A group of 29 girls from Kodiak High School visited Coast Guard Base Kodiak on Tuesday to learn about career opportunities for women through the Women in Engineering program.

The Women in Engineering program promotes education in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM). The trip was financed by a nontraditional occupations grant received by the Kodiak Island Borough School District. A nontraditional occupation is defined as a craft or trade where one gender is 25 percent or less of the workforce. Welding for girls is an example, as is nursing for boys. The focus of the grant is to promote nontraditional occupations with an emphasis in STEM occupations.

District career technology coordinator Barry Altenhof said the school focused on taking junior and senior girls because they are the ones who are closer to making serious career decisions.

“I think they got a lot out of it,” Altenhof said. “I think it was really valuable for them to hear first-hand what careers are like, what the training was like or what training was necessary for them to become a Coast Guard pilot or helicopter engineer.”

The Women in Engineering group toured the electronic systems support department, the communication station and the cutter Alex Haley. They also participated in a discussion panel with some of the female C-130 pilots, engineers and helicopter pilots.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Stephen White of the Alex Haley said the cutter has a partnership in education program for purposes like the trip.

“Really the goal is to expose high school girls to the sciences and technical fields math and opportunities for them and we happened to have a lot of those within the Coast Guard,” he said. “We had a great lunchtime chat where the girls sat with different people from different units and were able to talk about their experiences in engineering. …The goals were to expose some of these high school girls to opportunities they can look at for the future.”

The girls also had the opportunity to operate some of the equipment on the Alex Haley including the pumps and fire hoses.

Kodiak High School junior Ashley Benton said attended because she has been considering joining the Coast Guard.

“It did help, just knowing my options but them telling us what they do and the different people we talked to,” she said. “We got to see all of the different type of jobs, whether it’s working on the planes or boats.”

Kodiak High School junior Deborah Bitanga said she signed up for the trip because she is interested in the military and wanted a chance to learn the jobs offered by the Coast Guard. She found the trip inspirational and informative.

“I felt like I wasn’t in Kodiak,” Bitanga said. “It was inspiring. Some of them (the female Coast Guardsmen) were pilots of C-130s so that was amazing. There was one lady … she said, ‘don’t give up on your dreams. If you want to make it happen then make it happen.’”

The high school is planning two more trips during the academic school year, including one to the Coast Guard air station.

“It was a good experience for the girls to hear that professional women work just as hard at success as anybody else, and that they have to be persistent and if at first don’t succeed they have to get back up and try again,” Altenhof said.

Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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