Teresa George has been a member of the SMART Transportation Division for 16 years. But her service extends beyond her time as a conductor; she has been connected with the railroad since December 1998.

“I started with the U.S. Army as an 88U (railway operations crewmember),” George explained. “I am now an instructor teaching the 88U MOS (Military Occupational Specialty).”

Since transitioning to the civilian railroad – she currently works for CSX – she has continued to flourish. Read more about her journey:

What unique strengths do you bring to your trade?

In [my career], I have shown that I, as a woman, am just as capable as others in my craft – if not more so than some of my male counterparts. In addition, I am proud to realize that I have made it easier for other females to follow [in my footsteps].

What do you love to do when you are not at work?

I am an avid comic book collector and love cycling. And of course, I enjoy teaching the 88U MOS for the U.S. Army.

Goals in the future — any ambitions or changes to your career, growth or education?

I look forward to being promoted permanently as a locomotive engineer. And I am presently working hard to prepare for retirement, when I plan to travel to every national park in the United States.

What surprised you about your trade?

I was very prepared for the railroad because of the military experience I have. But the lack of downtime was a bit frustrating at times.

What do you find frustrating about your job/trade?

[Trying to plan] for a life outside of work. I have no idea what I am going to be doing from week to week. I have a hard time being able to spend time with family or friends.

Tool you can’t live without?

I have two. One is my fellow union members who diligently work alongside me. The second is a good pair of boots with a hard, thick sole. They make a long day of pounding rocks easier.

Best advice you got as an apprentice?

Just hang in there. Time will go fast, and as you [progress], take advantage of the knowledge of those around you. Do your best to learn as much as you can and get better in your craft as you go.

What do you think about Tradeswomen Build Nations?

I think it’s awesome, bringing a spotlight on the fact that not all of the people in SMART are men. And that the women that are out there are talented, skilled and amazing union members.

Are you active in trade-related activities such as career fairs, volunteer work or SMART Army events?

I am a part of the MRS (Military Railroad Society). The MRS is keeping some of the rich military railroad history alive, and in 2021, we brought the Sgt. Santa train back to Fort Eustis – a holiday-themed ride for soldiers and their families that hadn’t happened since 1978.

Local 18 (Milwaukee, Wis.) fourth-year apprentice Nicole Severson always knew she wanted to be part of a trade. Her father was a diesel mechanic, her brother a sheet metal worker, and her uncles worked as an elevator operator and a heavy equipment operator, respectively – giving her a thorough knowledge of the trades from a young age. Now, she’s making her family and her union proud as the latest SMART winner of the NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes award.

“As her employer has noted, Nicole is a huge asset to [her] team,” Local 18 wrote when nominating Severson for the award. “She is extremely detailed, has a great attitude, and is always willing to give a helping hand.”

Despite her family background, Severson took an uncircuitous route to the unionized sheet metal trade. She initially worked in the finance world, completing an apprentice program in high school and spending 15 years working in various finance positions. At that point, though, she began to feel she had achieved all she could in that sphere; she reached out to her brother and began working as a dispatcher with a contracting firm.

“This opportunity gave her great insight into plumbing, electrical and HVAC,” said the NABTU press release announcing Severson’s award. “Her work on a daily basis with the commercial HVAC service technicians made her realize the diverse skill set of a service technician was what she was looking for in a career.”

Now, four years into her new vocation, Severson has proven herself to be a skilled, reliable and tenacious worker.

“Nicole is always looking for ways to improve her skillset through new challenges and asking questions,” Local 18 added. “Unlike some apprentices, Nicole is never intimidated by the equipment. Her background as a dispatcher has really helped us as an organization improve communication between the field and the office.”

SMART congratulates Nicole on this well-earned recognition!

Fourth-year SMART Local 18 apprentice Angela Poore received the September North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) Tradeswomen Heroes award – a recognition of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin sheet metal worker’s perseverance, skill and dedication to her craft.

“She is hard-working, shows up on time and soaks things up like a sponge,” the Local 18 Milwaukee Joint Apprenticeship Committee said when nominating Angela for the award. “Angela…exemplifies a great employee.”

Angela’s journey to the unionized sheet metal industry was an unorthodox one. Born and raised on military bases, Angela and her family spent 11 years driving from state to state, including Kansas, Alaska and Texas – finding adventure on cross-country odysseys. After settling in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Angela eventually moved out of her family home at 17 years old, working at two chiropractic offices for 15 years and starting her own cleaning business.

