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Women Can! 2014: Charting their own course

The eighth annual Women Can! Event, held March 14 at Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus, featured a panel of professional women who weren’t afraid to chart their own course in male-dominated industries like industrial technology, firefighting, law enforcement, computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R).

The Women Can! event helps female high-school students explore well-paying careers that are traditionally male.

“These well-paying jobs are still considered non-traditional because less than 25% of these roles are filled by women,” said Laura Soulsby, associate director of Intercultural Learning at TCC. “We want to help young women see that they can fight fires, they can weld, they can be engineers.”

The women who shared their callings with female students from Churchland, Lake Taylor, and Princess Anne High Schools, included TCC alumnae, Santia Davis, a CADD graduate who now works for the Navy, and Judy Sweetland, an HVAC/R graduate who runs her own heating and cooling company.

Judy Sweetland, a TCC alumna and owner of Sweetland’s Heating and Cooling, discussed opportunities for women in HVAC/R. “There’s still an expectation that there is going to be a man at the door, but the industry is becoming less and less that way.”

In her keynote address, Pinar Kuruc, an Assembly Supervisor at Stihl, Inc., drew from her experiences trying to prove herself as a young Industrial Technology specialist. Kuruc urged the young women to look inward for inspiration when thinking about their futures. “We are told women don’t have the skills necessary to success in certain fields,” she warned, “But women lack encouragement. You can do it. We can do it. It’s time for you to be brave and confident.”

After Kuruc’s speech and a short film on successful women in unconventional careers, students explored careers with break-out sessions, which allowed them to learn more about fields that interested them.