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Students thrive in non-traditional career instruction at CVIT

CVIT student Francisco Estrella-Ponce practices phlebotomy on CVIT’s Central Campus Counselor, Aja DeZeeuw. Photo provided

There was a time in American primary education when boys took shop classes and girls studied home economics to prepare them for a world with clearly defined gender roles. But changes in demographics and more acceptance of women in the workplace have blurred the lines of what constitutes jobs appropriate for men or those associated with women.

Those trends are often mirrored in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, like those offered at Cobre Valley Institute of Technology (CVIT).

“We have many students in programs considered nontraditional for their gender,” says Aja DeZeeuw, CVIT’s Central Campus Counselor. “We have some awesome males in our cosmetology, medical and nursing assistant programs, and females in our industrial trades programs that are doing great work.”

In October 2020, the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education released a report titled “Crosswalk,” providing workplace employment statistics to help CTE leaders identify programs that prepare students for nontraditional fields.

The study provides occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding employment in “occupations or fields or work … for which individuals from one gender comprise less than 25% of the individuals employed in each such occupation or field of work.”

The information is vital to help schools obtain grant funding through the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), which was signed into law in 2018 and provides nearly $1.4 billion annually for CTE programs nationwide.

While programs such as cosmetology and welding might seem like more obvious gender-specific careers, medical fields such as phlebotomy and medical assistant fall into that category as well.

According to the Crosswalk report, women made up 92.8% of the medical assistants in the workforce in 2019, and men just 7.2%. Of those practicing phlebotomy, 89.5% were women and 10.5% men.

“As far as CVIT goes, it’s often a jumping off point for something,” says Jennifer Carlson, an advisor for CVIT’s Phlebotomy and MA programs. “One of my male students wants to get into veterinary medicine, but we don’t have a vet tech program or anything like that. His mother works in healthcare, so she kind of directed him into the program just to get an idea of healthcare in general.”

Carpenter Bryce is a senior at Ray Junior Senior High School, currently enrolled in CVIT’s medical assistant program. Bryce wants to become a veterinarian or doctor eventually. He plans to spend two years on a mission for his church before deciding on a career path.

As to the idea that medical professions are gender-specific in nature, Bryce thinks the numbers are somewhat misleading – despite being one of only two males in a program overwhelmingly populated by women.

“I believe that healthcare classes should include a lot more males, because healthcare is and should be an equal opportunity for all genders,” Bryce says. 

“When you look at the quality of the jobs in the field, I think it doesn’t doesn’t really make sense for it to be so one-sided.”

Another student in Bryce’s program, Francisco Estrella-Ponce, started at the same time. He says there had been four male students at the beginning, but as time went by, he and Bryce were left as the only men in their class.

Estrella-Ponce hopes to get a bachelor’s in nursing after graduating from Miami High School. He is in CVIT not only for the certificates that will help him get started but also to allay the steep cost of college when he graduates.

He says that coming from Globe, it’s no surprise there’s more male participation in the industrial programs CVIT offers.

“In a small town, you really get to know everyone, so I’m not really that surprised that there’s very few men in the medical assistant field,” Estrella-Ponce says. “I see a lot of them in HVAC and fire science though.”

Carlson has been working in the field for 16 years and says she has seen no stigmatization of males in medical professions, as there are plenty of men working throughout the profession.

“I feel like the stigma might be on the outside looking in,” Carlson says. “I went to school with many males that were going for nursing, I’ve worked with male CNAs and male nurses and male respiratory therapists, the list goes on and on. And I don’t feel like anyone that actually works in the field thinks any different.”

Carpenter Bryce (left) and Francisco Estrella-Ponce are two male students in CVIT programs that are primarily populated by women. Photo provided

Cosmetology is another profession heavily skewed toward women, but it does draw a small proportion of men into its ranks.

The Crosswalk report shows people involved in cosmetology — including hairstylists, manicurists and those who perform other associated services — are overwhelmingly women, at 92.3%, while men make up just 7.7% of the workers in cosmetology.

“We’re in one of those industries that a lot of people pooh-pooh, like it’s not important, or we’re just dumb hairstylists who couldn’t do anything else,” says cosmetology advisor Alison Zache. “But it really can be an amazing profession, and, really, a craft.”

