In October, team members at RDO Equipment Co.’s Moorhead store, in partnership with Moorhead Community Education, hosted learning circles designed for and instructed by women as way to create an encouraging, welcoming environment to learn about equipment.
Parts Specialist Makenzie Lako and Service Technician Emma Westman led the classes, covering basic operation and maintenance of lawn mowers and large agriculture equipment. They provided overviews of the equipment and components, conducted hands-on demonstrations of tasks, and answered questions from attendees.
The idea for the classes originated from Noreen Thomas, a local farmer, community educator, and RDO customer, who is passionate about agricultural education. Noreen suggested the idea as a comfortable space for women to learn about topics they may not have had much exposure to, a notion quite close to Makenzie’s heart.
Makenzie was the first female graduate of the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) John Deere diesel mechanic program, and the lone woman in many of her classes. She developed her interest and skills in her youth and carried them into her education and career, and she knows firsthand the barriers faced by women who consider pursuing mechanical interests.
“I grew up around people who had mechanical skills, and I had the opportunity to learn those skills when I needed to. A lot of people, especially women, don’t have that opportunity to learn,” she said.
Taking an active role in women-centered learning circles at RDO is her way of providing the opportunity to learn without the burden of stereotypical societal expectations or preconceived notions.
“I want to give the opportunity I had to other women,” she said. “I want to encourage women to know they can do anything, instead of thinking they’re not supposed to do or know something just because they’re women.”
Attendees to October’s sessions reported being interested for a variety of reasons: from college students—environmental science majors—seeking knowledge of tractors for use in their future careers, to women who suddenly found themselves needing to care for land or property, to wives of farmers who desired a better understanding of how things work.
The group’s engagement and willingness to ask questions were encouraging signs for Makenzie. She hopes to continue offering learning circles in the future, and plans are in the works for another round of classes in the spring. Beyond that, her goal is to someday take the sessions into schools to build awareness of the knowledge and opportunities offered by an equipment industry to more women.
“There are so many opportunities in this industry that go unnoticed by young women,” she said. “I learned about these opportunities with RDO during my auto class in high school, but not many girls participate in classes like that, so they miss out on the information.”
It’s a change in the status quo that Makenzie aims to effect, and as she sees it, the benefits of such a change are widespread.
“It’s becoming more normal to see women in this field today, but we’re still few and far between. Women look at things differently, we bring different knowledge to the table, and the industry is better off because of it.”
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