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Female students aim to break into male-dominated fields

  • Olivia Adams, 18, of Peterborough, works on a vehicle during class at the Mascenic automotive program.  Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Students enrolled in the auto mechanic class hosted on the campus of Mascenic High School get hands on experience working on vehicles. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Students enrolled in the auto mechanic class hosted on the campus of Mascenic High School get hands on experience working on vehicles. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Olivia Adams, 18, of Peterborough, works on a vehicle during class at the Mascenic automotive program.  Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Megan Pelissier, 17, of Jaffrey, works at her job at Apollo Steel. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Megan Pelissier, 17, of Jaffrey, took four classes in the engineering courses offered through ConVal High School’s applied technology program. And she was the only girl that completed any of them, she said in a recent interview with the Ledger-Transcript.

It didn’t always make for a comfortable learning environment.

“I had a friend in the class,” recalled Pelissier. “He definitely treated me differently in that class than outside of it. It was like they had to prove they were better and one-up me.”

It was a similar story for Olivia Adams, 18, of Peterborough, who recently graduated from ConVal High School, with two terms of Automotive under her belt — again, as the only female.

“I like engines. I just always thought it was so cool how everything comes together and works together,” said Adams, who will be attending Nashua Community College for a two-year degree in general automotive technology.

Both girls said they first developed their interests at their father’s knees.

Pelissier grew up hoping to take over her father’s business — Apollo Steel in Jaffrey. And though that dream has shifted somewhat, her new goal of obtaining a combined Bachelors/Masters in Architecture with a minor in construction management still calls for a strong background in engineering.

For Adams, she grew up around cars and engines of various types, she said.

“A lot of members of my family had these beat-up cars they were always working on. They would break down and they would fix them up. It was a way of life for us,” said Adams. And even though she only became serious about her interest in automotive mechanics two years ago, it fascinated her even when she was young, watching her father work on the engines of tractors in his barnyard.

They both have run into situations, even as students, that have given them a glimpse at the potential difficulties of entering STEAM fields as women, they said, but they don’t let it prevent them from doing their best work.

“I always think of them trying to put me down as a way to make me work harder,” said Pelissier.

Adams recalled calling to enquire about a job at a tire warehouse, where the owner expressed doubts about her being able to handle the job, because it included duties such as tire checks and alignments, despite Adams’ experience with those kinds of routines from her automotive classes and doing work on her own car. 

“I had never experienced that before,” said Adams, who said while it wasn’t blatant, it did give her a glimpse into the potential challenges of trying to make it as a female mechanic.

“I’m aware of the mindset that I have to have,” she said. 

Pelissier similarly learned that a timid approach wasn’t going to cut it when the boys in her class would sometimes talk over her. But these instances didn’t deter them from pursuing their goals.

And it was not quite true that she was the only female in class, admitted Pelissier, although she was the only female student — her engineering teacher, Karen Fabianski, was a big influence on her.

“She was basically my school mom,” said Pelissier. And, she said, a great example of a woman who was working in a STEAM field.

Fabianski encouraged Pelissier to enter a state student engineering competition (which she took second in) where students had to design a museum and pushed her to go beyond her initial instincts. 

 “The great thing about architecture is that I get to think out of the box, said Pelissier. “I can be as abstract as I want, as long as I meet the basic guidelines.”

And this was what eventually made her stand out in competition, said Pelissier – her first attempt tried to mimic the buildings around the planned museum, in a similar box-like style. But her teacher pushed her to stretch herself, and her next attempt – the one that eventually netted her second place, was a much more organic design, she said.

“I thought about it like I was the museum and the other buildings were my peers,” said Pelissier. “I stood out, but as a whole, we still worked together.”

Even though they’re aware of the challenges, the two said that they’re not going to stop chasing their dreams — Pelissier, who still hopes to work for and expand her family’s business, and Adams, who would like to own her own garage. 

“People say I’m always early to everything. So, I guess I’m early on women entering male dominated fields,” said Pelissier. “But you have to be brave and go for it, no matter what, even if people tell you not to,” said Pelissier.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.