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Woods and metals camp introduces girls to nontraditional pathways

Participants learned construction, manufacturing, welding basics

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Mia Federspill

HANDY — Eighth-grade student Mia Federspill fastens brackets onto her handmade birdhouse during the woods and metals camp.

When Brian Mikesell was in high school, shop class was a big deal. He remembered his school having an end-of-the-year auction where students would get the opportunity to sell furniture and other creations they made throughout their time in high school.

The class not only taught the students invaluable technical skills, but it also led many of them down lucrative career paths. For the past several decades, shop class has fallen out of school curriculums, and Mikesell said it’s a detriment to the students.

So when the Kokomo Area Career Center (KACC) received a grant this year to host a woods and metals camp for middle school-aged girls, Mikesell, a welding technology instructor at KACC, jumped at the chance to teach it.

“These are the rudimentary, fundamental measurement and design and build skills that everybody needs today,” he said. “It’s good. This is the kind of stuff that used to be done back in the day.”

During the camp, the girls learned everything from reading a tape measure to operating a plasma table and polishing wood to welding metal fixtures, and they were able to put their newly-acquired skills to work by creating take-home projects.

During the week-long camp, the participants made a coat rack, birdhouse, and a hand-forged metal sign.

In addition to teaching girls these skills, Mikesell said the goal was to introduce them to nontraditional pathways, as the need for tradespeople continues to grow.

“Any girl that can weld, design, or build, they’re a $50,000-a-year employee,” he said.

Prior to attending the camp, student Dalia Delgado already knew what she wanted to do for a career: build spaceships for NASA. For that reason, she enrolled in the camp in the hopes of building her resume and skills.

“I thought this would help me get there because of all the building skills and welding. Spaceships are made out a lot of metal, and when you learn the small techniques, then you can learn the bigger ones,” she said.

Another participant, Kalli Smith, said the camp opened her eyes to the different career paths available that women don’t always consider.

“I would love to do stuff like this someday,” Smith said.

KACC also held a career exploration camp that introduced young students to different professions. This year marked the fourth year for that camp, which also was funded by a state grant.