Dr. Jeanine McMillen
Dr. Jeanine McMillen, Assistant Dean for Business, Technology and Workforce Education

When I was eight years old, I wanted to be a veterinarian. That interest pivoted toward a different dream of becoming a muralist with my own studio and the opportunity to work with my hands and create something beautiful on bare walls. That desire waned as I started to discern how my love of reading, writing, and communicating might translate to a career.

Somehow, those passions led me down a winding path toward topics pertaining to women’s studies and organizational communication. The truth is, the journey to my current leadership role within Career and Technical Education (CTE) was not an uninterrupted, linear, “traditional” path. Along the way, I had several pitstops and detours that forced me to reflect and reconsider my interests, skills, and opportunities. Yet throughout that time, I never considered “nontraditional” career paths for women, such as engineering, computer science, or law enforcement, in part because no one ever encouraged me to think of these opportunities as viable career options for women. I was conditioned to believe that these were male-dominated spaces where I would never experience a sense of belonging and success.    

Historically, CTE was not a widely-acknowledged, well-trodden path for women, let alone higher education, which was originally designed by and for men. According to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, even today, nearly 40 years after Title IX outlawed sex segregation in education, women continue to be underrepresented in high-paying occupations in STEM and skilled trades that typically are classified as “nontraditional” for their gender. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicates that within the CTE area of “Human Services”, which prepares students for lower-paying positions such as child care workers and hair dressers, women still comprise 80% of those programs and thus forego the pursuit of higher-wage CTE paths. 

Unfortunately, in some industrial and educational spheres, false narratives persist: that women don’t like working with their hands and would prefer to avoid male-dominated fields that involve varying degrees of physical labor and mathematical skill. Indeed, these are myths that must be dispelled, and thanks to vibrant, gender equity-seeking organizations, including Chicago Women in Trades and  Women in Manufacturing (WIM), women in nontraditional careers are gaining attention and momentum as they share their stories and advice for other women seeking success in the skilled trades (For instance, check out WIM’s inspiring podcast, “Hear Her Story”!). 

At Waubonsee Community College, our CTE enrollment is up approximately 8% since last year. Within our Business, Technology, and Workforce Education division, we continue to see increases in women participating in programs such as Automotive Technology and Computer Science. An increase in enrollment of Latinx women in our Computer Aided Design and Drafting and Engineering courses shows promise, as well. Every time we witness a woman earn credentials in one of our programs deemed “nontraditional” for their gender, it is a small but essential “win” for women, the Waubonsee community, and society at large. After all, women’s pursuit of nontraditional career paths is also a win for economic and racial justice. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, manufacturers are finding that diversity boosts creativity, employee morale, and retention. With an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing jobs left unfilled by 2028, now is the time to encourage more women to build the skills needed to fill these positions and ensure economic mobility.  

Do you know a woman who can problem-solve with skill and precision, who loves to tinker, fix, invent, and create in ways that provide greater ease and security in people’s everyday lives? We want her to know that she has a home in Waubonsee’s Business, Technology, and Workforce Education division. We want her to join the chorus of change that calls for more women to pursue high-demand, high-wage CTE careers — becoming welders, engineers, cybersecurity professionals, and leaders of manufacturing organizations. 

My hope is that more women will pursue these “nontraditional” careers and assume leadership positions within them, thus transforming industrial and economic landscapes for future generations. My hope is that more women and girls will encounter a different message than the one I encountered as a child — one that fosters a sense of belonging, passion, purpose, and success. Waubonsee’s CTE programs are the perfect place to start. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work! 


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