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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-20-003    Date:  Spring 2020
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-20-003
Issue No: Vol. 84 No. 1
Date: Spring 2020

 

Experiencing Magic in Kansas

by Samantha Darling

A week-long orientation to the range of career opportunities for girls in transportation is making waves in the Sunflower State.

Each summer in Kansas, a group of high-school age girls gathers for a summer camp unlike any other. At this camp, pink hard hats, tool kits, T-shirts, and safety goggles are provided. The Kansas Department of Transportation's (KDOT) Mentoring A Girl In Construction (MAGIC) Camp offers girls the opportunity to learn about the many avenues of employment that are available to women in the transportation industry. This opportunity to gain exposure to a historically nontraditional industry for women helps the girls build self-confidence as they explore career paths.

A group of girls wearing safety vests poses with the large construction equipment.
During a field trip to a local contractor's lot, the MAGIC Camp participants had the opportunity to operate large construction equipment.

"In Kansas, as in much of the Midwest and the rest of the United States, transportation has been a male-dominated field," says Doria Watson, civil rights administrator in KDOT's Office of Civil Rights. "We want to expose the girls to career possibilities in transportation and challenge them to think about nontraditional fields and career paths."

During the 5-day camp, participants meet and interact with female business owners and construction workers, as well as participate in many hands-on activities and supervised field trips. The experience also introduces girls to female role models who have achieved success in many areas of transportation.

"MAGIC Camp is the best camp I've ever attended. Not only is it a camp full of females, but it's a camp that opens your eyes to career fields known as 'manly' jobs," says Jae'Mya L., age 15. "It showed me that these same jobs can be a woman's career and that females are capable of doing the same hard work that men do. For me, it made me feel so empowered!"

How It Started

Based on a national program started in Atlanta, GA, KDOT's MAGIC Camp has adopted a unique delivery model. KDOT focuses on transportation, in addition to the national program's general construction focus.

KDOT held its first camp in Topeka in 2015, with other camps in that city held in 2017 and 2019. Originally scheduled to be held every other year, the Topeka camp will now be held annually beginning in 2020. KDOT also added an annual camp in Wichita, which began in 2017, and will expand to Kansas City, KS, in 2020. So far, the camps have reached about 150 girls, and the agency hopes to expand further and reach other communities in the future.

Group of girls poses at the Topeka Habitat for Humanity site with a sign that reads "Kansas Department of Transportation Mentoring a Girl In Construction!"
MAGIC Camp participants spent an afternoon working at the Topeka Habitat for Humanity constructing a lemonade stand.

"While opening the doors to nontraditional careers for women is important, we also believe in the power of our MAGIC Camp in building self-esteem, understanding networking, and empowering girls to be confident in tackling things that are new to them," says Watson. "We want the girls to understand they have a place here. We don't want them to just survive, we want them to thrive."

In addition to boosting self-esteem and career exposure, the camp provides a safe place for girls who are facing myriad challenges in their lives. KDOT strives to reach girls from disadvantaged homes and circumstances every year. In 2019, the Wichita camp had 80 percent of its participants come from group homes.

KDOT recruits girls through outreach efforts to schools, community centers, churches, and parents. Thanks to community partners and KDOT, participants can attend at no cost. "We target recruitment efforts toward females and minorities, and especially those who normally would not be able to afford summer camps," says Watson.

Behind the Scenes

The itinerary for each day at MAGIC Camp focuses on a different mode of transportation. For example, on aviation day, the girls received a presentation by KDOT's aviation department, visited an air traffic control tower and the Air Force's 190th Air Refueling Wing, and received a tour of the Combat Air Museum led by veterans. Most days include field trips to destinations such as airports and transit facilities, where the girls can see jobs firsthand, experience simulators, and operate equipment.

A girl operates an excavator.
Peytan A. gets instruction from a KDOT employee on how to move the soccer ball on the cone into the garbage can, giving her the opportunity to test her accuracy.

"MAGIC Camp taught me that there are so many options when it comes to construction," says Peytan A., age 14. "My favorite part of MAGIC Camp was operating the machines and learning from everyone in the different areas. The professionals and instructors were helpful and wanted to show us that women can be in the construction field and succeed. The camp was so much fun!"

A girl operates a front loader.
Heidi S. practices moving dirt using a front loader.

