Lindsay Hamm knows there aren’t many women in her chosen profession. Vocational technology has long been dominated by men, but Hamm, now pursuing her associate’s degree in industrial engineering technology, isn’t letting that deter her.
“That was my biggest worry about getting into this field, is that it’s mostly guys,” said Hamm, a first-year student at Lawrence’s Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center. “My dad has worked in this for over 30 years, and he said he’s never worked with a woman.”
At Peaslee, there’s an initiative underway to change that reality for Hamm and other young women looking to break through vocational technology’s glass ceiling.
Hamm is one of 10 female students enrolled in the center’s Growing Real Opportunities for Women (GROW) program, which on Thursday received a $40,000 gift from AT&T.; The initiative, aimed at women ages 16 to 35, provides Peaslee’s female students with mentors and technical training for jobs in HVAC, industrial engineering, manufacturing maintenance and automotive technology, among others.
“To have AT&T; provide this opportunity for women to go into male-dominated fields — it’s a great thing,” Kevin Kelley, Peaslee’s executive director, said Thursday afternoon after being presented with the ceremonial $40,000 check.
The GROW program also provides training in soft skills such as teamwork, communication, financial literacy and creative problem solving, in addition to technical training.
Since graduating high school nearly ten years ago, Hamm has worked mainly in pink-collar jobs like customer service and nursing. But the traditionally “girly” fields were never the best fit for the Lawrence mother.
“My dad told me, ‘Give this a try,’” Hamm said of industrial engineering technology, “and I love it."
Like Hamm, Amy Smith grew up with a father in the technical field. Her dad runs Price’s Appliance Repair in Lawrence, and she’d “always appreciated the technical trades” as a kid. But pursuing a career in vo-tech always seemed an “easier” option for her brother and not for her.
After earning her (unrelated) degree later on as a nontraditional college student, the GROW mentor and University of Kansas researcher said she’s gained insight that she’s now excited to share with her new mentee.
“The families that I work with on the research side, we know there’s a huge need for careers with living wages where people can be their own bosses and be completely in control of what they’re doing for a living,” said Smith, a project research coordinator at KU’s Center for Public Partnerships and Research.
Smith wants to be able to “be that encouraging voice” for another young woman who might be struggling with the challenges of balancing school, family and work. She knows that experience well, she said, and knows it’s worth it in the long run — not just for the individual, but for that woman’s family, too.
“When kids see parents doing something that’s outside of societal norms and gender norms, that’s really inspiring,” Smith said.
Kelley agrees. Thursday’s $40,000 contribution from AT&T; will fund stipends for GROW participants, covering the cost of tuition for the average certificate, which ranges from 26 to 35 credit hours. Johnson County Community College, Flint Hills Technical College and Neosho Community College will provide certification courses along with Peaslee.
“We really look forward to supporting all people in attaining new careers and training,” Kelley said. “This is a place that changes lives.”