Julia Scholz is graduating from Portland Arts and Technology High School and Casco Bay High School. She plans to continue her education in plumbing at Southern Maine Community College. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The plumbing, heating and air conditioning course allowed Julia Scholz to check off a few boxes.

She didn’t anticipate that it also would help her become a better communicator and a leader among her peers.

The course was offered at Portland Arts and Technology High School, which shares a building with Casco Bay High School, where Scholz is a graduating senior.

“I really wanted to take advantage of PATHS because it was right there,” she said.

Scholz also knew distant family members and friends who were in the business of installing boilers and clearing clogged drains. But really, the plumbing course “just sort of caught my eye,” she said.

Scholz wound up becoming a leader in the class and an advocate for women entering the professional trades, according to her instructor, Paul Chapin.

“I like working with my hands,” she explained. “I see myself as a pretty creative person and plumbing provided an opportunity for problem-solving that I really enjoy. It’s sort of satisfying to fix a problem and see the solution reflected in my hard work.”

The two-year course also provided experience working in a male-dominated field.

Scholz was one of only two girls in her class the first year, and the only girl the second year. In contrast with her experience at Casco Bay High, which emphasizes social awareness and compassion for others, she sometimes heard inappropriate comments from her plumbing classmates.

“I was working with people from a lot of different schools and a lot of different backgrounds,” said Scholz, 18. “It taught me to be better at communicating and working with people no matter their backgrounds or beliefs.”

To introduce more women to basic plumbing concepts, Scholz organized and taught a two-hour course in February that even her grandmother attended. Tapping her stage experience with Casco Bay’s theater program, she showed participants various plumbing tools, demonstrated how to solder copper pipe and explained the inner workings of toilets and sink drains.

“I wanted to educate women, who have plumbing problems like everyone else,” she said. “I also wanted to empower women to know that they can do just as much as men and that plumbing isn’t as complicated as they think.”

Scholz intended to offer the course several times this spring, but her plans were sidetracked by the coronavirus pandemic. She plans to work for a while after graduating, save some money and continue her education in plumbing at Southern Maine Community College.

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