"I have more women in auto than I've ever had," Woodman says, pointing out that "my two top automotive students that have come out of here, they're getting paid about $80,000-100,000 a year . . . they're women."

Girls are "figuring it out," he says. "Go where the work is."

Girls like Shae Friou, a 17-year-old from Falmouth, or Johanna Pyle-Carter of Westbrook — both PATHS students who plan to help put themselves through college using their welding skills. Or Mercedes Dewitt, of South Portland, who wants to own her own auto-mechanic business someday.

"It's fun to be one of the girls who knows about this stuff," Dewitt says, adding that she's never run into any harassment or hardship based on her gender, despite the fact that she is the only female in her class. "I know more than some guys," she says confidently.

Nicole Sumner's experience has been somewhat different. Sumner, of Limington, is studying precision mechanics and robotics at PATHS. Her grandfather was a machinist, a woodworker, a jack of all trades. She aims to follow in his footsteps, to patent a set of machines that would allow disabled athletes to play field hockey, and to manufacture her own parts and products. In class, she's learning not only skills like drilling and tapering, but also how to kick it in a male-dominated atmosphere — something she'll almost certainly have to do if she continues in this path.

"You're surrounded by men and you might find some of the things they say offensive," she says. "They don't want you to be wimpy. You have to handle yourself — prove yourself. They're gonna be guys. That's what a machine shop is. I want to know the environment and be able to work on it."

Sumner takes a moment and looks around at the machines. "It took a lot of guts," she says of her decision to enroll in the program.

feat_voc_TheRealDeal_main
THE REAL DEAL Voc ed students get to practice their skills in fully functional workshops and classrooms.

Moving on up

Many CTE students continue their education in community college. While the number of students enrolled in Southern Maine Community College's trade programs has grown from 2019 in 2002 to 3,576 in 2010, the gender breakdowns of the particular programs is unsurprising. In traditional technical fields such as health care and education, women far outnumber men; grittier programs such as automotive technology and electrical engineering see far fewer women enrolled (of the 110 auto-tech students, just eight are female, for example). Female representation is growing in fields like law enforcement and first responders, but is still on the low side.

This matters not just for basic parity, but for economic equity. Consider the fact that retail, home health care, and early childhood education positions — those typically filled by women — are not very lucrative.

"While women have excellent representation in several high-paying health care fields, they are not well-represented in some of the highest paying like electrical engineering, manufacturing and fire science," points out Kaylene Waindle, dean of advancement at SMCC.

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