Annual camp promotes welding and electric fields for women

As Lawrence County senior Taylor Engels and Clements High sophomore Izzy Humphries made lamps at a tech camp designed for girls, they compared electrical work to solving puzzles.

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

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

Both students participated in the 16th Annual Summer Welding and Electrical Technology Camp – SWeETy – hosted this week by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and Calhoun Community College. The camp in the Aerospace Building at the Decatur Campus in Calhoun is open exclusively to female high school students in an effort to interest more women in the fields of welding and electrical.

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

“It’s a new experience and I love doing practical things, so it’s been really nice,” Dyer said.

Ben Maples, an instructor at Decatur’s Career Academies, said he’s seen more women enter the electrical workforce in recent years and he wasn’t surprised.

“Women make great electricians,” Maples said. “All it’s about is solving a big puzzle and being able to get energy from one place to another with precision, so the girls are wonderful at that. with this attention to detail.”

Amber Fortenberry, director of talent development and recruiting 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 women to know that they can do these jobs. So bring them here and give them this exposure and…hear women from the welding and manufacturing industries from Decatur and Morgan County come and talk here all week about their history and how they got there are also entered.

All instructors are teachers from Career Academies and Calhoun Community College, and the four-day camp is structured into three streams: welding, electrical technology, and additive manufacturing. The students’ last day at camp is today and they will take home a lamp they built using welding and electricity technology.

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

“We have two groups. They’re going to solder it here, and then they’re going to run it through the electricity and wire it up and put the bulb in there and everything,” Atchison said.

The additive manufacturing component is a novelty of the SWeETy Camp this year. Students designed miniature car parts on computers and printed them using 3D printers.

“We actually make rubber band cars and let them do a bit of 3D modeling,” said Bob Grissom, drawing and design instructor at Career Academies.

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

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

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