Sophomore 'Spark'-les In Male-Dominated Program
|Sophomore Rachel Feinberg, an ag engineering technology major, is making a measurable impact in a "man's world" of ag mechanization, according to professor Doug Kingman. She has become the first female welding lab assistant in the department's history and serves as a mentor for other females in the welding shop. —Photos by Brian Blalock|
Professor Doug Kingman calls Rachel Feinberg the “Johnny Manziel of agricultural engineering.” And while she isn’t as famous as the Texas A&M University quarterback, she is nonetheless a superstar in the ag world at Sam Houston State University.
Feinberg, 19, is a sophomore from Houston and the first female welding laboratory assistant in the university’s ag program. Bringing a woman into the vocational lab setting was the brainchild of Kingman, an associate professor of agricultural mechanization.
Kingman said that the university has been experiencing a growth of women in agricultural studies because many women are going into agricultural teaching.
“You look at a university setting where more than 50 percent are female in our department; it is crazy to be offering classes that don’t cater to females. By cater, I don’t mean that you are doing anything sub-par,” Kingman said.
Yet not a lot of women have taken ag mechanics classes, such as welding, until recently. The professor said the challenge has been to make female students feel comfortable in a male-dominated class where most of the guys have had some experience welding.
“I was sitting there (in the welding shop), feeling unsuccessful in my teaching.” Kingman said. “I was trying to understand how I could address this (female) learner. For the guys, it’s easy. What I didn’t understand was how intimidated girls are by the shop environment. It’s simply because they haven’t been in the shop environment.”
With guidance from fellow educators, Kingman came up with the idea to put an assistant in the welding lab that could increase these female students’ comfort zone.
“I hired Rachel and I put her in my laboratory,” Kingman says. “I said, ‘I don’t care if you sit there the whole lab, you are just going to be here for all the girls in the class.’ I told the girls, ‘If you don’t want to talk to me, you can talk to her. If you want her to show you how to weld, she will tell you how to weld or anything else we are doing in here.’
“It made a gigantic difference,” Kingman said. “It wasn’t even funny. In fact, it was kind of sad; I should have hired her sooner.”
Feinberg said she is there to reduce anxiety, but her interest in welding has been long established. She took her first welding class as a freshman at Cypress Ridge High School.
“When I started welding, I found it was really intimidating to be around some guys older than me and more experienced in welding than me. It was just uncomfortable,” she said. “Now, helping with these labs in college, I’m trying to relieve some of that anxiety that a female might have, especially for the secondary education majors. They need to be able to be comfortable in a shop setting.
“What I am doing with the school right now is helping with an intro lab where the students learn welding, electricity, small motor equipment and a few other things,” Feinberg said. “I am there to make it a more comfortable environment for females who have never been in the shop. When you walk in (the class) and there are 10 guys who kind of know what they are doing because they have been in a shop, it can be uncomfortable and can make it hard to learn.”
Feinberg said there were five female students in her first high school welding class. When she told people she was studying welding, she said the reaction was more curious than off-putting. She didn’t feel as though she was championing a feminist cause as much as she was just interested in building and welding.
She and fellow girl students formed a welding team and competed in shows. Her greatest building accomplishment so far has been the design and building of a trailer with a fabricated barbecue pit and side smoker.
When Feinberg arrived at SHSU as a freshman, she knew she wanted to study agricultural engineering. She took an ag mechanization class where she was able to advance her welding skills.
Kingman said he met Feinberg through the SHSU ag engineering technology club.
|Feinberg teaches future female ag teachers how to weld using an oxy/acetylene torch. —Submitted photo|
“She was demonstrating leadership in our club; she has been recognized in our department as a leader. She’s been an ag ambassador, so she’s been a recruiter,” he said. “She wanted to be involved in the ag mechanics show in Houston because she showed there.
“She is very smart, so when I got some money together to hire a lab tech, she was the first one on the list,” Kingman said. “I would never want to teach the laboratories without a girl in there. I think I would be wasting my time, unless it was an all-guy class. If the female ag teachers continue to take this class, there needs to be a female laboratory assistant in there.”
Feinberg made an impact on the fall class and hopes to do the same in the spring semester as well.
“She has made a big difference,” Kingman said. “I see it in the student evaluations and in their performance. The young ladies that were in my class this fall are the best set of welders I have ever had. I would take five of those girls and put them against of any of the students from my previous classes.”
There were a number of girls in the fall classes that Feinberg worked with personally every time they were in lab.
Sometimes just hearing information from a different point of view or just explaining it differently, maybe explaining how she learned it, allows them to process the information differently, Feinberg said.
It hasn’t been a one-sided teaching experience either; Feinberg said she learned a new welding technique this past semester.
From this experience, Feinberg has discovered that she enjoys mentoring, but she has not decided what she wants to do when she graduates.
“I want to stick with ag engineering,” she said. “I want to visit some grad schools and see what research I can get into.
“I know that whatever I’m doing, I still want to help people. I want to see where ag engineering can take me and still keep helping the community or helping other females in agriculture,” she said. “I know teaching is an option, but as I am learning more and more about the industry, I know there are more places where I can do with this.”
Kingman said Feinberg’s opportunities should be far-reaching. The ag engineering field includes farming, but also the oil industry, equipment management and sales.
“I know when she graduates, she is going to have some big-time job offers,” the professor said.
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