By: Terry Simpson
Some may say that “shop classes” and the trade world are “a man’s world,” but Monroe County High School senior Christine Webb has set out to prove that statement wrong.
For her, construction and carpentry skills just came natural — and this girl, well she says that she can do anything a man can do.
The daughter of Michael and Sharon Webb, Gamaliel, she has been proving just that since her freshman year at the Monroe County Area Technology Center, where she and her classmates are celebrating National Career and Technology Education this week.
Growing up, Webb dreamed of becoming a doctor, but that changed in middle school.
“I joined woodworking, because I am crafty and I thought it would be fun. But — I fell in love and my pathway was changed,” she said.
From that early exposure, she decided to take a carpentry class (even though most thought those were ‘just for boys’) when she registered for high school — and never looked back.
Attending classes at the Area Technology Center, she has been competing in competitions for SkillsUSA.
SkillsUSA is a student-led organization, the biggest at MCHS, she said.
SkillsUSA partners with teachers and industry representatives to ensure America has a skilled workforce. It prepares students enrolled at the ATC and involved in trades (such as industrial, technical, and health occupations) for the real world, using activities, teamwork, citizenship and character development.
“Skills prepares you for the workforce,” she explained, “It helps you to focus more on the trade you want to go into for your career.”
The club brings together students, instructors and business and industry representatives to share ideas based on their common interests.
Christine noted that SkillsUSA members have a competitive edge after competing in local, regional, state and national leadership competitions.
“I had never given a speech before joining — I couldn’t do it — next thing I know I’m in Washington, D.C.”
She noted that in her four years, she has gone to state three times and nationals three times, competing in many categories. In the local club she has served as treasurer her freshman year, vice-president her sophomore year and has been serving as president since her senior year. She was also a State Officer Member during her junior and senior year.
Just recently, she also attended a school board meeting in Frankfort to give a speech on Career and Technical Education Month,
Career and Technical Education Month centers around students enrolled in education that prepares them for future careers in a variety of fields including health care, manufacturing, agriculture, technology and more.
In Monroe County these classes take place at the MCHS ATC and with the Family and Consumer Sciences and Agriculture Education at the main high school.
Many types of certification programs and work-based learning opportunities are available for students who attend any of those CTE programs.
With a recent decrease in skilled trade workers and a decline in Vocational education in the 90s, many students are realizing they would rather attend trade schools after graduation.
Rather than pursuing a college degree, they learn skills such as welding, auto mechanics or construction.
While both pathway plans have advantages, the ATC focuses on students who have decided to learn a skilled trade.
Not only is the skilled trade choice a cheaper option, officials said, but it allows for graduates to enter the workforce more quickly and obtain paying careers faster.
Students at the ATC are encouraged to join SkillsUSA where competitions encourage excellence in performance, as an individual and as a team.
The club prepares them for a competitive and demanding workforce, as Christine noted.
“I encourage everyone to check out trades, to think about other career options. Skilled trade is good money.”
She is currently working on a special wood sculpture for a Regional Competition to be held in Bowling Green later this month. She shares that she has found her true passion in woodworking.
This year alone she has already completed a desk for her senior project, participated in the construction of a special birthday cake and recently created three special handmade gavels to present to the school chapter and the Kentucky Association of SkillsUSA.
While she displayed the beautiful walnut gavels, she noted she planned to have them engraved for the recipients. Working with a lathe (a woodworking machine that rotates the wood allowing the worker to carve intricate designs more easily) to create the gifts, she noted that it was one of her favorite processes. “I love the lathe — it’s fun and it just kind of takes the stress away.”
While Christine noted that she is saving up to buy her own lathe, she already has many other tools, handed down from her paternal grandfather when he passed away.
“Skilled trade runs in my family. My dad was at SKYtech before it was SKYtech,” she laughed and then smiled, “My family is very supportive. They support me in whatever I want to do.”
One has to wonder though, how far that support branches out into her community as this trade is mostly known as a man’s gig.
However, Webb gives little thought to what anyone thinks as she acknowledged the rarity of her choices, “I was one of three girls at Nationals out of 60 kids. It is not as bad here in our county, but in other areas people find it odd for girls to be in skilled trades. I don’t care what others think though, I do what I want.”
That unstoppable confidence and drive has earned the love and respect of many of her fellow students. This was apparent at the recent MCHS Homecoming festivities, where she represented the SkillsUSA organization, winning first runner-up in the competition.
The petite senior, who showed off her girly side that homecoming night, laughed, “No one looks at me like I could be a woodworker. I’m a scrawny girrrrrrrrl,” she laughed. “Seriously though, it is hard work at some of the competitions. I have to carry my own wood and it can be heavy.”
Her dainty size has come in handy on occasion though, as she noted that her first community project was building and decorating the giant wooden birthday cake for the Monroe County Bicentennial.
She was the perfect size to be able to climb on top of it for detailed work.
“Mr. Steenburgen said I was the only one who could work on it and stand on it, just because I was little,” she said.
The four-layer, seven-foot-tall by approximately four-foot-wide cake, consisting of sheet metal and plywood was revealed at the Bicentennial Kick-off Celebration held on Jan. 19.
The program was led by Brent Steenbergen’s carpentry class at the ATC, with Christine supervising most of the work.
“He had me work on it, because I am a senior and he has had me in all of his classes, he knew I could handle it.”
She noted that the main construction took around two weeks, working daily.
“I needed a lot of help with that part, there were a lot of big metal pieces and they were heavy. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Dalen Botts, Dakota Thurman, Willie Jones and a few others. They cut out the circles by hand, scored the metal and bent it until it broke off. It was hard work; I don’t like working with metal. I preferred using a jigsaw to cut out the numbers for the cake,” she said.’
“I was honored to do the project though. I love doing this type of thing. I spoke with ATC Principal Jerri Rowland throughout the process and I think she really enjoyed it, too,” she said.
She added that Rowland had bought signs proclaiming “Happy Birthday” and “Monroe County Bicentennial,” which were placed on the cake. She also noted that the decorations, including garland and a star, were donated by the Bicentennial Committee.
Rowland remarked on her pride of the ATC student, “I love the passion that Christine has for ATC classes and SkillsUSA. She’s been a treasure just as her lead on the Bicentennial cake shows! We basically gave her a small plan and she led the work towards a beautiful project that we truly enjoyed presenting to Monroe County to kick off our celebration!”
So what will this multi-talented young lady do now that she has completed these projects that should have taken the entire semester, but she wrapped up in a matter of weeks?
She plans to focus on enjoying her senior year and the activities surrounding it as the SkillsUSA competitions wind down for the year.
After graduation, she plans to follow in her dad’s footsteps and attend the same trade school — Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College. She plans to pursue a business management degree, and then later possibly open a custom furniture store.
For more information on skilled trade careers, the ATC and SkillUSA, contact Jerri Rowland at the ATC at 270-427-8261. For information about the Career pathways at the Monroe County High School, call 270-487-6217.