Against tradition

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, February 23, 2012

About 200 students from Suffolk high schools visited with professionals in careers that are not traditional for their gender during the Non-Traditional Extravaganza on Thursday. About 20 professionals took part.

Students bridge gender gap in careers

Students from Suffolk high schools learned on Thursday about the advantages of being a male nurse or a female police officer.

About 200 students attended the third annual Non-Traditional Extravaganza on Thursday. It was presented by the Career and Technical Education Advisory Council.

“It’s important for the kids to know that they’re not locked into careers because of their gender or their ethnic groups,” said Gail Bess, CTE and adult education coordinator.

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The event brought in about 20 professionals from a variety of careers, such as nursing and police work, in which one gender makes up less than 25 percent of the workforce.

Students were given an hour to visit the booths of three professionals to learn more about their careers. The event was open to all sophomores and juniors in Suffolk Public Schools.

“I came because I wanted to explore different jobs that aren’t traditional,” said Maya Brown, a sophomore from Lakeland High School. “I want to explore what I want to do and not be limited to what people say I should do.”

Brown said she was interested to learn about the apprenticeship programs offered by many shipyards.

“I can learn a trade for myself,” she said.

Ninochaka Harris, who is in the advisory council and has two sons at King’s Fork Middle School, said it is vital for students to begin thinking about what they want to do before they get to college.

“I think it’s really important the children begin to understand why they need to learn one plus one and why the sciences are important and why they need to know how to read and write,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re not just sending our children to school, but we’re training up our children to sustain this world.”

While the event focused on careers that traditionally have been dominated by one gender, Bess said it also showed black students that they can have any job they want, regardless of whether most of the people in that career are white.

She referenced the presentation of a forester who was at the event, saying there are more women coming into the traditionally male-dominated workforce, but still not a lot of black people.

“Even when we’re seeing non-traditional genders come in, we’re still not seeing the diversity that needs to be there,” she said.

William King exemplifies both groups. As a black, male registered nurse who works at Sentara Obici Hospital in the orthopedic spine unit, he is in a career traditionally held by white women — but that is increasingly changing, he said.

“I never thought about being a nurse,” he said. Then, when he entered the U.S. Army, he trained as a medic during the Vietnam War. He later got his nursing degree at the University of San Francisco.

“It was fun for me,” he said of speaking to students at the career extravaganza.

Though he said none of the young men expressed an interest in nursing, he did get to tell one of the benefits of being in a non-traditional career.

“I’m the only male on my unit, so I’m working with a bunch of women,” he said.