MEXICO — Two local teens have their careers mapped out thanks to courses at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology.
But Mountain Valley High School senior Michelle Hale, 17, and Dirigo High School junior Gus Brown, 16, are respectively bucking the gender mold in the male-dominated building construction course and the female-dominated certified nursing assistant course.
Hale wants to be a civil engineer, designing and building bridges and commercial and industrial infrastructure; Brown wants to be a respiration therapist.
Students taking nontraditional courses are uncommon, Student Services Coordinator Cheryl Ellis said. “It’s not as common as you’d think, maybe 1 percent. In some programs, we will go years without having any.”
Hale said she tells fellow students trying to decide on a career not to shy from nontraditional studies. “Don’t be afraid. The sky is the limit.”
Simply being a nontraditional student opens doors, said Lloyd Williams, a building contractor and longtime instructor. Although he believes it’s not as uncommon to have girls taking his building trades course as it is for boys to take instructor Wendy Low’s CNA course.
“I’ve been going for 32 years and had girls in the program two years ago, but it kind of comes and goes,” Williams said. “You don’t usually get a lot. I usually only get one or two, maybe three. I’ve had as many as four.”
He said Hale will see great opportunities. “She’s very good at what she does and she works very hard.”
And because Williams uses part of Cianbro’s curriculum in his building construction course, students like Hale, who may work for companies like Cianbro, will get a good head start.
In the second year, his students get an OSHA 10 card (proof of completion of the requirements for OSHA safety and health regulations for construction), learn basic first aid and CPR, and learn residential techniques and skills. Hale and three boys are taking the class. She refers to them as her “brothers.”
The building construction course “really helps give you a general knowledge of the background for any field of the construction field,” Hale said. “The terminology and how things are put together in the construction field helps a lot in any field.”
Hale said she’s already been accepted in the civil engineering program at the University of Maine in Orono and has received a $1,000 scholarship toward it. She also received a certificate of merit from the Society of Women Engineers in her junior year.
Hale said she plans to leave Rumford but to stay in Maine after college graduation, “because this is home.”
She said she decided she wanted to be a civil engineer the summer before her junior year. Her mother teaches early childhood education at Region 9; her father works for NewPage in information technology.
Every year, her mother’s class and the metal trades class go to UMaine to tour its facilities. Hale joined them one year, touring UMaine’s engineering facilities with the metal trades class and fell in love with civil engineering. She’s gone on repeat tours each year since.
“I was talking with my dad and he said I had the right mind-set and way of thinking that I would make a good engineer,” she said. “When I returned home, I said, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.'”
To that end, Hale said she’s taken honors math and science courses all four years of high school. She’s taking honors calculus and honors physics and an AutoCAD drafting class, and will take another one next trimester at Mountain Valley High School using a 3-D printer to make prototypes and scale models. Next trimester, Hale said, she’s also taking Region 9’s tractor-trailer driving school to get her Class A commercial driver’s license.
“I think it’s a good thing to have something to fall back on in this economy,” she said. “For me, the sky’s the limit. The world is like a blank canvas and I’m painting my future now.”
And that’s how Brown of Carthage sees his educational world, too, but as a stepping stone into the medical field as a CNA. He’s enamored with how the respiratory system works, especially the lungs.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the lungs and how people breathe and what goes on there,” he said. “It’s just the way they work when the air goes down and into the blood and the carbon dioxide comes out. Just the way it changes over and everything.”
Brown’s mother is a teacher at Mountain Valley Middle School and his father is an engineer at Sappi. He said neither parent was surprised at his choice of profession.
“I’ve talked about it a lot and (about) wanting to be in the medical field,” Brown said. “I thought this (CNA course) would give me a more advanced knowledge of the medical field for when I get to college.”
The Region 9 CNA course is a one-year course that Brown and five girls took in September.
“We do vocab on medical terminology; we do all the anatomy and how to help patients and what’s the proper ways to do it,” he said.
“In the morning, we start out with a quiz, and then go right to a lecture. Wendy lectures the chapter we had to read for homework and tells us all about it. But in the afternoon, we go over skills and what was in the chapter, hands-on.
“It’s hard, but it’s definitely going to pay off in the end,” Brown said. “I plan on working at a retirement home or nursing home after this course.”
Brown said only two schools in Maine provide the respiratory program he wants to take after graduating from high school: Kennebunk Valley Community College in Fairfield and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. It’s a two-year program for an associate degree.
After college, he wants to work in a hospital, albeit as far away from Maine as possible.
“I kind of just want to get out of here, move to Alaska or something, get far away and see the world, Alaska, because of all the hunting and fishing and snowmobiling opportunities,” he said.