chandler is taking away more than just the wooden table she made from a construction camp at the Shelby County College and Career Center this week.

“I’ve learned leadership skills, how to work machinery, friendships and communication skills,” Chandler said on June 17. “It gives me a sense of accomplishment that I actually did something and made it myself. It’s been really fun.”

Chandler was among 11 female students from Shelby County Schools who participated in this year’s Girls Can Construction Camp from June 15-19.

“The idea is to allow the girls to try out different skill trade careers,” said Tom McNeal, workforce development specialist with Alabama Power. “Maybe they don’t hear about all the options. We just want to show the whole buffet of options.”

McNeal said campers participated in design, drafting, construction technology (carpentry and electrical work) and welding activities.

Campers designed and constructed a wooden table, wired a lamp through hardback books and the top of the table and capped their week off with a tour of the E.C. Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville.

McNeal said this marks the sixth year the camp has been offered to high school students in the Shelby County school system.

SCCCC instructors and volunteers from Alabama Power and United Rentals facilitated the camp, along with other supporters including Brasfield and Gorrie.

A graduation lunch for the campers was scheduled for June 19.

“Skill trades are typically non-traditional for females,” McNeal said. “They’re learning that ‘I can do this,'” McNeal said. “With proper training and willingness to learn, you can do any of this stuff.”

Shantavia Wilson, an 11th grader at Calera High School, said her interest in building things surfaced at a young age. With her second year of camp completed, she hopes her siblings follow in her footsteps.

“I think this is for me,” Wilson said. “Girls can do it.”

McNeal said campers also completed a living expenses exercise and talked about career success, ways to prepare in high school and potential pitfalls that can damage a career.

“We’re not pushing construction, but we want to allow them to touch that,” McNeal said. “We’re just trying to connect the dots.”

Chandler’s advice to other female students contemplating careers in the construction field was simple.

“Don’t let a man say it’s a man’s job, because it’s really not,” she said. “It’s anyone’s job. Follow your dream and do what you want to do.”