OGDEN — Standing near a metal shear nearly as big as a household appliance, a teenage girl asks the question likely on everyone's mind: "Can that cut your fingers off?"
It's a legitimate question considering the size and horsepower of the industrial metal cutter in Weber State University's welding lab.
Mark Baugh, professor of manufacturing engineering technology professor, assures the group that the department has an excellent safety record and "we intend to keep it that way."
Bit by bit, the academics leading WSU's third-annual girls welding camp labors to build teenage girls' confidence and skills, and open their eyes to the possibility of careers that require the skills of welding or any variety of metalworking machines and associated technologies they learn to use.
The camp is sponsored by Petersen Inc. of Ogden, which specializes in fabrication, advanced manufacturing and machining services for nuclear, petrochemical, aerospace, mining and industrial clients.
It is also supported by John Deere with an eye on diversifying its workforce, which is predominately male, Baugh said.
The student body in manufacturing engineering is likewise male dominated, so another goal of the camp is to break down perceived barriers to enrolling in engineering technology coursework, he said.
"That's what we're trying to get to in camp — and just have fun," he said.
To hear veteran camper Kenna Nieman tell it, welding is “scary but it’s fun. You’re harnessing the power of lightning.”
Nieman is one of 16 teenage girls taking part in the camp, a three-day experience that offers a mix of science, design, art and a two-night stay in the college dorm.
And it’s hands on — from day one.
After explicit safety instruction, campers don helmets, protective clothing and gloves and try their hand at arc welding, using shears and grinders among other metalworking tools.
Unlike many summer camps where shorts and T-shirts are the uniform du jour, welding camp has a specific dress code: closed-toe shoes, cotton-blend clothing, long sleeves and pants, no synthetic material and hair pulled back.
Emily Curtis, also a Woods Cross High student, said she returned for a second camp because she enjoyed the instruction and meeting new friends.
“I loved it. It was a really good experience. You got to weld right off the bat,” she said.
Baugh said the camp helps girls learn new skills in a nurturing environment and introduces them to career options they may not have previously considered.
Tuesday's instruction was introductory, learning how to safely operate a variety of metalworking machines, basics of computer-assisted design program and figuring out one's way around the college campus.
Camp instructor Mary Foss, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering technology, introduced participants to computer-aided design program they will use to design the art projects they will create during the camp.
"This program, if you dig into it, you're going to love it. Anything that's out there is designed with some sort of CAD program," she said.
With a little bit of one-on-one coaching for some campers, the teens learned how to design a vase, starting from a simple rectangle.
"Who wants to make this bad boy three-dimensional?" Foss challenged the group.
Most of the girls quickly mastered the basic modeling but they also learned "scoop out" the inside of the vessel using the program's tools.
"You've got it!" Foss cheered. "You're awesome!"
Sydney Sowerby, a student at Ogden's Davinci Academy of Science and the Arts, said she returned to the camp this summer "because I had a really wonderful experience last time and I was just really motivated to come back and have a great time again."
While some camp attendees have designs on careers in engineering or some aspect of welding, Sowerby said she considers the skills she's learning as a hobby.
"I know some girls here would love to continue it as a career. I'm not interested in the engineering field but I am interested in creating art. That's what I like to do here," she said.3 comments on this story
In addition to individual art projects, the participants had an opportunity to work with Jason Manley, assistant professor of visual arts, on a community art project to be displayed at the Bountiful Davis Art Center.
While creating art draws many teenage girls to the camp, it is also an opportunity for participants to explore careers in science, technology and engineering, said Foss.
“The girls will not only learn a skill and get their hands dirty, but also gain confidence in themselves and their ability to create a design and turn a concept into a tangible piece of art," she said in a press release.