Kimberly Bradshaw makes history as State Tech’s first woman lineworker
Kimberly Bradshaw had no idea she was breaking new ground the day she toured State Technical College of Missouri. “I came here and I toured after I got accepted,” she says. “The guide at the end of the tour said, ‘You do know that this is a big deal for us, don’t you?’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘You are the first ever accepted and that is a big deal for us.’ So, then I got really nervous because, what if I don’t do really good? I’m the only girl and they are never going to accept another girl again.”
Kimberly became the first woman accepted into State Tech’s Electrical Distribution Systems program when she enrolled in 2021, which means she will be the college’s first woman lineworker when she graduates in May. Thanks to an internship at Intercounty Electric Cooperative this past summer, she also became the first “lady on the lines” for Missouri’s electric cooperatives as far as anyone currently working can say.
Kimberly may have been the first, but she likely won’t be the last person of her gender to train at State Tech. Her photo graces two State Tech billboards on Interstate 70 and she greets future students touring the college in Linn. She already has inspired at least three other women to apply for the program.
“She has exceeded our expectations,” says David Peterson, instructor in the Electrical Distribution Systems program. “She is the real deal and we are really proud of her. If I had more students of her talent apply, I would be very happy.”
The 19-year-old from Summersville planned to become a large-animal vet until she heard a classmate discussing a lineworker school in Georgia. “I kinda wanted to look into that,” she says. “Nowadays, no one really wants to pay for a vet. Especially around Summersville, because no one has that kind of money. And you are going to be in debt for a long time if you are a vet. So, I was thinking maybe not. Be smart about my choices. Go into a trade.”
COVID-19 — and the reality that good jobs are scarce and can end at any time — led to Kimberly’s change of heart. “Nobody in my family is into this kind of work,” she says. “I wanted to go into something that would help people, that would kind of make a difference. You are always going to need a lineworker. They are important to the community. A lot of people don’t realize that.”
At first her parents subtly tried to change her mind by pointing out that life as a lineworker is dangerous and maybe not the best place for their daughter. But she was determined to give it a try.
“My mom, she thought I was crazy. She was very worried. But now they are so excited because I am getting all of these opportunities for State Tech and for myself. They think it is pretty cool now. But at first they were like, ‘Are you sure you want to do that? Are you sure?’ ”
Kimberly entered State Tech in August 2021 with no experience as a lineworker. She soon learned she was a minority in more ways than one. She stayed quiet when her classmates talked about having a father who worked as a lineman and let them practice climbing poles and using the tools of the trade.
“I was scared,” Kimberly recalls. “And I was nervous because No. 1, I was the only girl in the entire program ever. And No. 2, they all kind of had experience. And I was like, ‘Yeah, I know how, too.’ I didn’t, but I didn’t want to tell them that.”
After eight weeks of classroom work that stressed safety, the students strapped on their hooks for the first time and got ready to climb a pole. This is always the deal breaker for prospective lineworkers. Some quickly learn that climbing to the top of a 35-foot pole and hanging on with only a tiny sharpened spike and a belt is not what they want to do.
State Tech instructors Asher Gardner and David Peterson start the students out slowly at this stage. Kimberly recalls free climbing to 5 feet initially, then kicking out the spikes and letting the belt arrest her fall to build trust in the equipment.
The hours of climbing paid off this past summer when Kimberly landed an internship with Intercounty Electric, the electric cooperative that serves her parents’ home. Most linework today is done from bucket trucks. But in the rough country of south-central Missouri where Intercounty is based, pole climbing is a necessity.
“Intercounty does do a lot of climbing still,” Kimberly says. “We slashed our gas tank open this summer because it was so rough. We got a track digger stuck which is pretty hard to do.”
Kimberly says she learned a lot during the internship, which sharpened her resolve to make linework her career. She says she especially likes working high above the ground.
“I like it. I like the views. That’s a big thing especially down there in that country because you are always on hills and you just see it all. I did see a bunch of deer and turkey this summer. It was kind of impressive.”
She hopes to land a job with an electric cooperative when she graduates and encourages other women to follow the trail she has blazed. “I know it’s scary and it makes you nervous,” she says. “But the guys are very accepting. State Tech is the best college to go to for trades. I think they should apply, or at least come and see if they like it. I honestly didn’t know how I would like it. But after being here and doing it, I love it. I don’t want to do anything else. Don’t’ be afraid, just apply and see if you like it.”
For more information about State Tech’s Electrical Distribution Systems program, call 573-897-5000 or visit www.statetechmo.edu/program/lineworker.