"A MEMOIR" By Sharon M Manville, a member of WID-NESC
I grew up in the 1960s in Newport Rhode Island, also known as the "city by the sea." This is where all the Navy ships and sailors would visit after a long voyage. As a young child, I remember riding in the car with my mom down Thames Street, a cobblestone road leading to Grandma's house where I would see all the sailors walking in their white, neatly pressed uniforms. I distinctly remember seeing one women sailor wearing a white uniform with a white hat with a black brim. I thought to myself, she must really feel proud to be a sailor. There was a little part of me that wanted to feel like she did, proud.
I was raised in a middle class family. My dad was a finish carpenter who worked for my godfather and my mom was a housekeeper. My mom always did a wonderful job of keeping the house neat and clean and preparing nice meals for my two brothers and me. Shawn was a year older than me and Troy was five years younger. Every night when dad came home from work, he would smell like fresh cut lumber wearing a baseball cap on his head with a small, flat pencil sticking out of the side of it. Looking back on it now, we were the perfect stereotypical family of the 1960s, when men were the primary bread winners and women stayed home to care for the children.
On weekends dad would work around the house with his hand tools. One day I remember thinking to myself, I want to be just like dad when I grow up. I want to work with the tools and take care of my family. I knew my thoughts were different than other girls my age and this made me feel awkward at times. As a result, I found myself to be more comfortable when I was alone. My dad had an amazing ability to quickly fold and unfold his six foot wooden ruler without hesitation. This ability fascinated me so much I actually tried to imitate him. One day I found my dad's rule lying on the kitchen counter, so I picked it up and proceeded to unfold and fold it very quickly. I was disappointed to learn that I was not as skillful as dad, when I pinched my finger and it immediately swelled up and turned blue. However, this experience never deterred me from following through to become a master of dad's six foot wooden rule. My brother Shawn had a toy tool belt and he used to let me wear it sometimes. Wearing it made me feel so confident and happy. At times it felt like the belt was made exclusively for me.
During my school years I struggled quite a bit. I never felt like I fit in with the other girls my age. They talked about boys and shopping and I would just as soon wear a baseball cap and jeans like my dad and hang out around the house. After all, I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps and become a construction worker. At times I became confused by this fact. I asked myself questions like "what boy would want to be with me if I am dressed in a baseball cap and jeans?" There was no denying the fact that I was different from the other girls and it was quite evident by the way I dressed and the things I like to do. Somehow I knew it would be easier to just conform and be like all the other girls, but knew deep inside it just was not me. At this point, I was determined to just be myself even if it meant I would stand out from the rest of the girls at times. This was OK with me because I felt and spent most of my time alone anyway.
As time went on, I became less concerned with what other people thought of me and more concerned with trying to accept myself as I was, different. After high school I held several miscellaneous construction jobs. First, I became a carpenter's laborer; second, I served as a plumbers apprentice; third, I became a structural welder for General Dynamics Electric Boat where we constructed nuclear attack submarines for the United States Navy. During my time in this position, I was often reminded of my younger years when I would see the navy sailors walking in their uniforms on my way to Grandma's house. The skills I had acquired in this position led me to yet another exciting endeavor, when I enrolled in a five-year apprentice program with the Pipefitters Union. This was by far, the most challenging endeavor I had taken on up to this point. There were times when I would sit in my car in the morning, full of fear, and wish I did not have to go to work. I feared all the looks and sly remarks I would receive from the guys for invading their space. Somehow, I always managed to gather up enough strength to make it through yet another long day. I was determined to do my best to fulfill my dream to become a construction worker. It seemed like it took forever, but the time had come when I successfully completed my apprenticeship and became the first licensed woman pipefitter in the State of Rhode Island. This was a huge milestone for me and I was filled with much emotion. I felt joy, laughter, and sorrow all at once, in one feeling. I had become that women sailor I remembered from my childhood. Thus, it was my turn to feel proud and walk with the boys with my head held high. After my emotions subsided, I simply felt blessed at that very moment for all I had been given. I had worked so hard for so long to perform the duties expected of me not only by employers and coworkers, but also by the high standards I had created for myself as a young girl.
Now, as a journeyman pipefitter I was able to take full advantage of the scholarship fund offered to me by my union to continue my education. I quickly began taking courses at the Community College of Rhode Island where I soon received an associate degree in applied science and technical studies. I realized once again, I can do anything I put my mind to. My family was proud of me as I was the only one to ever go to college in my family.
Next, I accepted a position with a large international corporation named Fluor Daniel where I served as a construction engineer in the industrial setting of the construction industry. Here I learned about building pharmaceutical plants and of phases of construction, from preconception to project closeout. At this point, I felt compelled to continue my education further. Thus, I applied for and was accepted into the learning community bachelor (LCB) program at Lesley University. After a couple of years, I received a bachelor degree in business management. The LCB program was extremely valuable to me as it challenged me to identify and connect with my own voice and then, incorporate it into my academic writing assignments. This was an entirely new concept for me as I had trouble expressing my own thoughts because I had always worried about what others might think about me. Soon I was offered a new position as an assistant project manager with another great international company called Skanska USA Building, Inc. where I had the luxury of traveling for a few years.
As the economy began to diminish so did my opportunities. In 2009 was laid off for the first time. I was without a job for a total of a year and a half. Much of my self esteem had been based on my ability to work. Needless to say, I was then confronted with the daunting task of finding other ways to feel good about myself. At one point I applied to Electric Boat as a pipefitter. Soon after, I found myself in an interview and was offered the job. Upon completion of the required training I became an install mechanic in the area of operations and quickly began working my way back up the ladder again, only this time with much more knowledge about myself and about others in general. I no longer feel afraid and alone. I no longer feel as though I do not fit in. I try to look for the good in all people. However, I do realize we all have our crosses to bear and our dreams to fulfill. After only eight months as an install mechanic I applied for and was offered the position of a training coordinator within the training department where I reside today. I never stop challenging myself to continue to grow in all aspects of my life. This sometimes means I have to do things I do not always want to do or that I have to work through things I do not necessarily want to work through, but the rewards are astonishing so I do it anyway...
In closing, I would like to plant a few seeds in the minds of those women who may be just starting out in the Defense Industry, particularly, in the area of operations and those of you who may for one reason or another have lost your enthusiasm. These seeds are based on knowledge I have learned and on my own personal experience as a tradeswoman:
- Always challenge yourself to be all that you can be in every aspect of your life.
- Be honest; share your hopes, dreams, thoughts and feelings with individuals you trust. You will be surprised by what you can learn about yourself and about others via open communication.
- Establish a relationship with a mentor to consult with; one you look up to and admire that will guide you in your process.
- Make yourself accessible to others who may need your assistance in helping them achieve their goals.
- Take full advantage of all the training and education benefits offered by the organization. Doing this will allow you to become more educated and allow the company to utilize you to your fullest potential, a "win, win."
- Participate in activities outside and within the organization in order to gain exposure and to meet others like yourself who may be traveling on the same path as you.
- Always view the glass as half full rather than half empty: positive versus negative thinking makes a happier person all the time.