By Patti Samar
Sylvie Hurtubise felt deeply for a friend when her friend’s home burned down in 2018.
So when Hurtubise, 17, decided to join the construction trades electrical program at the St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) TEC center, she understood that electrical work was more than just an occupation and a career path.
Hurtubise understood her work could mean life and death or, at the very least, a significant loss of property.
“I vowed every piece of electrical was going to be perfect,” she said. “Someone is trusting their life and their family and their home with you.”
Hurtubise’s efforts at perfecting her craft paid off big time during the course of the 2018-2019 school year, when the Marysville High School student entered and won first place in local and regional competitions for students studying the construction trades. She won second place at the state finals, and moved on to the national championships, competing against 50 other students from across the United States and Puerto Rico.
She placed 16th in the nation.
“My goal last year was just to make it to states,” said Hurtubise. “I ended up doing significantly better than I had anticipated.”
Hurtubise chose to attend St. Clair County TEC after attending an informational open house designed to show potential students all that was offered. As soon as she saw what was going on in the construction trades area, she knew it was the place for her.
“I’ve always been very hands-on and I always liked building with Legos and doing Rubik’s Cube,” she said. “I’ve always been mechanically minded.”
Though a few years ago she had thought about going to college and perhaps studying engineering, she didn’t think she would do well sitting in a classroom for four more years. Pursuing a trade, where she could be hands-on and learn as she went, had greater appeal to her.
Electrical work, specifically, appealed to her interest in solving problems.
“I’m good at math, but I can’t sit still, and so I’m not the biggest fan of school,” she said. “This was a whole new world when I went into the construction trades. I knew I would be most mentally challenged by electrical work.”
Once she began the program during her junior year of high school, she realized she had found a passion and began studying on her own.
“I took home one of the code books and started reading it,” she said. “I taught myself how to build a circuit.” Her TEC instructor and competition coach, Ken Sygit, sent home challenges for her to work on in her free time.
The competitions she entered were all timed events that each began with a written test, followed by a hands-on wiring event. For local, regional and state competitions, Hurtubise found a competitive edge when she paused between the written exam and the hands-on event to study the electrical print and draw out, on graph paper, exactly how she planned to complete the assignment with electrical wiring.
Her competitors read the print and built as they went, which sometimes caused them to have to re-do their work when something went wrong. Hurtubise was able to follow her drawing to a tee and didn’t experience those issues.
During this, her senior year in high school, Hurtubise is continuing her studies in electricity at TEC and she is also working at Russell Electric in St. Clair, working toward an apprenticeship. After that is completed, she can work toward a journeyman’s license and finally, can work toward a master electrician’s license.
“It is going to take me about six years to complete, and I will be 22 or 23 years old,” she said. She is open to exploring the many directions a career in electrical work could take her.
Hurtubise noted that she is one of only a handful of young women enrolled in the construction trade program at TEC, and she encourages other students to explore this avenue if they enjoy hands-on work and problem solving.
“I’ve always enjoyed solving puzzles,” she said. “I like being able to think through the problems I encounter and solve them. You run into problems on every single job you go into, and you need to think of another way. You find yourself coming up with a solution to a problem you had no idea was even going to be there, like there is literally a wall in your way.
“No two days are the same and you never get bored, and you never know what is going to happen.”
As for this year’s round of competition? Hurtubise plans to again enter the local, regional and state competition, hoping for another go-around at nationals.
“I plan to go back this year and take the competition,” she said.