2019 Graduate: Mary McGowan
Building Her Future on a Solid Foundation
Going from treehouses to houses for the homeless, Mary McGowan has found her future in the construction trades.
The recent Loy Norrix High School graduate turned a childhood passion into a viable career through her experiences with the Education For Employment construction trades program. The Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency's EFE program provides students with handson experiential learning in areas such as law enforcement and education.
When she was younger, her family ran a kennel and she learned how to build dog houses. Later, she remembers building a treehouse with her grandpa and father.
“I love making things. I’m a crafty person,” said McGowan, 18. “During my sophomore year, I asked my counselor about the construction trades program and I’ve been in it ever since.”
Through the class, she’s had the opportunity to explore all aspects of residential construction, trying everything from dry walling to roofing, and flooring to insulation. The work has had real-life applications. The class builds a home for Habitat for Humanity each year, and one of her aunts moved into a house she helped build.
She plans to enroll in Kalamazoo Valley Community College this fall and transfer to Western Michigan University or Ferris State University in the future. She hopes to move into construction management after college.
McGowan was one of the few females enrolled in the construction trades EFE program.
“At first it was a little iffy, because everyone was looking at me crazy because I was the only girl. The boys were definitely surprised to see a girl in class,” she said. “I was like, ‘I really enjoy it. I don’t care what anyone thinks.’ Then everybody was like, ‘It’s so cool you’re doing construction. How did you get into it?’”
She said she got along fine with the boys, “but you have to get along to get things accomplished.”
McGowan was recently named one of the YWCA's 2019 Young Women of Accomplishment. She was nominated by Loy Norrix counselor Rebecca Learner.
“Mary stands out as a leader in the EFE construction trades program,” Learner wrote in her nomination. “Her dedication and follow through in a field that is dominated by males is amazing. She has inspired other under-represented populations of students to explore nontraditional career paths.
“Life is not easy for this family, and I think it’s important to recognize Mary’s strengths and stand behind her as she moves forward into her future.”
Her parents are Brenda Ollis and Dante McGowan. McGowan attended Washington Writers’ Academy and Milwood Magnet School before attending Loy Norrix. While in school she played saxophone for eight years, including doing jazz band at Norrix.
McGowan said she’d encourage other girls to try the construction trades, especially if they like to work with their hands and to be outside. The class provides a feeling of satisfaction with every completed project, she said.
“I like getting real experience. And, I can use it any time in life, like if I have my own house or if anyone else needs help,” she said. “I love the excitement that comes with building, and the sense of accomplishment after it’s all done makes you feel so good.”