Madison Duve stood at a table in a Hempstead High School industrial technology classroom last week in Dubuque, using a bottle of wood glue to attach two pieces of wood at a right angle.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School eighth-grader was participating in a career exploration program hosted by Dubuque Community Schools and Dubuque Area Labor-Management Council.
The wooden box Madison was constructing was one of several hands-on projects she and her peers completed to take home over the course of the two-day program. They also had the chance to try welding and plasma cutting, solder wires to create an electronic bug and use virtual reality goggles to experience construction jobs.
"I just really like big crafts and stuff like this," said Madison, adding that she has contemplated a career in carpentry. " … I think it’s so amazing that they’re so inclusive with everything, and that there’s no limit to what you can or can’t do."
The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports about 30 eighth-grade girls from Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson middle schools, along with Dubuque Online School, participated in the program, exploring carpentry, welding and engineering careers and hearing from local women currently employed in those industries.
Kelly Cooper, executive director of Dubuque Area Labor-Management Council, said the program has not been held for several years, but the council and district brought it back this fall using grant funding from the DRA.
"(We want them) to understand that these are classes and careers they can pursue, and that there are women working in the trades," she said.
Lilly Nauman, a carpentry apprentice with Menefee Drywall Co. in Cedar Rapids, supervised Jefferson student Gillian Henson as she constructed her box.
"It’s OK if you get glue on your fingers. It’ll peel right off," Nauman told Gillian. "You just want to make sure your edges are all lined up."
Nauman, a 2020 graduate of Dubuque Senior High School, said she participated in a similar after-school program as a middle school student in the district. The experience motivated her to enroll in classes such as woodworking and welding in high school, and she hoped to do the same for the girls attending this week’s classes.
"There’s not many women in the trades — I’ve only had one or two on every job site I’ve been to — so getting to inspire other girls and get more numbers (of women) in the industry is great," Nauman said.
After the girls glued the sides of their boxes together, Nauman and several district staff members used nail guns to nail them in place.
While they worked, a small group of girls in an adjoining classroom worked with Dubuque Senior industrial technology teacher Joe Connolly to program a computer that directed a plasma cutter to cut each girl’s name out of a sheet of metal.
Hempstead welding teacher Dave Corbin then helped them use hammers and a surface grinder to smooth the metal’s surface and edges.
"Keep it along the edge there," he said, as Roosevelt eighth-grader Ella Hopf took her turn with the grinder, sending sparks flying.
Finally, Corbin placed each girl’s piece of metal into a machine called a pan and box brake. One at a time, he showed them how to pull the brake’s levers to bend the bottom of the metal at a right angle so that the nameplate would sit upright on a flat surface.
"This gives them a chance to get their hands on everyday stuff and projects they can make in the shop," Corbin said of the career exploration program. "It gives them a taste of what the shop’s like … and the type of classes they could take in high school."
Ella said an industrial technology course might be on her list when she enters high school in the fall.
"I think it was cool to make something I didn’t think I could out of a simple piece of metal," she said, turning the nameplate over in her hand proudly.