Women In Trades » 2022 Staff & Student Highlights

2022 Staff & Student Highlights

Spotlight on Sherri Slater and Environmental Conservation Students
environmental conservation instructor with 5 students
While enrollment of female students in programs that have been thought of as traditionally male dominated fields is low, one instructor who does seem to have more female students in her program is Sherri Slater, who teaches environmental conservation and forestry at the Southern Adirondack Education Center in Hudson Falls. Mrs. Slater attributes this partly to the name of the program, which highlights conservation and gets away from the stereotype of logging.
Long before the current WSWHE BOCES Women in Trades initiative, Mrs. Slater has been  setting an example for the young women in her class as she demonstrates how to run chainsaws, operate skid steers and dozers, as well as identifying key environmental issues. Current and former students say she pushes them to new boundaries. And although they may think of her as a mother figure, she can identify and fell trees and operate heavy equipment right along with the guys in her industry. 
Mrs. Slater says she was born into an agricultural family and given the opportunity and encouraged to do whatever she aspired to. She originally wanted to be a veterinarian. Hailing from Salem, she says she got into education after she raised her family. She started out as a teaching assistant in Special Education, worked in the Alternative High School, and then moved over to CTE to become a CDL instructor which she did for 13 years before returning to school to complete her teaching certification. She had an interest in agronomy, soils and animal science which made her a great candidate for her current position. She says an agriculture teacher at Salem High School originally inspired her to get into the field. She says, “education is not about pen and paper, it's about finding the key to that child, turning it on and letting them go.”
“I tell my female students that it's not easy, there will be challenges, but if you want something, keep your head up and put one foot in front of the other,” says Slater.
When we caught up with Mrs. Slater and asked to get a photo of her, she allowed us to take it only if all of her female students could be included. In the morning class, she is pictured center with Heather Runnalls, Opal Rohne-Ireland, Kaidyn Clark, Emily Passno, and Keira Hart. Heather, a senior from Glens Falls, plans to get her CDL-B. She loves operating equipment and plans to apply for a job with the City of Glens Falls. Opal is a junior who would like to go to the NYS DEC ranger school. Kaidyn and Emily discovered that they love the conservation aspect of the program and are considering pursuing marine biology and marine conservation. And Kiera, a senior from Johnsburg plans to go into a family business related to agriculture. She says, “it not really a class, it's a family.”  
“I am looking forward to the younger generation as they regenerate knowledge in this industry. There are so many careers available, no matter the gender,” says Slater.
Spotlight on Carrie Decker and Kirsten Ailling
CDL Instructor and studentCarrie Decker is a teaching assistant in the heavy equipment program at the Southern Adirondack Education Center (SAEC) in Hudson Falls. She has been in the trucking industry her whole life. Her father was a truck driver and bought a trucking company when she was child. 
“My whole family worked at the company. By the time I graduated high school I was running the office,” says Decker.  In highschool, she completed the heavy equipment program at SAEC and had Mr. Dudley as an instructor. When her father retired and closed the business, she worked for other trucking companies. 
After taking time off to raise a family, she started subbing at WSWHE BOCES as a teaching assistant. She worked in the welding program and moved to heavy equipment. She has been in her current position for 5 and a half years. She has also become a CDL-B instructor for the program. 
Decker keeps track of industry trends. She says, “things have changed a lot in the industry. There are far more regulations now than when I started out working full time. The equipment is more advanced. For example having an automatic transmission in a truck was a very rare thing back then. I recently heard that automatics account for over half the trucks on the road today.” Decker obtained a class A license while working at WSWHE BOCES.
Decker thinks CTE is a great choice for students. “I personally love watching the kids grow from shy juniors to outgoing and confident graduating seniors who have a solid sense of responsibility and maturity as they go out into the real world. Given how much they learn about equipment, the certifications they earn, and the ones that are driven enough to leave here with a Commercial Drivers License, we constantly hear back from employers in the industry about how much they love hiring our students. They tell us the kids here have a work ethic that is hard to find these days among young people.”
Her advice for girls getting into the trade is that, “if it is something you are serious about, there is no reason not to do it. Years ago you may have been the first woman in a certain career field but there are so many that have already forged a path for future generations at this point and they have proven there is no reason you can not succeed. Look for that woman in your field, they are out there and ready to help.”
In this year’s heavy equipment class, there is only one young woman in the class, Kirsten Ailling, a junior from Greenwich CSD. The Women in Trades initiative aims to improve enrollment of young women like Kirsten. She says having a female instructor has made her more comfortable. She plans to get her CDL-B when she turns 18. Kirsten is learning to operate the dump truck, bulldozer, front end loader, excavator, skid steer, backhoe, chainsaws and of course how to maintain the equipment. “I like hands-on learning.” When asked what advice she would give other young women about getting into the industry, she says, “it is worth a try. You never know if you will like it until you try it.”