SOUTH GLENS FALLS — Hudson Falls High School alumna Emily Weaver is piloting the paid summer internship program at Essity this year, learning the ins and outs of daily engineering work through on-the-job experience.
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Weaver recently completed her first year at Clarkson University as a mechanical engineering major and previously worked with Essity, which produces hygiene supplies such as toilet paper, medical bandages and diapers, through a BOCES program while in high school.
She said the preconceptions most people have of an engineer — sitting behind a desk and making designs all day — isn’t very accurate. Weaver is learning to navigate a field in which women make up only about 17% of the total work force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s definitely hard being one of the few females,” Weaver said. “In every class, you’re looking and you count how many there are with you.”
Weaver said she is very aware of the low number of other women she sees in her classes, exacerbated by her school’s high ratio of men to women.
She said she has been warned by others in manufacturing and engineering careers that it can often be tough for women in the male-dominated field.
“As a female in engineering and in a technical environment, everything I’ve been told thus far is ‘You need to be prepared because you will be challenged. People are going to question you,’” Weaver said. “But that’s not something I’ve found here. Everyone has been willing to teach me and help me learn.”
Her direct supervisor on the internship and the environmental manager at Essity, Barb Hemken, said it was tough when she started decades ago, but the workplace has changed a great deal since then.
“I think women are getting more exposure to the manufacturing world,” Hemken said. “It’s an area that traditionally hasn’t been a big focus. You look at the representation now though and I think it’s pretty good compared to when I started.”
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She said people are starting to realize STEM and other skilled manufacturing jobs pay well, and people of both genders are starting to notice. The economics of engineering jobs and the technical jobs BOCES can train students for is playing a big role.
Weaver’s position is, in many ways, an extension of the BOCES program internship she had as a senior in high school. Weaver was enrolled in the Early College Career Academy, which required an internship.
Skilled labor employers have been feeling the shortage of qualified workers in the area for …
She did her placement at Essity and built connections there that translated into another opportunity in the summer after her first year, a time when internships and other programs are highly competitive, according to Weaver.
She said she felt that culmination of her experience so far has given her a leg up on others in her class and was glad she’d decided to enroll in the BOCES program early on.
Site manager Steve Duell said the internship is an effort by Essity to tap into the local area and let both high school and college students know opportunities are available in the Capital Region.
He said he hopes Weaver continues to return and eventually takes a full-time position after graduation.
“When someone has a degree it shows their ability to learn something new,” Duell said.
“This type of experience shows us it’s someone who wants to expand themselves and learn even more and a person like that stands out.”