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Area students experience Women in Construction program


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Ontonagon students, from left, Kelsey Preiss, Ashley Heyrman, Taylor Behr and Amber Hokans, work together to build a small stud wall during a Women in Construction event at Ontonagon High School in November.

ONTONAGON - The sounds of hammers pounding nails filled the room on Nov. 7 and Nov. 20 at the Ontonagon High School Building Trades program lab as 39 area high school girls participated in Women in Construction events.

Students spent the day in the building trades lab constructing an eight-by-eight-foot deer blind just in time for deer season.

The events, sponsored by the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District Career Tech Education program, were attended by sophomores and juniors from Ontonagon, Ewen-Trout Creek and Watersmeet school districts.

Women in Construction events are designed to introduce female students to non-traditional career areas, such as the construction field.

GOISD Building Trades instructor Steve Ollila led the project with his current Building Trades and Construction Manufacturing Technology students as assistants. "The students worked in teams to build the walls, floor and roof system," Ollila said. "I was surprised at how enthusiastic the girls were to get into the blind project."

Before they began, Ollila spoke to the girls about safety in the lab, demonstrated safe use of power tools and showed them how to use everyday construction tools like hammers, tape measures and speed squares.

In the lab, the girls dug right into the building project and sounds of hammers and saws filled the air. "The students worked hard," Ollila said. "It is an accomplishment to their credit to be able to build the blind in six hours."

The girls had the opportunity to practice hammering nails correctly, measuring and making cuts with the saws, all under the guidance and watchful eyes of Ollila and his students.

Ollila explained how a wall, floor and roof system is constructed. Unfamiliar construction terms like header, joist and stud soon became the vocabulary of the day as the girls got more comfortable using the equipment and seeing the project come together.

"I learned an easier way to drive nails in and my favorite part was putting the roof on," said Ontonagon sophomore Karlie Seid. "I already know I want to join building trades next year."

"I liked the capability to be able to build something and I think I would like to take the class next year," said Anna Fuller, another Ontonagon sophomore.

Students took a break from the building project to listen to guest speaker Deb Kaikko, co-owner of Kaikko Construction, discuss her experiences as a woman in the construction field. She and her husband, Alan, decided to build their own house and worked together to build it from the floor up to the roof. "Building the house was a huge learning experience, and really sparked my interest in working in construction," she said.

"Anything that you can pick up and learn in this program, I will guarantee down the road you will use this knowledge," said Kaikko. "Another benefit of learning construction skills is you can do the work yourself - you don't have to wait for someone else to come and do it."

Students then returned to the project putting up the walls and roof system.

"My favorite part of the day was seeing how all the girls worked in construction," E-TC junior Tiffany Moore said. "I was very amazed by everything we accomplished."

"It was fun working with my hands and I am thinking about taking the course next year," E-TC sophomore Skylar Anderson said.

The finished blind was raffled off, with each of the girls having the chance to win the project. The winner of the deer blind was Paige Blake, an Ontonagon sophomore.

The goal of the Women in Construction event is to give female students the opportunity to try out the CTE construction classes and hopefully interest some of them in taking the course during their high school years. Currently, the program has five female students enrolled, but organizers would like to see more girls consider enrolling.

The Building Trades class is an elective course taught at Ontonagon High School, offered by the GOISD CTE program to all sophomore and junior students in Ontonagon, Ewen-Trout Creek and Watersmeet school districts.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Paulette Niemi is Career Tech Education program coordinator for the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District.


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