Camp shows girls that construction careers aren’t ‘all about hammer and nail’

Light bulbs are going off for 19 local high schools girls, both in their heads and their hands-on projects.

They attended a free five-day Mentoring a Girl in Construction camp, and part of the week was devoted to electrical work. The participants, accepted on a first-come basis, wired a simple circuit with a light switch and made a Mason jar lamp.

The MAGIC camp, in its seventh year in Macon, is a joint project between the Bibb County school district, Technical Women in Georgia and Georgia Power. It’s among five summer camp locations in Georgia and about 20 across the country, said Renee Conner, MAGIC camp national executive director and owner of Precision Tapping Inc.

The Macon camp was held at Hutchings College and Career Academy every day except Thursday, when students headed to Central Georgia Technical College. Women certified in trade areas served as instructors and guest speakers during lunch.

Students learned about safety on Monday and earned their 10-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification by the end of the week. Carpentry was the theme for Tuesday, as the girls learned to operate saws, drills and sanders and made monogrammed memory boxes.

Thursday provided an introduction to welding and heavy equipment, and participants made dragonfly yard-art pieces and operated a mini excavator. On Friday, they toured Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer to work on a STEM activity, then attended a banquet and graduation.

The campers ranged from girls who are already interested in construction to those who have never touched a power tool. Women make up less than 10 percent of the construction work force, and Conner would like to see that change.

“That’s why I’m out here showing these girls what career opportunities are available, because it’s not all about hammer and nail,” Conner said. “You’ve got engineers. You’ve got safety professionals. It doesn’t have to all be dirty work, but if you like doing a craft, you can go to apprenticeship programs and get the training that you need to be a skilled craftsman.”

Conner has seen camp participants go on to study and work in fields such as industrial and mechanical engineering, welding and electrical wiring.

This is the third year Alexis Chatfield, an incoming senior at Central High School, has attended MAGIC camp. The camp inspired her to enroll in the construction pathway at Hutchings last year, and she is doing an apprenticeship with Speir Electric this summer. She wants to study electrical engineering at a technical college and then a university after she graduates.

“It’s some that I never did, with this construction stuff,” said Nakari Lawson, a first-time MAGIC camp participant and incoming junior at Howard High School. “It’s really fun. It’s making me more interested in construction and dealing with hands-on stuff.”

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea