Elizabeth Aubert is only 19, but she’s already accomplished something that hasn’t been done in 42 years.
The 2012 St. Marys High grad is the first female in that span to be part of the Electric Power and Distribution program at the Manhattan Area Technical College.
Aubert wants to be a lineman — or, more precisely, a linewoman.
“Back in 2010, my dad was building his shop and he had like 25 outlets and switches he was putting in — and he had his friend, who was an electrician, put them in, and he had me help them out,” Aubert said.
“That’s how I got interested in electricity.”
Helping out with her father’s project stuck with Aubert, and later she decided to look at the possibility of attending a technical school. Her dad, noticing that Elizabeth seemed to have no fear of heights, steered her towards working with power lines.
“My dad called me up one day and said, ‘You like those high-top roller coasters at Worlds of Fun,’” she said. “Why don’t you look into this?”
With the suggestion in mind, Aubert said she set up a visit to look into the program at MATC, and she got hooked.
“They took me up in a bucket (truck), and I loved it. I’ve loved it ever since,” she said. “It’s been fun keeping up with the boys and showing them up a few times.”
Justin Meuli, one of her instructors, said Aubert is not only a trendsetter when it comes to females in the trade — but that she’s also a great student, period.
“It’s definitely a step towards seeing female linemen in this program,” Meuli said.
“We haven’t had one here in 42 years. We’ve had some try it, but after the first or second day, they drop out.
“(Aubert) has stuck with it the whole time, and she’s doing great.”
Meuli said she’s already been a foreman on a class crew.
“She was a real leader, and a good leader,” he said. “She did a really good job, she’s passing all of her tests, climbing and doing everything any guy in here does — and she’s doing it really well.”
Meuli said some other women who’ve tried the program have tended to become overwhelmed by being a minority in an occupation full of men.
“I think it’s because they’re intimidated when they came in here,” he said. “If I was in a classroom full of females, I’d feel intimidated, too.”
Aubert, who grew up on a farm, is used to getting her hands dirty.
“I’ve never really liked sitting behind a desk,” she said. “People have asked me why I’d want to go into (climbing power poles), because it’s so dangerous and I’m a girl. But as my dad has told me, “There’s a safe way of doing it and the wrong way of doing it.”
And the hard work?
“I’ve hauled hay bales. Getting dirty didn’t bother me at all,” Aubert said.
Meuli said a person like Aubert breaks the stereotype.
“There’s line women out there,” he said. “And I hope she does break (stereotypes). I’d like to see more females like her go through here.
“They can do it, because she can do it. She helps a lot of the guys out when they have problems.”
Aubert said the first few days of the class were a bit awkward, but after a while, her gender became a non-issue.
“It was intimidating at first, because I got a lot of looks,” she said. “But after they warmed up to me, I asked them what they thought of me at first — and they said they thought I was in the wrong class.
“But now, I feel a part of the class. And I knew it would be a good career to get into.”
Aubert said she would continue her pursuits this summer, when she will take part in an internship with Westar Energy.