Like many workers in 21st century America, though, an economy devoted less to working families and more to Wall Street made economic stability hard to find, and while researching other career options, Angela was introduced to sheet metal by her stepfather, a Local 18 business agent. She spent some time honing her math skills, then signed up as a pre-apprentice at 34 years old.

“We would be lucky to have more apprentices, and future journeyworkers, like Angela.”

“It’s very intimidating being a female going into a ‘Man’s World,’ but I realized that the guys I was working with were like anyone else at a job,” Angela said. “They taught me so much, they showed me the wrong and right ways of doing things.”

Having spent all four years of her apprenticeship at JM Brennan Co., Angela has been able to experience the camaraderie of working in a union shop – and she’s taken advantage of every mentorship and learning opportunity that has come her way.

“The best part, so far, is working with so many different foremen/journeyen and learning their ways of doing things,” she noted. “It helps you find what way works best for you. I cannot wait to become a journeyperson or a foreman and see where this road takes me.”

The Local 18 Joint Apprenticeship Committee clearly feels the same way.

“Angela is always willing to take on new challenges,” the committee wrote in Angela’s nomination. “When Angela’s employer challenged the employees to differentiate themselves from others, she was the only one who approached her superintendent seeking guidance on improving her welding skills. Angela had always shown signs of success as a welder, but with this challenge took the opportunity to really focus and hone those skills.’

“We would be lucky to have more apprentices, and future journeyworkers, like Angela,” the committee concluded. Congratulations, sister!

In early June, SMART Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) journey-worker Lisa Davis was named one of the winners of the June NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes Award, which “honors two apprentices and two journey-level workers in the United States and Canada that set an exemplary example both on and off the jobsite.”

“Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for SMART International Training Institute [ITI],” read the press release announcing Lisa’s win. “Sister Davis’s passion for moving the industry’s direction to increase safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion standards in the workplace is nothing short of what she has been able to accomplish to reach those goals.”

In 2005, Lisa graduated from the University of California, Davis, solely committed to one goal: becoming a surgeon. Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Lisa moved to Oregon to attend Oregon Health and Science University — but she soon realized a life in medicine wasn’t her calling.

Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for the International Training Institute.

The next three years found Lisa exploring what that calling might be. She worked as a barista, in an operating room and on a farm in Hawaii. After those disparate and exciting experiences, though, it was ultimately something much simpler — a job working as a mechanic in a bowling alley — that changed her life. It was there that she realized working with her hands with mechanical tools, rather than a scalpel, was her ticket to happiness.

Following that epiphany, Lisa sought out Oregon Tradeswomen and completed the organization’s training before she was accepted into the apprenticeship at Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 in Portland. There she completed a building trades apprenticeship and service program. A passionate advocate for education, recruitment, retention and diversity, Lisa worked her way up to become Local 16’s first female instructor. She also helped form a diversity committee and served on the ground floor of the local’s mentoring program, both of which continue to this day.

In 2019, Lisa furthered her role as a mentor by joining the ITI as a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) service and testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) specialist. She also serves on SMART’s International Women’s Committee, where she helped craft resolutions and amendments leading up to the union’s 2019 national convention.

“Sister Davis continues to elevate all members by devoting her extra time to actively working with her peers to create and implement DEI and safety language within government laws, initiating mentoring programs, training and educating members, and simply ’Doing the Right Thing,’” the press release concluded. “[Her] commitment, dedication, and hard work have proven that opportunity is a viable pathway for members to reach their fullest potential. Sister Davis is a true HERO for all members of SMART.”

Samara Sampson is an apprentice at Local 285 in Toronto, Ont. who has been in the trade for five years. The SMART Women’s Committee sat down with Samara to learn more about her and the work she does. You can visit www.SMART-Women.org to read her story and the stories of her fellow sisters.

What unique strengths do you bring to your trade?

I am a forward thinker and good at working under pressure.

What do you love to do when you’re not at work?

When I am not at work, I love packing a day bag, some food, and my dog into my truck and driving out to a new conservation area to explore.

Goals in the future — any ambitions or changes to your career, growth or education?

I have big dreams and goals for myself with SMART, and I look forward to a very long, prosperous career wherever it might take me.

What surprised you about your trade?

How much you can do in the trade: you can design, fabricate, weld, install, test, etc.

What do you find frustrating about your job/trade?

The most frustrating part about my job has got to be a tie between running out of material and unsolicited spectators.

What’s the coolest job you’ve worked on?

I worked on a huge mansion, complete with a theater, billiard room, huge hanger garage and — best of all — the lift in the driveway that takes the vehicles down to the underground garage.