On the last day of each camp, KDOT holds a women in transportation roundtable. The girls hear from a panel of women working in the industry to learn about their experiences, their hardships, and how the field has evolved, among other topics. The girls can ask the panelists questions as well. At Topeka's MAGIC Camp in 2019, panelists included KDOT representatives Gelene Savage, chief counsel; Sue Eiseman, construction and materials assistant bureau chief; Dominique Shannon, bridge evaluation engineer; and Catherine Patrick, director of safety. The panel also included Angie Gavin, the director of business development for a woman-owned construction business in Kansas City, MO.

"MAGIC Camp was a good way to learn that there are many jobs within construction," says Heidi S., age 13. "Not only can you build and design structures, but also pave roads, supervise construction, find ways to keep roads safer, and work in a lab to create stronger bridge supports, among other things."

The future of MAGIC Camp in Kansas looks bright. Plans include expanding to additional cities and developing methods to track the camps' impact on participants. KDOT hopes to track the girls as they enter the workforce to learn whether they pursue careers in transportation.

Group of girls poses in hard hats in front of a stationary train.
This group of girls had a chance to get an up-close look at a few different jobs at a rail yard.

"My eyes were opened in so many crazy ways, from tiling to road construction," says Jae'Mya L. "I enjoyed the tiling so much that I am now starting a few projects at home. My mother used to be a steamroller operator and she said she loved it. I never completely understood how she could want to do a job like that. But now that I have experienced MAGIC Camp, I completely understand why!"

A girl uses a drill to make holes in a piece of wood.
Jae'Mya L. drills holes into a sign the girls constructed on the first day of camp.

Mentoring Beyond Camp

At KDOT, mentoring is essential. KDOT Secretary Julie Lorenz credits her success in her own career to mentoring. Lorenz is only the second woman to hold the secretary of transportation position in the State. In an interview with Women of Asphalt in 2019, Lorenz said: "I think [holding this position] speaks to mentorship—the importance of mentorship. I think for women in particular, if they can see the opportunities that may not be as obvious, that will give them an opportunity to grow their careers in ways they hadn't imagined."

KDOT is also involved in other programs that reach women, minorities, and youth:

Jobs for America's Graduates is a school-based program for boys and girls in which KDOT representatives participate as presenters. KDOT also uses the program as a potential applicant pool for interns. For more information on the program, visit https://jagkansas.org.

Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) is a national organization in which KDOT is actively involved. For more information on the activities of the COMTO Kansas City chapter, visit https://comtokc.org.

The Garrett A. Morgan Shadow Day Program is a national program designed to educate students about career opportunities in transportation. Each February, KDOT participates by organizing a tour of various transportation-related agencies for a group of Kansas high school students. For more information, visit https://comtokc.org/2016/01/11/who-was-garrett-a-morgan.

Two girls mix concrete in a large bucket.
During a camp activity, Isabel R. and Heidi S. mix concrete they will use to make a planter.

KDOT's internship program is available to high school seniors. The program has been active for the last 3 years. Currently, KDOT hires five interns who work 10 to 15 hours a week during their senior year. The student interns are placed in various divisions throughout the agency based on their interests. Students often have the potential to be retained in a temporary position after graduation.

"This opportunity was a real eye opener. It [gave me] the chance to have a better understanding of what women can be capable of."

— Alicia T., age 15

The National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI) is a collaboration among the Federal Highway Administration, State transportation agencies, and educational institutions. In Kansas, KDOT partners with FHWA to host a STEM-focused transportation camp at Washburn University. Held every June or July, the residential camp hosts middle school students on the college campus for the entire week.

A group of girls is watching a demonstration by a presenter with an asphalt sample.
The girls listen to a KDOT employee discuss asphalt testing in the KDOT Materials Lab.

KDOT's Construction Career Expo provides career information and educational resources for students considering entering the skilled trades and the engineering and technology fields. In 2018, the biannual event hosted its largest expo to date with approximately 2,300 students from area middle schools, high schools, and technical schools. The next expo will be held September 22, 2020.

"People don't know what they don't know," says Watson. "That is why we concentrate so many of our efforts on educating and demonstrating the possibilities for successful careers in transportation in a way that we think is exciting to girls—and to all kids and young adults."


Samantha Darling is the coordinator for MAGIC Camp. She works for KDOT's Office of Civil Rights, focusing on project compliance and community outreach. She graduated from the University of Kansas with degrees in journalism and English.

For more information, contact Doria Watson at 785–296–7940 or Doria.Watson@ks.gov.

 

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