In 1967, an author named Lila Spencer wrote a book called “Exciting Careers for Home Economists.” A few things were different in 1967. Notably, “careers” for women, the home economists of the day, were not commonplace. The rather unassuming 175-page book was published several years before the women’s rights movement took center stage, and tradition was sometimes eschewed as an impediment to equality. The book’s author was no radical libber, but she was passionate about home economists of the future, and the doors a degree in home economics would surely open. Chapters in her book titled “Lively Careers in Communications” and “Food on a Big Scale — Dietetics and Institution Management” were only the tip of the opportunity iceberg she thought awaited young graduates. In the final chapter, “Keep an Eye on the Future,” she wrote, “Computers are growing in importance at a rapid rate, but no computer yet invented can think. Computers still require ‘input’ from a creative, imaginative and thinking human being.”
In 1967, I was far more concerned with playing kick the can in the street and learning to skateboard than with some distant career. But the book’s author had a profound impact on my life, and each spring I remember her fondly. My Aunt Lila was born on April 24, 1928, and passed away in 2006. She lived a full life, rising to the level of vice president at Pet Milk Co., heading public relations for five divisions of the company while hosting a local cooking show and traveling the world marketing food products.
By the time I was in junior high in the ’70s, girls were allowed to take wood shop instead of “home ec.” I opted for shop, although there are many nights when trying to imagine dinner that I wish I had foregone the lathe and learned instead how to make a perfect muffin. Through the years it seemed the popularity of home economics classes faded, and technology moved faster than even Aunt Lila would have imagined.
It was with that background that I recently ran into a high school student, beaming after winning a first-place award at the regional competition for FCCLA, and qualifying to compete nationally in San Antonio this summer. The acronym was a mouthful, “Family, Career and Community Leaders of America,” a program I had not before heard about. But Ally oozed enthusiasm about her experience, explaining briefly how much she learned from her project, which combined her passion for soccer with teaching, and the clinic she created for younger kids that integrated fitness, nutrition and fun. She gushed, too, about the wedding dress designed and sewn by a friend, a “repurposed” masterpiece created from dresses destined for the thrift shop. The student breathed new life into the old material, developing confidence with each stitch. I learned the following week that the culinary team — boys mostly — also took home several FCCLA awards for Summit.
Intrigued by a program that has sparked considerable interest in careers in the family and consumer sciences, I contacted Erica Ewald, the Summit High School teacher mentoring the students on this journey. Ewald explained FCCLA is in its first year at Summit, but from the sound of it, the program is here to stay. Ewald’s enthusiasm also was infectious as she explained how the program prepares students for the future, allowing them to try on different career options in a big way. She was most excited, however, to see how her students grew, learning new skills and developing confidence. It occurred to me that these kids are pioneers, unafraid to take a new look at seemingly more traditional careers. And while it might not necessarily seem to be part of the STEM craze, don’t tell that to the student who grappled with the chemical reactions needed to fashion his own version of dipping dots, an award-winning molecular gastronomy project that entailed a chocolate “pillow” that, when eaten, exploded into a chocolate-covered strawberry delight.
According to Ewald, and to Ally and her classmates, there truly are exciting careers awaiting the creative, innovative thinking human beings who have devoted their time and energy to family and consumer sciences. Thanks to FCCLA for showcasing these skills, and for repurposing the careers prescienced in 1967. Thanks also to Ewald for her dedication to the program. And, finally, congratulations to all the FCCLA students who have excelled — Aunt Lila would be proud, and so is Summit County.
Check out the website at www.fcclainc.org.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And while it might not necessarily seem to be part of the STEM craze, don’t tell that to the student who grappled with the chemical reactions needed to fashion his own version of dipping dots, an award-winning molecular gastronomy project that entailed a chocolate “pillow” that, when eaten, exploded into a chocolate-covered strawberry delight.