Fair urges students to consider nontraditional job opportunities

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lincoln County Game Warden Shelia Hynum stood before a group ofBrookhaven High School freshmen Tuesday morning and shattered thebarrier between occupations for men and women – exactly what shewas supposed to do.

Hynum spoke at the request of Deborah Davis, the studentservices coordinator of the Brookhaven Technical Center, at anhour-long forum to raise student awareness about the possibility ofpursuing nontraditional careers.

Hynum, the first female game warden in Mississippi, was aperfect speaker for the event. Her nontraditional activitiesstretched far back into her early life when, as a young girl, sheenjoyed the outdoors as much as the boys.

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“I grew up hunting and fishing,” Hynum said. “When I decidedthat I liked law enforcement in high school, game and wildlife wasthe natural choice.”

Hynum explained the training requirements of her profession -two years of college with any major, 10 weeks of police academy and10 weeks of wildlife law enforcement. The fact that she was afemale mattered little in the 10-week “boot camp” of policeacademy.

“They don’t cut you any slack because you’re a female,” Hynumsaid. “When you line up to do push-ups, you’re shoulder-to-shoulderwith the guys.”

Hynum said some of the physical requirements for females in theacademy were slightly different, but no less rigorous.

“They know that a woman isn’t built as strong up here,” shesaid, pointing to her shoulders. “But they want to be sure you candefend yourself in a scuffle.”

Hynum said that, as a game warden – woman or not – she hasaveraged one fight per year in her four years on duty.

“When you get into a confrontation with someone, that 10 weeksof police academy training kicks in,” she said. “Your mind kind ofgoes on auto-pilot.”

Hynum is a master of other “non-ladylike” activities – she isqualified to handle, and regularly carries, a handgun on her sideand a shotgun in her patrol vehicle. The donning of a Kevlar vestis also an every morning act for her during deer season.

“When I get out into the woods to check hunting licenses -anyone that I check, guess what they have?” Hynum asked thestudents. “A gun. And guess what I have? I have a gun, too. I’venever had to shoot at anyone, but I have had my gun drawn before.They started cooperating after that.”

Hynum admitted that she has been forced to use a mag light toclobber a troublemaker once, just like “in the movies.” Her arsenalof weapons also includes pepper spray, which is something you don’twant to use unless necessary, she told students.

“It doesn’t affect just the person you spray it at, it gets inthe air and affects everyone in the room,” Hynum said. “I clearedout the whole Brookhaven Truck Stop one night.”

Hynum pointed out that every time she heads into the woods onduty, she is always at a slight disadvantage.

“The wildlife department wasn’t sure at first that we couldhandle ourselves out in the woods,” she said. “Most hunters aremen, so everyone I deal with is bigger and stronger than me. Peopleask me, ‘Don’t you get scared when you are going out into the woodsalone?’ Not really. You just have to trust that God will take careof you.”

Since Hynum first broke down the wall of the men-only job ofgame warden in Mississippi, two more women have followed in herfootsteps around the state. She said that, at first, it was quitean adjustment.

“Nobody expected a female to get out of the game warden truck,”Hynum said. “I got a lot of, ‘Excuse me, sir!’ And when I turnedaround it was, ‘I mean, ma’am!’ But it’s different now. Everyoneknows about that female game warden in Lincoln County.”

And that is the whole point of the BHS Nontraditional CareerAwareness Day.

“Just because they’re a girl, they shouldn’t feel like theycan’t go into electronics, into the technology field,” Davis said.”There’s the old cliche that girls are supposed to do this and guysare supposed to do that – we have to overcome a lot of ‘oldschool.'”

To overcome the old school, Davis acts yearround. In classroomsin the technical center, she has posted articles on nontraditionalworkers – pieces on male nurses, on female electricians. Davis saidone picture in the auto mechanics classroom of a female mechanic istagged with the caption, “Mr. Goodwrench isn’t always a Mr.”

Davis said these efforts, being carried out in high schools andcommunity colleges across the country, are changing the face of themodern work force.

“In the past, we tried hard to get nontraditional studentsinvolved,” she said. “Now, they’re coming out of the woodwork. I’mhearing more and more about people that are involved innontraditional careers.”

Tuesday’s Nontraditional Career Awareness Day was the secondannual attempt by BHS to tap into that woodwork.

Hynum was not alone in the effort, however. Brookhaven SchoolDistrict Superintendent Lea Barrett was also on hand to help smashthe gender barrier.

“I drive a motorcycle, I fly a hot-air balloon, and there’snothing that relieves stress like shooting an SKS,” said Barrett,referring to a certain kind of assault rifle. “I’ve also takennapkin folding classes, and I love getting roses from myhusband.

“My point is, if there’s something you’re interested in, gomaster it,” Barrett continued. “Don’t think about what’s a boy joband what’s a girl job.”