Mt. Pleasant schools’ expanded welding program helps women break stereotypes, build career pathways
February 27, 2024

Maya Gonzalez, a Mount Pleasant High School senior, is thriving in her welding class – a course that has traditionally appealed to male students.

With International Day of Women and Girls in Science and Engineers Week recently concluded, industries rooted in science, technology and engineering are increasingly shining a spotlight on young women like Gonzalez, who are interested in careers in the skilled trades.

And Mount Pleasant Public Schools’ career and technical education program is expanding slots in courses like welding so more students can get access to popular programs that prepare them for in-demand, high-wage careers.

Gonzalez says she is thrilled to learn welding locally through her high school. “Welders are in demand across Michigan and beyond, and I’m glad I can learn skills that can lead to a good paying job,” she said. “I am happy and grateful for the opportunity to participate in classes traditionally chosen by men.”

“At Mount Pleasant Public Schools, we want to make sure that we can help prepare all our students for great careers, including in the skilled trades, that they can start right after high school,” said MPPS Superintendent Jennifer Verleger. “We’re especially pleased to see that as we expand our technical education offerings, young women are enrolling in courses that involve science, engineering and math. We believe in preparing every MPPS graduate to thrive and succeed in whatever job they choose.

Gonzalez is happy to help break stereotypes about women in a field that typically draws men, calling the experience “both challenging and rewarding.”

“One advantage I’ve noticed is that I’m physically smaller than my male classmates, making it easier for me to access tighter spaces and weld effectively,” she said. “Every day, I learn something new, and I make progress and pick up new skills. This progress makes me feel happy, knowing that girls also thrive in blue-collar fields.”

Gonzalez said she enjoys going to her welding class every day. “I have the privilege of working with other great classmates and learning new skills,” she said. “I am glad that I have this opportunity to pursue my career.”

Gonzalez attends her welding classes at Mid Michigan College’s Mount Pleasant campus through the Gratiot-Isabella Technical Education Center. GI-TEC held an open house at the start of February to showcase its courses and programs, including its expanded welding program. This year, a total of 90 students – four of them young women – are enrolled in MPPS’ welding program at its two locations, in Alma and the new site in Mount Pleasant.

MPPS Career and Technical Education Director Mary Kay Voeks said welders are in high demand, with more than 1,500 job openings in Michigan and 42,000 nationwide. And women are flocking to the field. In 2010, they made up 6.7% of all welders. By 2022, that percentage was 7.7%. The median pay for welders is around $48,000 a year. Specialized welders with experience can even make six-figure salaries.

Voeks said counselors reach out to 10th and 11th graders in 10 total schools in the region, including MPPS, to highlight skilled trades programs at the Alma and Mount Pleasant campuses for the following school year. Voeks said they are seeing an uptick in interest among girls in science, technology, engineering and math programs. A probable reason: More summer camps and workshops for girls, and even recent movies and TV shows featuring girls and women succeeding in STEM-related careers, such as “Hidden Figures,” “Avatar,” and “The Big Bang Theory.”


By Sarah Wright  |  The Morning Sun
Photos – Mt. Pleasant Public Schools