Constructing Women

Girls learn about woodworking, welding, electricity

Kylie Mitchell, an eighth-grader at Kingsford Middle School, works on a birdhouse Friday at the Jacobetti Complex. Girls in grades 7-12 from throughout the region took part in the Women in Construction event, hosted by Northern Michigan University. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Instead of sunglasses, they wore safety glasses. And instead of putting pens to paper, they put drill bits to wood.

About 100 girls in grades 7-12 from around the Upper Peninsula came to the Jacobetti Complex Friday as part of the Women in Construction event, sponsored by Northern Michigan University.

The girls made birdhouses — that they could take home — plus watched a PlasmaCAM welding demonstration, used Revit for 3-D design and learned basic electricity.

Spearheading the event was Heidi Blanck, NMU instructor of technology and occupational sciences. She is an alumnus of the construction management program at NMU who, after receiving her bachelor of science degree in 2000, entered the workforce as a project coordinator, later spending time in the field coordinating, scheduling and maintaining project documents for several area contractors.

She also has an associate of science degree in architectural technologies from NMU, which she tailored to her profession in facilities management and residential design management.

Women need to understand that construction is a viable career option, Blanck said.

“And it’s not just about construction management today,” Blanck said. “It’s about trades.”

In the design lab Friday, girls learned how to create a 3-D design quickly.

“There’s so many facets in our industry,” Blanck said. “It’s not just wearing a tool belt and being in the field and putting something together physically. There’s a lot of areas that are involved.

“So, we really want to expose these girls and help them see all of the options for them as they’re making important decisions about where they’re going to go with their lives.”

In fact, she said some of the girls, such as the students from Negaunee, already are involved in wood shop in school.

As for the seventh- and eighth-grade girls who took part in Friday’s event, they soon will have to choose the classes they take later in school, and hopefully, Blanck said, they will consider courses dealing with the trades.

Yvonne LeMire, welding instructor in technology and occupational sciences, was in charge of the segment that involved loud noises and sparks.

“For females, it might be intimidating, certain things, whether it’s the welding or construction or building trades,” LeMire said. “Statistically, women do very well in those fields, so there’s a need for this.”

Obviously, others saw the need as well. LeMire said NMU organizers were aiming for 45 participants, and got 100.

She said the girls watched a PlasmaCam demo in which the tool was programmed for cutting.

Because a PlasmaCam is becoming increasingly prevalent in the industry, NMU tries to have its curriculum match the field, she said.

“There’s no human error,” LeMire said. “There’s no shaking hands or anything like that.”

The girls also got to use basic hand tools like a chisel and a grinder.

Marissa Tryan, a seventh-grader at Escanaba Middle School, understood the importance of the event.

“If I wanted to have a career in welding or anything involving construction, I could know more about it,” Tryan said.

However, she acknowledged that even if a girl didn’t want to enter that kind of field, the knowledge they gained Friday was important.

“If you had anything, maybe, in the future, in a situation related to this, you can know how to solve it,” Tryan said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is