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Annual Event Pairs ‘Girl Power’ With Horsepower

More than 500 high-school girls converged on Vermont Technical College in Randolph Thursday to get real-world experience in male-dominated fields such as firefighting, welding, construction, and auto mechanics.

The event, Women Can Do, is in its 15th year this year and grew by about 100 participants. Tiffany Bluemle, executive director of Vermont Works for Women, the non-profit that puts on the event, said the point is to show young Vermont women a part of the workforce that women typically aren’t in.

“Kids get messages about what they’re good at at very young ages,” Bluemle said. “They may or may not be exposed to these kinds of careers … this is an easy thing to do, to provide exposure. And I don’t know why we wouldn’t do it. I know it makes a difference.”

The morning’s sessions included “Digging In the Dirt,” “In Bridge We Trussed,” “BioTech Kitchen,” and “Wood Workin’ It!” All are aimed at getting girls excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.

Governor Shumlin kicked off the event this year, a week after state officials launched an effort to keep young talent in the state using a job recruitment website. He said that while young people in Vermont are learning the skills they’ll need in the workforce, he has another job to do.

“What I really do,” Shumlin said, “is to try to ensure that after you get your education in this state … that this will be a place where you will live, where you will work, and where you will prosper.”

Addressing the so-called “brain drain” problem – young people graduating from Vermont’s colleges and then leaving the state – Shumlin said he is working to get “a vibrant economy of jobs and opportunities” ready for the students when they’ve finished their educations.

The events lasted about an hour and offered more of a taste than an in-depth lesson in the various fields. It was enough, organizers hope, to help these young high-schoolers from all over the state decide they might want to pursue something further.

Paige Larmie, a senior, said she was at Women Can Do for the second year in a row, said she’s thinking about joining the National Guard when she’s finished with high school, but was still interested in seeing what her options are.

“It is just so much fun to explore your options,” she said. “Me being a senior especially, because who knows what I want to do after high school? So actually getting to do it before and not being clueless, it’s just really great.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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