Boyne City High School line worker student Erin Smith receives 2019 Breaking Traditions Award

A Boyne City High School junior is among 91 high school and college students statewide to receive 2019 Breaking Traditions Awards for overcoming obstacles and stereotypes to succeed in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced Thursday.

Erin Smith, a junior at Boyne City High School, has been breaking traditions as the only female member of the new Energy Essentials: Line Worker Emphasis program launched this year at her school, in partnership with Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District’s Career and Technical Education Department and three large Michigan utilities – Great Lakes Energy, Consumers Energy and DTE.

“Building talent is a priority in Michigan, so it’s important that we recognize students who overcome perceived barriers and the programs that helped them,” Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles said. “These 91 students achieved success in career and technical education programs that are nontraditional to their gender, and therefore are role models for peers who may be considering such a career path.”

Awards criteria included:

  • Complete a CTE program nontraditional to their gender;
  • Enroll in a Michigan high school or career center program during the 2018-19;
  • Be nominated by a teacher, counselor, administrator, or other staffer employed by the student’s school or career center;
  • Have satisfactory academic standing, acceptable citizenship, and disciplinary history; and
  • Contribute to awareness of nontraditional careers.

Applicants provided two letters of support and wrote a brief narrative explaining career obstacles faced and key accomplishments. Erin received one of several Merit Awards bestowed by the state.

In her application materials, Erin wrote: “I chose this nontraditional program because I wanted to help my community in a way that is not typical for females. I first became interested in this career path freshman year after a visit to Alpena Community College. While there, I observed a climbing arena and I knew right then that I wanted to become a line worker… While registering for classes in the fall of 2018, I was thrilled to see ‘Energy Fundamentals: Line Worker Emphasis’ on the roster. I registered and was excited to be accepted in the program.

“On the first day of school, I walked into the classroom with a huge smile on my face. I quickly found out that I was the only female in the class, and I told the teachers, ‘Just treat me like the guys.’ Within a week, we received our gear and headed to the training grounds. I instantly fell in love with the set-up of the yard and the potential it held for my future. Through the school year, I have gained much more information and skills about becoming a line worker and feel more certain than ever that this is the career for me.”

Her instructors, Derek Maki and James Rincon, both working linemen for Great Lakes Energy, praised Erin’s work ethic and commitment to the program. Great Lakes provided the instructors and the company’s Boyne City training grounds for the course.

“From the first day of class in September 2018, she has been eager to learn, ready to participate and prepared for whatever challenges we present to the students on any given day,” said Maki. “Erin made an impression on us shortly after the school year began. On the second day of class, she had her climbing boots and work clothes ready to go! We were impressed by that; several other students didn’t have their boots even a week later.

“During class, we can count on Erin to pay attention to the lessons. She is careful about safety, which is paramount in this line of work. She takes the class and our instruction seriously, and has the desire to perform well.  When either myself or my co-instructor, James Rincon, ask a question, Erin is usually the first to answer. She has an innate desire to learn and improve, making her conscientious and a student that teachers appreciate.”

MDE’s Office of CTE oversees high school instructional programs that teach students skills in a specific career cluster. Most programs offer early college credit opportunities to provide a seamless transition to postsecondary education – a key strategy to help Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

“We are so proud of Erin for how she has represented Career Tech education overall and the line worker program itself in this inaugural year,” said Jim Rummer, Career and Technical Education Director for Char-Em ISD. “When we partnered with Boyne City in launching this program, we knew it would attract serious students who could benefit from learning the skills of this in-demand field. Having a female of Erin’s caliber in the class has added to the program in many ways. Her hard work and dedication will take her far, and we congratulate her on this state-wide recognition.”

Karen Jarema, Boyne City High School Principal, said Erin’s name came to mind immediately when she was informed about the Breaking Traditions award opportunity.

“Erin Smith is one of the hardest working students that I know,” Jarema said. “She excels in the line worker program, the band program, in 4-H; in everything that she does, Erin puts forth 100 percent effort. Erin is poised in her speaking abilities and has impressed many individuals who have come to visit the line worker program. She is a leader and a student who staff can rely on to make responsible choices and encourage others. She is also enjoyable to spend time with.”

Erin is pictured with Brian Pyles, CTE Director for the state of Michigan.

Brian Pyles, Director of CTE at the Michigan Department of Education, said the Breaking Traditions Awards extend beyond individual students. “These awards also represent the quality of the school culture,” he noted. “Clearly, these schools embrace an inclusive student focused instructional environment supported by staff, students and community.”

Awards were presented during a formal ceremony in Lansing on May 16, which Erin attended with Jarema, co-instructor James Rincon, her mother Tami Smith and other family members.

“Being the only female in the class has been not only a challenge, but also a positive experience,” Erin added. “I feel that I have proven myself capable of competently doing this job, regardless of my gender.”

The complete list of Breaking Traditions Award winners can be found on the Michigan Department of Education website,

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