Every October, just as our field season is wrapping up and most of our seasonal staff are packing their bags, a day rolls around which promises a field trip full of tools, hard hats, and fun. Except on this day, we don’t drive to a remote trailhead or hike to a shelter. We head to Randolph for the annual Women Can Do! STEM & Trades Conference, hosted by Vermont Works For Women, to participate in one of my favorite days of the year.
The Women Can Do! Conference is a giant career fair at which 9th- through 12th-grade girls from across Vermont get to try out all sorts of skills, not just get flyers about them. Students participate in workshops on everything from how to design a phone app to (you guessed it) how to run a chainsaw. For many years, the Green Mountain Club has had the joy of participating by facilitating workshops and “action stations” showcasing and teaching select trail building skills.
For the past two years, we’ve focused on the two-person crosscut saw. For several years before that, we brought a griphoist setup and hooked it up to one of the big GMC rigs. “Pull a van with one hand: Learn to use a griphoist!” We’ve also run hour-long workshops on chainsaw use basics, for which students sign up ahead of time.
This year, I represented the GMC along with Aaron Emerson, our AmeriCorps Group Outreach and Field Coordinator, and Rosalie Sharp, our summer Volunteer Long Trail Patrol crew leader and fall Long Trail Patrol member extraordinaire. Our car was crammed full of everything needed to teach crosscut saw use: saws of all sizes and shapes, axes, safety equipment, and plenty of stickers. Plus a few hefty logs from the Short Trail. We set up our “crosscut cookie-cutting” station near the Northwoods Stewardship Center’s chainsaw station and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps‘ rock-crushing station. Then we waited for the students to arrive.
The action stations are designed so students can learn about and try out many different activities in a low-pressure scene. As students walked by we’d invite them to try out the crosscut in pairs. While many of the girls were familiar with saws, just as many were not, and we saw the full spectrum of reactions to our call of “Want to take a turn trying this five-foot long, very sharp wood-cutting instrument??” Some students excitedly grabbed a friend and geared up. Some looked skeptical and informed us it was too hard/heavy/sharp/etc for them. We encouraged them to try anyway, and it was great to see girls who were initially doubtful not only learn to use the saw, but also exclaim how much easier or more fun it was than expected. Many of them proudly carried off their freshly hewn cookies to show friends or family back home.
Instilling this pride and confidence in students is one of the main goals of the conference. After three years going as one of the “professionals,” however, I can truthfully say the conference helps instill the same feelings in the folks running the workshops. The GMC field staff who’ve gone always consider it one of the highlights of the year. It’s so satisfying to have a role in inspiring young women to learn more about trail work, and it’s inspiring to meet so many who are willing to try new things or who are confident in the skills they already have. I look forward to seeing some of those young women apply to the GMC down the road. Or to seeing them become head of Google or design electric jetpacks or something. But hopefully, they’ll come work on a GMC trail crew first!