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Investigate Your Future in Southeast Iowa

Jason Parrott
Julie Geltz looks on as Everlee Harvey uses the plasma cutter.

Businesses and schools are collaborating in southeast Iowa to bridge the gender gap in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) fields. One such collaboration gives young girls some hands-on experience they could eventually turn into a career.

Building 700 on Southeastern Community College’s West Burlington campus houses the college’s welding equipment. There is also a small classroom to the right of the entrance.

Inside, Katie Geltz stood before a screen that said “Welding Chicks.” Geltz is an art teacher at Keokuk High School, but today she is the welding instructor for Investigate Your Future.

Investigate Your Future brought more than 250 eighth-grade girls from ten local school districts together to explore careers in STEM fields. They could take several hour-long preview classes in areas such as computer coding, video game development, communications, robotics, and criminal investigation.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Everlee Harvey works on the plasma cutter as her classmates look on.

Geltz said she volunteered to teach the welding class because she said these girls need to know that welding is not a “man’s job.”

“I’m trying to promote this so they are able to get into the field because one, it’s fun,” said Geltz. “And two, there are a lot of job openings.”

Geltz said welders are always needed, especially good welders. She said study after study is finding that women actually make better welders because they are more careful with their work, more detail-oriented, and more dexterous than their male counterparts.

“I want them to get out there and see I can do this for a living and that it’s a lot of fun,” said Geltz.

Everlee Harvey agreed. She’s an 8th grader at Central Lee Middle School who chose welding as one of her career courses for the day.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Katie Geltz (R) shows off different welding equipment to participants in her class during Investigate Your Future.

Harvey and four other students received a quick overview of welding from Geltz before touring the building and seeing the welding equipment first hand. After the tour, they took their places in front of a plasma cutter.

Geltz showed them how to hold the small torch in their hands and aim it at a piece of metal.

“It superheats the air, so much so that it cuts into the metal and shoves the molten metal out of the way,” said Geltz. “So what you see is going to be the sparks from it shoving the metal away.”

Each girl was able to try out the plasma cutter. Some cut initials into the metal, others a design like a heart. Harvey said she really liked it.

“It was really fun,” said Harvey. “You could feel the heat coming off of it onto your neck and it was really bright.”

But welding does not appear to be in Harvey's long-term plans. She said she wants to be a veterinarian so she can work with animals. Harvey took two classes related to animals and veterinary services during Investigate Your Future, including one where they mimicked surgery.

“Basically, we just cut into a banana and stitched it back together,” said Harvey.

The girls who participated in the welding got to take home the metal they cut as a souvenier of the day.

Organizers said reinforcing the benefits of STEM is important earlier in school as they have found that as girls enter high school, they take fewer STEM classes. They said that’s why Investigate Your Future is important, to show first-hand where all their future can take them.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.