Women in STEM

Wallace State Community College Sees Growth in Women Enrollment in STEM Programs

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From welding, to machine tools and even auto mechanics, gone are the days when industry and career tech jobs were dominated by men.

Fast forward to 2017, and it’s now a rarity to find one of the above careers without at least a few females in the mix. Such is the case on the campus of Wallace State Community College in Hanceville where there has been a rise of women enrolling in their Technical Division programs.

“We’ve always had one or two in our program, but I would say in the last five to seven years, we’ve seen a small increase in that number,” said Jimmy Hodges, Dean of Applied Technologies at Wallace State.

One of those is Melanie Patterson. Patterson made the decision to return to school for a second degree in August 2015 after a long stint as a newspaper reporter. She is enrolled in the welding program.

“I was ready for a change,” Patterson said. “There were many times that I interviewed people who were in that line of work, and it would always leave me wishing I could do something like that. Welding was one thing that always appealed to me the most.”

After testing the waters for a semester, Patterson fell in love instantly. The rest has been history. She will finish the program in May with hopes of landing a job in the fabrication field.

“I want to do something where I can create and build things,” she said.

In its 2014 annual averages, the U.S. Department of Labor reported welding, soldering and brazing as a nontraditional, or male-dominated occupation field for women. Women made up 4.8 percent of the 615,000 total employed workers in that field, according to the report.

Hodges believes early education about what the career tech field has to offer has played a role in the number of women seeking out technical jobs.

“As educators, we try to encourage those type jobs, and I think that has helped with the increase we’re seeing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Patterson isn’t alone. Macie Key decided to follow a similar path after graduating from Hayden High School. Key is enrolled in the Machine Tool program and also serves as Alabama Skills USA Post-Secondary President. She credits Wallace State for getting her interested in the field.

“As a junior in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation,” Key said. “We had a recruiter come talk about various programs, and I was amazed at how you could take something so small and turn it into something.”

Key added her love for arts played a role in the decision too.

“I’ve always been real artsy; I do a lot of drawing and painting, and that has played a big part at school, as far as the detail aspect of things and how parts come out.”

While it may have been intimidating in the beginning, both women agreed that their experience so far has been nothing short of great.

“I was a little nervous at first about what other people would think,” Patterson said. “But it has been wonderful. Everyone has been so respectful. I’ve been treated no different.”

Patterson had one piece of advice for females thinking about following in her and Key’s footsteps:

“Take the leap and do it,” Patterson said. “It wasn’t easy, especially for someone like me, but it was very worthwhile. Try it, and if you don’t like it, you can always do something else.”