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"Woman's career switch lands at airport"
The Independent
Wednesday, July 1, 1998 -- By HAROLD REUTTER

Independent/Jennifer Bruno
Julie Jensen helps maintain equipment at the air traffic control tower at
the Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island. HASTINGS -- Julie Jensen of Hastings was not trying to become a role model for others when shedecided to make a career change and become an electronics technician.

She simply was trying to find a job that was easier on her health.

Jensen's work as a meat cutter at Monfort -- now Armour -- in Hastings was taking an increasing physical toll on her health. Because of her short stature, Jensen said, she found the table where she did her work a little high. The awkward work position gave her chronic problems with her neck and shoulders.

So she began considering a career as an electronics technician.

"I've always liked to take things apart and put them back together," Jensen said, recalling her thoughts at the time. "Maybe I'll try this."

Jensen, now 35, enrolled in the electronics technician program at the Hastings Campus of Central Community College in 1990. Halfway through the program, she began working in a cooperative education program with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

After graduating from the CCC program, Jensen was sent to Oklahoma City for additional training. While she was still in training, the FAA hired her as a full-time employee.

Jensen did not envision herself in a video when she enrolled at CCC, but she was one of 18 women chosen for a video that talks about women in nontraditional jobs.

Gary Frisch, control tower manager at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island, said Jensen does a good job maintaining equipment.

"Anytime there's any problem, I'll give her a call and she's over here in a few minutes," Frisch said.

When he started his career 18 years ago, Frisch said, "women maintenance people were almost unheard of -- very rare."

There is one other woman electronics technician at the FAA facility in Grand Island, which is part of a trend in how the job is no longer confined to a single gender.

"It used to be, it was just assumed you would have a man" as an electronics or maintenance technician, Frisch said. "Anymore, it's just as likely to be a female as a male."

Many women opt for nontraditional jobs because of finances. That was not completely the case for Jensen.

Although she was divorced and a single mother, Jensen said, finances did not play the No. 1 role in her decision to try for a career change.

She said finding a job that was easier on her health was foremost in her mind, although she was very cognizant of also finding work that would financially support herself and her daughter.

Jensen worked her way through school, even before she entered the cooperative education program with the FAA. She never went on Aid to Dependent Children while going through school, fearing that ADC that would make her dependent on welfare. She did use food stamps and medical benefits while in school.

When she entered the cooperative education program with the FAA, she went to school two and a half days a week and worked for the FAA two and a half days.

Her paid work for the FAA included office work, but she also "tagged along" with FAA electronics technicians. She got to do chores such as hook up test equipment, but other kinds of work were off limits.

"You could not touch or change anything that had certifiable parameters," she said.

The cooperative education program showed she would really enjoy the work. Because she literally does some field work, Jensen said, she discovered there might be times she'd have to take a shovel, dig dirt and pull cable. Not everybody wants to do that kind of work.

One CCC instructor had his doubts about Jensen, based on a comment she made when she first enrolled.

"I told him how much I hated and despised math," Jensen said.

Fortunately, she said, she had "a really good math teacher who did change my attitude toward math."

Math may still not be her favorite activity, but Jensen said she knows she can excel at math without loving it.

Most of Jensen's work is now done in Grand Island, although she is responsible for one site in Kearney, and she's a backup technician for sites in Ravenna and Hastings. By November, Jensen said, her duties could change, because the FAA likes to rotate its technicians to keep them current on all its equipment.

For now, Jensen is responsible for maintaining the transmitters, receivers and switching equipment for the FAA's communication system, allowing pilots to communicate with airports, whether it be in Grand Island or Minneapolis.

She also maintains the instrument landing system at the Central Nebraska Regional airport and the automated weather observation system in Kearney.

That is responsible work.

When asked if her compensation for such vital work is much higher than when she cut meat at Monfort, which she considered very good pay at the time, Jensen has a short, emphatic answer.

"Oh, yes," she said.

Reprinted with permission from The Grand Island Independent 2000 :

Copyright 2001 Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science
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