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Female enrollment rises in traditionally male-centric student trade programs

Despite getting advice to take AP classes instead, Sarah Alessi, a junior at Shoreham-Wading River High School, signed on to the new trade electric program at Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology’s Harry B. Ward Technical Center in Riverhead, becoming the only girl in the class.

This marks a trend happening at the center as more girls are signing up for traditionally male-dominated trade programs this year.

Marie Davis, principal at Ward Technical Center, said there has been an increase in interest in trade programs in general, citing an increase of 80 students to their building alone.

The trade electric class is new to the center this year and was brought in due to an overwhelming demand. Ms. Davis said there were about 30 students on the waiting list for the class.

However, female students are signing up for classes like heating, ventilation and air conditioning, autobody, automotive technology and trade electric classes, Ms. Davis said.

“Last year, we only had a few females in our auto tech program, the other programs, having females in there is kind of new,” she said.

According to Ms. Davis, this year there are six girls enrolled throughout those various courses, many of them being the only girls in their class.

Sarah doesn’t find it challenging being the only girl in her trade electric class, where she learns how to install lights and ceiling fans. 

“It’s more difficult to be left-handed in this class than to be a girl,” she said. 

Sarah aspires to be an electrical engineer and focus on sustainable energy. She encourages more women and girls to be courageous and explore their interests, even if they are nontraditional. “Even if you don’t like it, try it out so you don’t wonder what it would have been like,” she said.

Christopher Gibat, an HVAC program teacher, said this is the first year he has had a female student in his HVAC class. He attributes the growing interest in the trade to the women out there in the field already doing the work. “I think that may be why we’re starting to see that inside of the classrooms and [career and technical education] programs is because all these women that are already there, kind of paving the way,” Mr. Gibat said. “It’s more eye opening for someone as a young lady to be able to see somebody that’s actually doing it and realizing they can actually do that where maybe in the past, they didn’t even think that was an option,” he said.

Ms. Davis hopes this trend continues to inspire more women to pursue their interests and applauds the young women enrolling in these courses.

“All students should have the opportunity to enroll in classes that match to their interests,” Ms. Davis said. “We’re so proud of these young ladies for having the courage to enroll in a nontraditional program, so we’re hoping this encourages other females to do the same,” she said.