New Castle News

January 28, 2013

Breaking Barriers: More women pursuing careers in nontraditional jobs

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s not uncommon to see Natalie Simon driving through Moraine and McConnell’s Mill state parks in a truck.

As environmental education specialist at both sites, it’s just part of the job.

Simon realizes her duties fall under the title of nontraditional jobs for women.

So does Kinorea Tigri, who drove a big rig with her husband for 13 years — hauling heavy loads across ice-covered roads in Alaska and Canada.

Tigri used that experience to become commercial truck driver instructor at the New Castle School of Trades, where she is now satellite facility director.

While Simon and Tigri represent a growing trend, they still are among a minority. A report from the White House Council on Women and Girls said it’s “especially disconcerting” that women make up only 25 percent of the science, technology, engineering and manufacturing — or STEM — workforce.

The report also indicates that gender stereotyping and the lack of female role models in math, science and technology may be dissuading girls from entering these fields.

The good news, though, is that women who do hold STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in other occupations.



BLAZING THE WAY

Susan Fithian, 28, and Brandy Bedilion, 35, both are doing their part to beat the odds.

Fithian and Bedilion are the only two women in their diesel power generation course at the school of trades.

It was a career change for Fithian, who was a certified surgical technician but always enjoyed working on vehicles.

According to Tigri, that program provides instruction on repairing and troubleshooting electrical power generators, which is “big demand right now.”

On occasion, Fithian said, she has been asked whether she can handle the demands of such a job.

Any obstacles, though, have been stepped over and she will graduate in December with an associate’s degree in diesel technology and power generation with a Class A CDL. Fithian aspires to work in a shop as a technician.

She’s aware that there is still gender separation regarding certain jobs but sees improvement in that area.

“If you have an interest in a non-traditional job, go after it,” Fithian advised.

Bedilion, who will graduate in October, has been working around vehicles since she was six and her grandfather had an inspection garage. An Army veteran, she plans to keep her options open on job choices.

Along the way, though, “I had to teach the guys that, as women, we are capable of performing the same job just as well.”

That was proven when she and Fithian wired an industrial engine from scratch and excelled in that endeavor, earning respect from the school’s sponsors and male classmates, Tigri said.

“Women can do anything,” Bedilion noted. “We’re living proof of it. This is all hard work, but worth it in the end.”



FINDING ONES’ CALLING

Trade school representatives frequently visit high schools in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio to discuss opportunities and alert women that jobs such as truck driving, construction trades, automotive trades, electrical and welding are popular choices.

If there’s a stellar example of what women can accomplish in nontraditional roles, it’s Tigri.

Besides driving trucks at a time when not many women were doing so, she served 22 years in the Navy, where she specialized in survival training techniques and intelligence. She has a doctorate in biology and was one of the first female instructors at the school of trades.

“There’s an increase in women who enroll and they can relate to me, which is an advantage.”

Her mantra for achievement is to do one’s homework, be prepared and stay focused to reach that final goal.

Simon can be behind the wheel hauling kayaks and paddles or moving crates of snowshoes.

But wherever she is in either park, she loves every minute.

“I always enjoyed visiting parks and camping,” Simon explained. “In nature, there’s an endless supply of things to learn.”

She originally planned to study forestry but “got some flak for that and people tried to talk me out of it.”

Instead, Simon received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and followed other career paths until she found the perfect fit.

“I definitely found my niche. But it took detours to find it.”

She pointed out that the majority of educators for Pennsylvania state parks are women — about 60 percent — adding that some young women just don’t know what opportunities are available to them.

“Look into something you’re interested in and find the careers that are hidden behind those interests,” she suggested.



ENCOURAGEMENT AND SUPPORT

Tigri believes that more programs, information and opportunities must be available to females starting at the high school level.

In 10th grade, Kristine Donaldson was inspired by her biology teacher to pursue a career in science.

“He loved what he taught and his enthusiasm for the subject led me into the field,” Donaldson said.

She received a bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and is now water quality supervisor for four districts of the Pa. American Water Co. — including the New Castle Treatment Plant.

Donaldson is responsible for implementing federal and state regulations for those districts, managing four laboratories — three of which are certified with the state — and handling customer and treatment issues.

Although careers in science are opening up for women, more programs and exposure of what’s available should be provided to high school females, she explained.

“Don’t be discouraged,” Donaldson said, noting that a college professor tried to talk her out of continuing with her major because her math scores weren’t strong. She obtained another adviser — a woman — who was supportive.

To young women, she recommends, “Humble yourself. Take any opportunity in your field that presents itself. It’s an opportunity to build skills.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)