Zache says there’s a lot more to cosmetology than cutting hair and doing nails. Many chemicals are involved, and much to learn about hair, skin and anatomy to avoid harming clients. A rudimentary knowledge of electricity is important, too, in order to manipulate the many tools involved.

Additionally, there are the “soft skills,” such as communication, leadership and time management. Cosmetology is also often a physically demanding job, with practitioners on their feet for many hours a day doing labor that involves a lot of repetitive motion.

While there may be a perception from movies and television that men in the field are effeminate, LGBTQ+ or incapable of doing “manly” work, Zache says that’s not a fair depiction and defies the history of the industry.

“Our field really did start out as a male-dominated field. Historically, barbers were also dentists and doctors,” Zache says. “Most of the movers and shakers in our history, from Vidal Sassoon to Farouk Shami, have been men. So it’s kind of ironic that it is female dominated, since a lot of the pioneers were male. It’s caretaking and nurturing and growing, and men can be very good at that.”

Globe High School senior Hector Ortiz is following in the footsteps of his older brother Javi, who completed the program several years ago and is now a successful hairstylist alongside John Daniel Flores at Dominion Cutting Co. in downtown Globe.

Ortiz has seen firsthand what a lucrative field cosmetology can be, and that even though there may be a certain amount of stigmatization for men in the field, those perceptions are changing.

“There’s a really big misunderstanding that cosmetology is just for girls,” Ortiz says. “I think there’s still sort of a stigma, but people are starting to realize it’s not really specifically for women.”

Ortiz sees cutting hair as an art form to a certain extent, and also thinks that once he builds up his clientele base, it will be “easy money.”

Hector Ortiz is following in his older brother’s footsteps to become a fully qualified cosmetologist. Photo provided

Zache says the financial aspect of the business is a big draw, even for people who don’t necessarily want to get into the business.

“People are always gonna grow hair, and it doesn’t matter where you are, you can move anywhere on the earth and as long as there are other humans, you have a job or a trade,” Zache says. “I’ve also had a lot of students that don’t ever want to get behind the chair, they just want to be able to save the money, especially people who plan to have big families. If you have four children and you’ve got to take them all in for a haircut, that’s a lot of money every couple of weeks. So if you can do that yourself, you save some money.”

Another locally popular CVIT program is welding, due to the proximity of the mines and the availability of construction work throughout the state.

Welding jobs are heavily skewed towards men, with 98.4% compared to just 5.2% women in the field, and enrollment in the CVIT program is roughly the same.

“I don’t see welding anymore as a non-typical gender thing, because I see women mechanics and I see women welders,” says welding instructor Ernie Baca. “They might not be physically as strong, but they’re generally more mentally aware of the situation.”

Baca says there are certain aspects of welding that women tend to be better at – TIG welding, for example – because they are often more dexterous than men and able to work with more precision.

He says some of the best welders he’s seen in nearly 30 years in the business have been Native American women, and adds that in his classroom, everyone is equal.

“Women who work in this industry tend to have thicker skin, and I don’t mean just from getting physically burned. I mean thicker skin in general, because it is a hard industry,” Baca says. “It’s not hard because because men are a**holes. It’s hard because it is a physically demanding industry.”

San Carlos High School senior Daisha Dosela is in her second year in CVIT’s HVAC program, but decided to pursue a certificate in welding thanks to the guidance of her aunt, Ada Elgo.

Dosela sees TIG welding as an art form that is soothing to perform and believes women can do just about anything a man can.

“I’m more of a hands-on person, and I thought the program that would be most hands-on would be HVAC,” Dosela says. “I went back for the advanced course and they were talking about welding, so I enrolled in welding as well.”

She expects to graduate from SCHS next spring at the age of 17, and by then will have two certificates in hand that will help expand her opportunities beyond the walls of the school.

Ultimately for Dosela, it comes down to finding a career doing something she loves that will pay her sufficiently to do what she wants with her life.

“My auntie always said that you should try to find a job that you’re good at, something that you love, and make it a job,” Dosela says. “I took welding to see if I liked it and because it seemed pretty cool. I liked it and can actually get a job with it. 

“So I thought it was pretty cool to do something I like but get paid for.”

San Carlos High School senior Daisha Dosela is pursuing a certificate in the male-dominated world of welding, thanks to the guidance of her aunt, Ada Elgo. Photo provided

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