Four women professionals who work in design and engineering with Ashley Furniture Industries spoke to almost one thousand Alamance-Burlington high school students — with special emphasis on female students — to talk about how STEM studies can lead to high-paying industrial careers.
STEM refers to the curriculums of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The four Ashley Furniture professionals: Jammie Sturgal (Manufacturing Superintendent), Evelina Rurek (Manufacturing Superintendent), Betty Baker (Product Engineer), and Angel Kraemer (Designer) — talked to students about their own backgrounds and education, as well as the opportunities available in advanced manufacturing, engineering, and design.
Established in 1945, Ashley is one of the largest manufacturers of home furnishings in the world, and was recently named one of America’s Best Employers by Forbes in 2017. Ashley HomeStore is the No. 1 furniture retailer in the U.S. and one of the world’s best-selling furniture store brands with more than 775 locations in 43 countries.
“The jobs of all four of these ladies revolve around STEM studies. Study those courses because they directly impact manufacturing today,” said Kris Gengler, a public relations representative with Ashley Furniture, during the visit to Cummings High School. “Jammie and Betty both went through two-year degree programs and look where they are today. We at Ashley, as well as many other manufacturers, highly value technical degrees at the community college level.”
The Ashley Furniture employees spoke to 923 students on December 18-19 at Western Alamance, Cummings, Southern Alamance, and Graham high schools. An evening forum on the Alamance Community College campus on Dec. 18 allowed students unable to make the day sessions to hear the same message.
This career exploration project was a collaboration of Alamance Community College’s Computer-
Aided Drafting (CAD) program, Alamance-Burlington Schools (ABSS), and Ashley Furniture. The College, ABSS, and Ashley Furniture are keenly interested in promoting career opportunities in advanced manufacturing, with a particular focus on inspiring young women with career aspirations in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.
James Adkins, Department Head for CAD at ACC, was inspired to initiate this project due to the low number of females who enroll in drafting programs. “Women in engineering and design are in high demand due to the field being traditionally male,” he said. “More than 400 CAD-related jobs are available within fifty miles of ACC and female graduates will be leading the way. ACC’s Computer-Aided Drafting program is growing as a leader in CAD educational opportunities. Students can obtain as many as five college awards, in addition to 12 industry level certifications, during two full years of study in our program.”
“By introducing young women to opportunities in manufacturing, we can get them excited and build the skills needed prior to them entering the workforce,” stated Ron Wanek, Founder & Chairman, Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. “These four ladies have had strong careers in manufacturing, and at Ashley. I am confident they will provide great insight to all manufacturing has to offer to these students.”
During the session at Cummings High School, the four Ashley Furniture speakers urged students to consider their futures. They also answered pre-selected questions.
“Don’t immediately write off manufacturing [as a career] because it’s so much more than what you may think. It’s mechatronics, it’s design, it’s creativity,” said Angel Kraemer, a product designer. “Lots of manufacturers, including Ashley, hire students right out of college as interns.”
Betty Baker, a product engineer, told the students that she uses SolidWorks software in her job, the same software taught in ACC’s Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) program.
“To get into this field, take STEM classes while you’re still in high school, which you can get at the community college. You can get [college] credit and doesn’t cost a lot,” added Baker.
Angel Kraemer, who grew up in a small town and graduated from a high school class of fifty, explained that she originally planned to study for another career in college. She switched to studying design once she found her passion for the field.
“My mom said, ‘How are you going to be a designer in this little town?’ But I persisted, I studied, and I did it,” said Kraemer. “The careers are out there. You guys here [in high school] have so much potential. Say ‘yes’ to any and all opportunities.”