She Builds camp inspires, educates girls through building

Special promotional content provided by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County

CaylieJo tries her hand with the power screwdriver as Colin Fitzpatrick, Project Engineer from Stevens Construction, assists. Photo by Robert Chappell.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon at the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center in Fitchburg. About two dozen middle school girls are here, and they’re making a lot of noise – but not the noise you’d expect from that kind of group. 

Decked out in fluorescent vests, hard-hats and safety goggles, they’re swinging hammers and running table saws and power screwdrivers.

It’s the third day of the first-ever She Builds camp, the new weeklong camp to help inspire young girls to consider careers in construction. It’s put on by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County in partnership with the Association of General Contractors (AGC).

On this Wednesday, the girls are building planter boxes to adorn the outside of the MRWC. Yesterday they built birdhouses out of sheet metal. They’ve visited construction sites; they’ve learned what construction workers have to wear (“I thought they’d be able to wear shorts, but they can’t,” said sixth grader Gabriella). They’ve learned how drones are used to inspect buildings like the State Capitol to determine what needs to be repaired.

For many of the girls, the glimpse behind the scenes of how construction works has been valuable.

“A lot of work goes into building buildings, structures, many different things that are built,” said 12-year-old Matayah. “It takes a while, and there’s a lot of work that is put into it.”

But that glimpse also made the idea accessible.

“I can build my family a house now, when I grow up,” Tucker said. 

Not that she’d want to, necessarily – she’s already leaning toward interior design.

Which is just fine, said Boys and Girls Club assistant vice president for workforce development Stephanie Johnson, who organized the camp.

Photo courtesy Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.

“We’re trying to target girls in middle school and help them explore careers in construction, either working in the skilled trades, architecture, engineering, and interior design,” Johnson said. 

The camp, which Johnson said will be repeated in future summers, was free for the kids. The AGC partnered to organize the camp, and many AGC members volunteered to mentor the girls. They also provided safety equipment and food.

“We’re so grateful for the volunteers and the assistance and the interest from the community to help put this program together,” Johnson said.

Contractors who participated in and supported the camp include AGC Wisconsin; WRTP | BIG STEP; 1901, Inc.; J. F. Ahern Co.; JP Cullen; JSD Inc.; Pierce Engineers; Gilbane; JLA Architects; Michels Corp; MSOE; Stevens Construction Corp; Tri-North Builders; Verona Safety; The Walbec Group; WCREW; and Zimmerman Architectural Studios.

Johnson said it’s especially important to introduce careers at this age.

“By the time students hit high school, they’ve already decided what they think they’re going to do, or eliminated industries completely (from consideration),” Johnson said. “Usually people target high schoolers to try to encourage them to pursue certain industries or certain specific careers. But we’ve found they’ve already decided. Middle school is kind of that sweet spot where they’re old enough to really be able to do some hands-on stuff, understand what the careers are, where job shadowing and physically doing some parts of the job will really help them identify whether or not that’s a good fit for them. Career exploration in middle school is key and essential.”

In addition to a glimpse at jobs in construction, the camp instilled confidence in the girls.

“It feels great … It feels really good and accomplished to do things by yourself from scratch,” Matayah said about building the birdhouse and planter.

“If you want to do something, you can do it if you put your mind to it,” said Grace, 12, who aspires to be an electrician or diesel mechanic.

That’s exactly the feeling Johnson hoped the girls gained from the camp.

“I hope that they walk away with the confidence that they can do whatever they want to do for a career,” she said. “Whether or not it’s in construction, they have confidence to be able to try something new, and not feel like there’s a barrier because they identify as a woman.”