Rowan County is a place where anybody can be anything. Our private and public K-12 schools, as well as the colleges in our county, encourage our young people to reach for the stars and achieve their dreams … no matter what those dreams may be. At West Rowan High School, girls are finding their passions in traditionally male careers, and let me just say…they are KILLING IT!
If you don’t know, each of the high schools in Rowan County hosts a different “academy,” or area that they specialize in. For examples, Carson High School has the Arts Academy, Salisbury High School has the STEM Academy, and West Rowan High School has the Agricultural Academy. Student Mira White and alumnus Ashton White found their passions as members of the Agricultural Academy, spending lots of time in the 300 Building of West Rowan.
Mira White, a bubbly and beautiful rising senior at West, says she remembers taking Ag Mechanics 1 with Mr. Owen her sophomore year. At the time, she didn’t exactly know what she wanted to be. When it was time for the welding unit in class, she recalls not being that interested in it. But being the quality student she is, and knowing she had to participate, she learned about it with open ears. When Mr. Owen had her try out the equipment…she fell in love.
“Mr. Owen had me weld a chain back on a dump bucket that was broken,” she says. “Since that day, any chance I get to weld, I go for it. I love it so much, and I know it’s what I’m meant to do.”
After that day in class, Mira began exploring what her life would look like as a welder. Her parents were 100% supportive, as they could tell it was her passion, so they let her go after it. During her research phase, Mira found that Rowan-Cabarrus Community College would be a perfect place for her to get her degree, as they have a Welding Technology Associate in Applied Science Degree. Luckily, at West Rowan, Mira has all the resources she needs to get her on track towards a degree from Rowan-Cabarrus. She is able to practice welding right at school, and is taking as many math classes as she can get her hands on.
“Not many people know this, but welding is a lot of trigonometry,” she says.
Mira is also planning to take classes at Rowan-Cabarrus her senior year through the Career and College Promise Partnership between Rowan-Cabarrus and Rowan-Salisbury Schools. The program allows eligible students to dually enroll and earn college credit at no cost to them.
Mira is a Rowan County girl through and through, and wants to stick around after earning her degree. Though she realizes traveling welders make more money, she says, “Rowan County is where I’ve always lived. My support system is here; I don’t want to go far. It’s home.”
She is interested in a job with Power Curbers, an international Salisbury company that manufactures a variety of concrete slipform equipment for curb and gutter, highway barrier, sidewalks, ditch liners, and agricultural applications.
I had never seen anyone weld anything before, so Mira and I got suited up, and she showed me her skills. In a matter of seconds, she welded two pieces of metal together like a pro. She even tried to get me to do it, but I didn’t want to catch anything on fire or leave without a finger … so I refrained.
Mira knows that welding is not typically a “female” career. She says this motivates her even more. “I like to show off to the guys a little bit,” she laughs. “Being a female, you have to have this certain power about you. One that shows guys you are just as capable. Nobody can change my mind about what I want to do, even though a lot of people don’t get it. I just want other females to know that if you’re passionate about something, don’t back down from it. People will always have something to say about your life and what you are doing, but it’s YOUR life. Do what you want to do to make yourself happy!”
In addition to being heavily involved in the agricultural program, she is also the Vice President of West Rowan’s nationally ranked FFA program, and a junior firefighter at Scotch Irish Fire Department in Woodleaf, where she was recently awarded the “Junior Firefighter of the Year” Award.
If you can’t tell, the world should keep its eyes out for Mira White. She is a powerful young woman who isn’t afraid to be herself, and I know she will be a very successful welder one day soon!
While at West Rowan, I also caught up with 2017 graduate Ashton White. If you’re from around here, you have probably heard her name before, as she has won multiple national titles for her masonry skills. Like Mira, Ashton hung out in the 300 Building a lot, but didn’t know what she wanted to do until her sophomore year, (though she thought maybe a pediatrician,) when she went to a masonry competition as a spectator.
After that, she knew she had to get into a masonry class her junior year. Soon after, she told her masonry teacher, Mr. Harrington, that she wanted to compete. Since she started late, he told her, “That’s cool, but you’re really going to have to work for it.” She worked for it all right, and has been competing for four years now. In 2018 and this year, she won the post-secondary title in the National Skills USA Masonry Competition in Louisville, Kentucky. The competition consists of getting a plan that you’ve never seen before and having just six hours to build it.
Following graduation from West, she attended Rowan-Cabarrus the last two years, where she received her Associate Degree. While a freshman at Rowan-Cabarrus, Mr. Harrington continued to serve as a mentor for Ashton, encouraging her to visit Gates Construction Co. in Mooresville. It was Gates Construction Co. that told Ashton she should pursue a career in Construction Management and helped her figure out how to get on track to do that. In the fall, she is transferring to UNC Charlotte to major in Construction Management.
“Personally, I want to be a Job Site Superintendent and maybe one day, branch out on my own and have my own company,” she said. “I kind of want to build houses from start to finish, and know how to do everything in between. I love the hands-on part of it.”
If it wasn’t for West Rowan’s agricultural programs and masonry class, Ashton knows she would have missed her calling in life. “Because of it, I’ve not only been able to secure a job as a brick mason, but I also have the knowledge and experience that helps me stand out in the industry. Additionally, it’s connected me to people that will later help me secure a job when I get out of college.”
Like Mira, Ashton wants all girls to know that they can do anything they put their minds to. “Yes, the profession is basically all males,” she said. “I do get people who are very confused when they see a girl laying bricks instead of a male. I don’t want people afraid of doing what they love, even if it’s not the “norm.” Do things that scare you…do things that are out of the box. If you enjoy it, go for it!”
Upon leaving West Rowan, I felt refreshed and excited about the society we live in — a society where anyone can be anything. It’s often said that adults can learn a lot from younger people and younger generations. After meeting with these two young women, I can definitely attest to that statement!