Annual camp promotes welding, electrical fields for women


DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — As Lawrence County High senior Taylor Engels and Clements High sophomore Izzy Humphries made lamps during a technology camp designed for girls, they compared electrical work to puzzle solving.

“You don’t really understand if it works out or not until you go and turn it on and see if it works,” Engels said.

Engels was welding parts to create a chain-link lamp on Wednesday, and Humphries was working on wiring a three-way switch for her lamp.

Both students attended the 16th annual Summer Welding & Electrical Technology — SWeETy —Camp held this week by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and Calhoun Community College. The camp in the aerospace building on Calhoun’s Decatur campus is exclusively open to high school female students in an effort to get more women interested in the welding and electrical fields.

Meredith Dyer, a 17-year old home-schooled student, is a returning camper this year but had never welded before.


“It’s a new experience and I love doing hands-on stuff so it’s been real enjoyable,” Dyer said.

Ben Maples, an instructor at Career Academy of Decatur, said he has seen more females enter the electrical workforce in recent years and is not surprised.

“Females make great electricians,” Maples said. “All it is is solving a big puzzle and being able to get power from one place to another accurately, so girls are wonderful at that with that attention to detail.”

Amber Fortenberry, director of talent development and recruitment at the chamber, said the initial idea for the camp was to diversify the workforce.

“These (trades) are male-dominated industries, so women are needed there,” Fortenberry said. “We wanted these females to know that they can do these jobs. So bringing them in here and giving them that exposure and … hearing females from welding and manufacturing industries in Decatur and Morgan County to come to speak here all week about their back story and how they got into it as well.”

All instructors are teachers at the Career Academy and Calhoun Community College, and the four-day camp is structured into three components: welding, electrical technology, and additive manufacturing. The students’ last day at the camp is today and they will take home a lamp they used welding and electrical technology to construct.

McCall Atchison, adjunct welding instructor at Calhoun Community College, led a group of students as they welded together chain links for the lamp.

“We’ve got two groups. They’re going to weld it in here and then they’re going to take it to electrical and wire it and put the bulb in it and everything,” Atchison said.

The additive manufacturing component is a new feature of the SWEETy Camp this year. Students designed toy car parts on computers and printed them off using 3D printers.

“We’re actually doing rubber band cars and we’re letting them do a little bit of 3D modeling,” said Bob Grissom, a drafting and design instructor at Career Academy.

Calhoun received a STEAM grant, or science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, from the Alabama Community College System this year to help fund the camp.

“They’ve provided funding for the last three years,” said Gwen Baker, director of dual enrollment at Calhoun. “We’ve used that to offset some of the expenses of the camp like instructor salaries and some of the supplies.”

Indorama Ventures of Decatur was the presenting sponsor for the SWeETy Camp, and Fortenberry said they were able to purchase lunches for the students on all four days with funds the company donated.

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