Tech to the top: Samantha Dorwin shatters stereotypes, blazes new trail


NORTH ADAMS — Samantha Dorwin. You might want to remember that name.

After all, she's met with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has been honored by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, and has spoken at the U.S. Consulate in Quebec, Canada.

She's proficient in operating advanced machine technology, playing softball and figure skating.

Dorwin, 18, also just graduated from the machine shop at Charles H. McCann Technical High School, her class salutatorian, and among the first career and technical education students in the nation to be named a U.S. Presidential Scholar.

She will attend Bentley University this fall, where she intends to major in finance and management.

"When she came her as a freshman, no one saw all this coming. She was kind of quiet and would fly under the radar," said McCann Principal Justin Kratz. "When she became involved with SkillsUSA, everything changed ... We couldn't be more proud of her."

SkillsUSA is a national workforce development and leadership program serving high school and post-secondary students through collaborations between career and technical education (CTE) schools and vested stakeholders from more than 600 businesses, industries and labor markets.

McCann Tech has been a longtime chapter member of SkillsUSA's Massachusetts association, coaching dozens of students each year to work on independent and group projects in their vocational shops that they may bring to local, state and national competitions. Both the McCann shops and SkillsUSA competitions require students to be able to both show and tell others about their work.

Dorwin has often said the hands on technical experience is what motivated her to transfer into a career and technical educational school from a charter school.

After her freshman year of shop rotations and taking in her introductory year of the high school experience, Dorwin made a plan to build her confidence by continuously challenging herself and getting involved new activities and roles.

The young woman enrolled in the school's machine technology program where she began learning how to use lathes, drill presses, milling machines and grinders, and other computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines. Like all McCann students, she also became oriented with SkillsUSA and what its programs, leadership roles and competitions were all about.

"Technical education has had that negative stigma that it's not challenging and that the academics are not that hard," said Dorwin. She said she found the contrary the more she became involved in the various opportunities her school afforded, from SkillsUSA to sports to college-level Advanced Placement classes.

She described her ninth-grade self as being the girl who was "always hiding behind my hair" and was slightly intimidated about choosing a shop that's considered "nontraditional" for female students.

"It was about pushing myself out from behind that desk, being comfortable running a machine, talking in front of hundreds of people," Dorwin said.

By her sophomore year, she began to show signs of success, earning undergraduate academic achievement awards and high honors, finding her voice as a SkillsUSA chapter ambassador for McCann, participating in and leading various school and community service projects.

Upon entering her junior year, Dorwin found that she was no longer off the map but a rising leader definitively on the school's radar.

That year, she joined the Berkshire District Attorney's Youth Advisory Board, became a varsity softball player and an inductee to the National Honor Society. That summer, she was elected treasurer for SkillsUSA Massachusetts.

To get a feel for Dorwin's senior year success, one needs only to visit the SkillsUSA Massachusetts Facebook page, where the timeline features the student's many milestones — her election to the post of Region I Vice President for the national SkillsUSA organization; her gold medal in figure skating at the Bay State Games; a gold level Presidential Volunteer Service Award; speaking at myriad state, national and international conferences — among other momentous occasions. As a young adult, she's now done work in nine major cities in the U.S. and Canada.

After her presentation at the state's inaugural Girls in Trades Conference and Career Fair held in April, the Sudbury Patch characterized Dorwin as a "memorable speaker" who offered encouragement to her peers, saying, "Together, we're ready to impact the world. Yes, we will succeed!"

Dorwin credits her school and SkillsUSA peers, mentors and administrators for the confidence she's displayed at every podium and every volunteer project.

"My fellow students have always been very supportive," she said. And she found a role model in one of the school's science teachers, Lisa Collins, her science teacher and a SkillsUSA adviser.

"She's always positive and brings a lot of energy to our group and is very involved in the community," Dorwin said. "She influenced me to get involved in the community around us."

As a presidential scholar, Dorwin had the opportunity to also have Collins receive national recognition through the program.

Prior to joining her fellow 159 U.S. Presidential Scholars at a recognition program held June 19 through 21, in Washington, D.C., the young woman arrived early in the nation's capital with SkillsUSA Massachusetts Executive Director Karen E. Ward to make another appearance.

The Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education invited Dorwin to speak at an event, "Ensuring Gender Equity in the Nation's Career and Technical Education," held on June 15, with U.S. Secretary of Education John King.

The event aligned with the June 14 United States of Women Summit convened by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and held throughout the center of Washington, D.C. It coincided with the June 15 federal release of new guidance on ensuring and promoting equal access and engagement of all students in career and technical education (CTE) programs, regardless of gender.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, who introduced Dorwin at the education department's program, said, "Ensuring equitable access to CTE programs by eliminating sex discrimination supports a pathway to high-skill, high-wage and high-demand jobs for all learners, free from stereotype and consistent with our nation's civil rights laws."

In her remarks at the event, Lhamon characterized Dorwin as a young woman and "superstar" who has "really blazed her own trail."

In her speech, Dorwin said that after she enrolled, she became acutely aware of the gender gaps in the machine technology shop. "To me, the biggest challenge was the attitudes of the male students, who, at first, deemed me incapable of lifting heaving objects or running highly powered machines, simply because I was a girl. It was crucial for me to develop my own voice and the confidence to stand up against the stereotypes and demonstrate that I was fully capable."

Over the course of her four high school years, Dorwin went above and beyond in proving that, not only because she was motivated, but because she had access to the skills and training and was given the encouragement she needed to succeed.

She said school, coupled with programs like SkillsUSA, "has given me invaluable skills taking me from the machine shop to Washington, D.C.," as a more knowledgeable individual and prepared worker.

Dorwin also said that she believes that any student, regardless of gender or other life circumstances, can succeed when they have access to a "gender-neutral" environment and are given the same assignments and opportunities for enrichment.

"Success stories should be shared, highlighting the pathways of successful students and then making those same pathways available to every student," Dorwin said.

Lhamon credited McCann for supporting people like Dorwin in study and career fields that are considered nontraditional for certain genders. "I think that they and she are a beacon of hope for all of us," the assistant secretary said.

Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.


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