Women in Construction 2023: Wilkie
It’s a cloudy, damp day, teetering on frost over on the City’s east side, at Goodman Pool parking lot medians. There, you’ll likely find a bright yellow shirt buried head first in a prickly Cranberry Viburnum, happy to be pruning and staying warm, not upset one bit.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just bad clothing, bad equipment,” Parks Division Wilkie said. “On a day like today, as long as you’re moving, you’re good.”
Wilkie is a Landscape Maintenance Worker for the City of Madison Parks Division, where every day is different, just how Wilkie likes it.
“Day to day depends on the season. In the winter time, we focus primarily on pruning, and in the spring and fall we do all of our tree planting,” Wilkie said. “In the summer, we work mostly on our beautification projects – which is where we renovate signature sign beds with native plants.”
Understanding how to nurture green spaces and species has always been something Wilkie has been passionate about, starting 13 years ago growing up in southeastern North Carolina.
“I grew up on the beach and went to school in the mountains,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie earned degrees in geography and minored in geology at Appalachian State University in 2010 (year) and during one spring break, they learned working outside building trails was what made them happiest, which sometimes isn’t what’s pushed in the classroom.
“I really like working outside. When I was in App [Appalachian] State, the big track there [for students] is GIS [Geographic Information System studies], that’s kind of what you focus on, that’s where the money is,” Wilkie said. “However, the thought of sitting in an office, was just like crushing to me, I wouldn’t survive that, there’s no way.”
Wilkie ended up doing three terms of the Americorps hiking trail building program, one in Mount Hood in Oregon, and two in western Massachusetts, before attending the University of Massachusetts to earn an associates in Arboriculture and Community Forest Management, all things Wilkie said never was a path suggested growing up.
“When I was growing up that [working outside/in the trades/construction] wasn’t an option—it was you’re going to college,” Wilkie said. “I never really considered, you could be a carpenter, you can go into plumbing—I was told when I wanted to take a welding class in high school and my mom was like, ‘No, I won’t sign that paper, it’s too unlady like,’ —and I thought that was hilarious because I was like – who is calling me a lady?”
Wilkie said they’ve noticed cultural norms for women in construction have improved since growing up in North Carolina, especially after moving to Wisconsin, where they feel welcome at the City of Madison Parks Division. However, Wilkie would like to see more progress industry wide.
“I’d love to see more women, and I know the City is making sure we hire more women,” Wilkie said. “As the work force in the City is aging out—a lot of people are definitely approaching retirement age – and those positions are going to need to be filled. I’d love to see more queer folks, people who identify as female in those roles, people of color—just so everyone has a fair shake at getting a position.”
Wilkie said if young people are looking to get hands in the dirt, check out seasonal positions at the City of Madison and Olbrich Gardens or summer programs through the Student Conservation Association open to high school students, where you can build hiking trails just like Wilkie.
“Everything we pick is picked with a purpose,” Wilkie said. “Our goal is to increase native plant use in our signature sign beds, and get away from exotic cultivars, weird varieties that could become invasive in the future.”
The future looks green and hopefully less cloudy and frosty for Wilkie in the field, but purpose and happiness is what Wilkie hopes other young people will find sooner and suggested earlier, even if it’s on a new type of trail to success.
The City of Madison is highlighting the work of five women during National Women in Construction Week March 5-11,2023.
- Hannah Mohelnitzky, City of Madison Engineering, email@example.com