TRAVERSE CITY — Emma VanderMeulen and Kyra Buckley sat at a computer and murmured appreciatively at a three-dimensional mock-up of a hexagonal metal nut before them.

The nut -- familiar to anyone who's opened a tool box or assembled a piece of furniture -- started as a two-dimensional sketch created by the 11th grade students, who then "extruded" it as a 3-D model using a computer program.

"Now we can print it off on a 3-D printer, or add it to a different sketch to see how the parts interact," VanderMeulen said.

It's all in a days work for VanderMeulen and Buckley, students at Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District's Manufacturing Technology Academy who, along with a growing number of local female students, prove that science, technology, math and engineering are not the boys' clubs they once used to be.

Nearly 200 local 10th grade female students will spend Friday learning about how they can join that trend and begin training for careers in fields ranging from welding to robotics during the 14th annual girlTECH career seminar at Northwestern Michigan College's Parson-Stulens Building.

The event, which starts at 8:30 a.m. features female speakers who discuss their work in fields like automotive technology, aviation, engineering and more, and how students can start training for such careers.

TBAISD counselor Carol Smith said such fields not long ago were seen as men's work, but that perception has changed considerably in the last 10 years.

Friday's seminar is an effort to expose female high school students to careers with high demand for new employees, and local training options offered by NMC and TBAISD's Career Tech Center, two of the event's main sponsors.

"A lot of these girls haven't seen an engineer, or talked with a woman who's working in a machine shop or programming a computer to make parts," Smith said. "It's kind of like the 'you can't be what you can't see' concept."

Hollianne McHugh, VanderMeulen's and Buckley's academy instructor, will talk during the seminar about how she earned a degree in engineering, worked for the automotive industry, and then found her way to teaching.

Academy classes alone prove that more girls are seeing such career paths as viable options. Females made up less than 5 percent of academy students 10 years ago, McHugh said. 

"Our incoming class has 30 percent, which is the highest it's ever been," McHugh said. "It's incredible."

VanderMeulen and Buckley went to girlTECH last year and got involved in TBAISD's Manufacturing Technology Academy after attending the event. Now both students spend their mornings in classes at the academy, and their afternoons at their home high schools. Buckley attends Buckley High School and VanderMeulen attends Traverse City West Senior High School.

"It's been my favorite class ever," Buckley said of her academy class. "I'm insanely in to it."

The girls' work at the Academy has inspired both to pursue engineering degrees. VanderMeulen wants to be a biomedical engineer and Buckley an environmental or chemical engineer. They'll have a chance to talk about their plans when girlTECH participants visit their academy class.

VanderMeulen knew Thursday what she planned to tell girls whose interest is piqued by the career seminar.

"If you think it's interesting, just go for it, because even if you don't like engineering, a lot of stuff you learn in here can be applied to other fields," she said. 

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