Before enrolling in construction school at my local college of applied technology last fall, I was a writer. For two decades, I worked for newspapers and magazines, writing everything from hard news and restaurant reviews to book reviews and comic fiction. At no point along the way did I expect to write about being a woman in construction. But now, with a couple trimesters of Building Construction Technology under my belt, I’ve conquered my fear of the table saw, I’ve started thinking about what I want to build after graduation, and along the way I’ve journaled my experience at Build Me Up, Buttercup Blog, the diary of a middle-aged mom in construction school. The blog started as a way to keep track of technical lessons. (Who knew a 2 x 4 is really 1.5 x 3.5, that door panels are beveled to 88 degrees, or that “kerf” is a real word?) But it has evolved into a record of the fascinating and funny things that happen in a male-dominated class with students from all over the world. I’ve never had more fun writing anything. A midlife detour to construction school is a surprising choice. But even more surprising is the level of curiosity and encouragement I’ve received from people who stumble across Build Me Up, Buttercup Blog. Almost every week, someone gets in touch to ask how in the world I decided—at age 45 and with three kids—to return to technical college. They ask what the school schedule looks like. (We go 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.) They ask how much the 16-month program costs. (It’s about $6,000, with aid available.) They ask if I would recommend it for them. (Yes!) Most people who get in touch are women. Some are friends of mine. Some are friends of friends. Some are total strangers. Our conversations carry familiar threads: We all like to make things, solve problems, work with our hands and be active. But we never thought about working in construction. Why is that? Before you diagnose me as another casualty of the gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education between girls and boys in school, I guarantee you I’m not. My all-girls high school made sure we studied plenty of calculus and chemistry. When I enrolled in a graduate MBA program, I was as prepared as any man in the room to tackle the numbers. If there was a gap in my education, it was related to tools. I do not hail from particularly handy people. My family kept our tools in a kitchen drawer, next to the drawer with the whisk and the lemon zester. And I never took a shop class. (Of course, I never took home economics either, and I can cook, but it’s a lot easier to teach yourself to use a whisk and a lemon zester than to wrangle a nail gun and a Skil saw.) Without fluency in tools, it’s hard to envision building anything. The first time I used a circular saw, I was a 45-year-old novice in construction college. Man, was it empowering. That Christmas, my husband gave me my first saw. After reading Build Me Up, Buttercup Blog, a woman who works at my high school invited me back to campus to talk about construction school. I looked forward to introducing young women to career possibilities that I never knew existed. But when I got there, the students were already ahead of me. Almost a generation after I graduated my all-girls high school has a shop, full of power tools. I am so jealous. I can’t wait to see what those empowered young women will choose to build.

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  1. Mark Drury | Apr 24, 2017


    I enjoyed reading your blog post above and will continue to follow your contribution to the industry. I am passionate about the construction industry and a major advocate for women coming into our industry. From the trades to the boardroom it is critical that more women become involved. Construction is a good old boy industry and frankly the good old boy mentality doesn't cut it in the information age we are being swept up in. Women in the industry bring a different perspective, temperment and insight.

    Keep up the good work!

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