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Nine-Year-Old Gets Early Start to a Career in the Construction Industry with Learn2Build

By Karin Ellefson

When nine-year-old Ava Peterson puts her mind to something, she does it.

So when the fourth grader from Chelsea Heights Elementary School in St. Paul heard about Learn2Build’s summer construction camp experience, she wanted in.

Though a stranger to most of the other students and a year younger, Ava was determined to see what construction was all about.

As soon as her grandma, a retired teacher from the Minneapolis Public Schools heard about Learn2Build, she knew Ava, who is always up to try something new, would be a perfect fit for the program.

She was right. Ava fits right in, offering to help other students with projects and always ready at the front of the group to test out tools and volunteer for demonstrations.

Ava Peterson follows a blueprint to put her marshmallow launcher together. Ava said she hoped Learn2Build could come to her elementary school and teach everyone more about construction. Photo Credit: Emily Sweeney

“I have never done anything like this before, but it sounded like fun so I really wanted to go!” said Ava, who lives in St. Paul. “Before this, I didn’t even know construction was a thing.”

The Learn2Build summer experience allows students in grades 4-9 around the Twin Cities to be exposed to the building trades industry. Combining fun and games with Science, Technology, and Engineering and Math (STEM) students are introduced to career paths such as pipefitting, civil engineering, plumbing, painting and more. Their time with the program is spent doing exciting activities focused on the construction trades while meeting other students with similar interests.

During the two-week summer program, students participate in team competitions and hands-on construction projects, listen to guest speakers and visit local construction sites and companies to see what they are learning about building in real life.

“I’ve loved everything that we have done so far,” Ava said. “Today we built our very own marshmallow launcher using PVC pipes. It was so cool.”

Ava and her fellow Learn2Build peers visited the Plumbing Lab at Saint Paul College, where apprentices and students study plumbing.

Training director for the Plumbers and Gasfitters Union, Local 34, Rick Gale, and his partner Jonathan Lemke, demonstrated how PVC pipes are used in buildings, under sinks and for moving water throughout schools, houses or commercial buildings. As part of the learning experience, the students constructed their very own marshmallow launchers using PVC pipe.

“I have been in the industry for about 18 years now, and it hasn’t gotten old,” Lemke said. “I really enjoy teaching and seeing kids learn about plumbing and how to use the tools while having fun like this.”

Rick Gale, member of Plumbers and Gasfitters Union Local 34 and professor at St. Paul College demonstrates how to cut PVC pipe. Gale showed students real-world drawings and talked about the benefits of a career in construction. Photo Credit: Emily Sweeney

Using a ratcheting PVC pipe cutter, the students had to measure, cut and assemble their launchers all on their own.

“The hardest part about making the marshmallow launcher was measuring things right,” Ava said. “I think it turned out okay, though. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not too tough.”

Targets were placed around the lab so when the students finished, they got to test out their launchers, seeing how far the marshmallows would go.

“I really, really hope that my middle school offers construction classes,” Ava said. “This has been so fun!”

Interested in a career in construction?

Students who would like to learn more about careers in Minnesota’s construction industry should visit https://constructioncareers.org. To sign up for the next Learn2Build program or for more information on it, click here or contact Mary DesJarlais.

Learn2Build is supported by the generosity of the Construction Careers Foundation and the OPUS Group.