Summer camp encourages girls to explore construction

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A new summer camp is arming girls with hammers, drills and saws to encourage them to explore careers in construction.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only 9 percent of construction workers. CampBUILD, a partnership between Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland and Madison College, wants to change that.

Sandy Thistle was one of that 9 percent. Thistle has been a carpenter for 30 years, but she said it was not easy.

"I grew up in a culture and a time when much of this was heavily discouraged," she said.

However, Thistle did not let that stop her.

"I’ve got a stubborn streak that has benefited [me]. So the minute people say, 'Oh you can’t do that,' inside I go, 'Oh yeah? Let me show you," she said.

After becoming a teacher at Madison College, Thistle wanted to change things for women in the construction field. When Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland came to her with the idea of starting a camp, she jumped at the opportunity.

"This has been a dream for a long time and it’s sort of unreal," Thistle said.

That dream became CampBUILD, a two-week summer camp that teaches girls about construction. The girls work alongside Madison College teachers to learn carpentry, design and more, building various projects like picnic tables.

The camp has activities for all ages, ranging from kindergarten to high school.

Emily Thom is a high school freshmen at the camp. Thom had some experience coming in.

"Both of my parents are mechanical engineers so we did a lot of building birdhouses as small children," Thom said.

After camp, Thom said she thinks she could pursue this further.

"Designing sets sounds cool because then you can do costumes, sets and beyond, and you get to hang out with the drama people and they’re cool," she said.

For Thistle, empowering girls to have that ambition is what CampBUILD is about.

"If you show girls women doing this work, they can then see themselves doing it," Thistle said.

Hearing students like Thom talk about a future in the field is the best reward.

"I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than be a role model for this work. I love this work, and if some of the girls who go through camp find their way here and they love their work as much, I’ve done what I’ve hoped," Thistle said.

August 2018 marks the first year of CampBUILD, and the program attracted about 100 girls. By 2019, organizers hope to double that number.

Enrollment numbers from Madison College show interest in construction is growing. From 2012 to 2019, the number of students enrolled in construction programs rose from 774 to 967.

Female students still make up a small percent of total enrollment, but that percentage has grown from 4.2 percent to 7.4 percent since 2012.