What traits do you think a good sheet metal worker has?

I think a good sheet metal worker is reliable, efficient, good at math and ready to work.

Why sheet metal?

Metal work and welding has always been an interest of mine, and after taking the welding program in college, Local 285 made me see how much opportunity and growth there is within the union.

Tool you can’t live without?

The tool I can’t live without has got to be my hands, for sure.

Best advice you got as an apprentice?

The best advice I’ve gotten as an apprentice is to “get good first, get fast second.” This is also advice I would give to new apprentices.

What are your thoughts about Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN)?

I think that TWBN is a great opportunity for tradeswomen to meet each other. We are often the only one in the classroom as an apprentice and the only one on the jobsite. Any opportunity to meet and network is truly awesome. Unfortunately, due to COVID I have only taken part virtually, but I can’t wait to be a part of the next TWBN in person. I will be there!

Career fairs, SMART Army, volunteering?

I am involved with a provincial tradeswomen committee, and I lead a group of tradeswomen in a Lean In Circle. Any opportunity I have to meet other tradeswomen, especially SMART women, I will take it!

Abbe, a SMART Local 28 sheet metal worker, kicks off the series of Sister Tips for the 2022 Women in Construction Week. In this video she gives a short tip to help with communication skills. Watch for more Sister Tips throughout the week, and don’t forget to join your SMART Sisters for the SMART Women’s Happy Hour this Friday, March 11 at 7pm Eastern. Register here for the event.

Adriana Farren has always been into numbers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources with a minor in finance and worked in the front office of the former Sheet Metal Workers Local 41 in Puerto Rico before moving to Pennsylvania in 2011.

This was the point where her life took a much different turn, and it all started with a job working in the office of Comprehensive Test and Balance in Dover, Pennsylvania.

After two years overseeing Farren working in the office, reading plans, going over forms and entering data, Todd Walter, owner of the company, approached her with a question: would you be interested in becoming an apprentice?

“I said, ‘yes.’ Then, he said, ‘You’ll have great benefits,’ and I said, ‘yes’ twice,” Farren recalled with a laugh. “By looking at the reports, I thought it would be a career I would be interested in.”

Walter saw Farren working on bids and learning the drawings, documentation and paperwork and offered up the change to a career instead of a job. A second-generation sheet metal worker, Walter also took the opportunity to guide Farren through the process and mentor her as others had mentored him.

The first lesson: integrity and honesty are important in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB), he said.

“No matter what you do, they have to believe what you tell them. Adriana had good personal skills. She had the insight. She is very smart, and she was at the top of her class. She fit the bill,” Walter added. “It’s something my father said a long time ago — you can have a job or you can put your head into it and make it a career.”

The first two years of her apprenticeship at Sheet Metal Workers Local 19, Central Pennsylvania, Farren knew she wanted to do testing, adjusting and balancing. So, at night, she took air and water classes and was certified as a technician in 2015 while she was still an apprentice.

Since her graduation in 2017, Farren has continued to gain certifications. She said testing keeps the skills fresh in her mind. To date, she holds a welding certification in addition to duct leakage testing and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) testing.

“It’s a continuous learning process. I want to continue learning more about the balancing concept. I like to learn new things every day. I would like to expand my knowledge in different areas related to TAB,” she said. “Having a certification shows people you’re certified in that concept and you know what you’re doing. In order to be a TAB tech, you don’t have to have the certification, but if you do, it proves you know what you’re doing.”

Knowledge, in Farren’s case, was definitely powerful. Although she took English classes on her native island of Puerto Rico, it was her second language. Being the only female balancer at Comprehensive Test and Balance — something Walter would like to see change — has its challenges, but all the challenges she’s faced have been nothing she can’t handle, she said.

“Back when I was in college, I thought I wanted to look after the employees and watch over them from a human resources point of view,” Farren said. “Looking back, 12 years later, that would have been very boring for me. I would have had to be in an office with the same four walls. No offense to the people who do it, but I like the fact I’m always somewhere different and learning something new.”

Walter took a chance asking Farren if she would be interested in a career. Now, as a full-time balancer at Comprehensive Test and Balance, she sees how her love of numbers led her to the career she now has. An interest in math, problem solving and finance isn’t relegated to an office and four walls. Those interests also can lead outside to various Comprehensive Test and Balance locations, continuous learning and a skillset that can last a lifetime.

“If you think you can do it, give it a try,” Farren said. “You don’t lose anything by trying, not just in this career, but anything. Trust your gut feeling. If you think you can do it, you probably can.”