By Laura Baverman
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Josh Finch can be stretched pretty thin sometimes. In one day of work, he can be a teacher, a confidant, a playmate or even a dad.
He could have been an engineer, working a 40-hours-a-week desk job and making a much higher salary. Instead, he chose to spend his days with 4- and 5-year-olds, coloring, finger painting, reading and playing games.
"I went to UC on an engineering scholarship. I think I was sitting in a class learning about properties of concrete or something and decided I wanted something a little more interactive," he said.
The 28-year-old received an associate's degree in child development at the University of Cincinnati and is now working toward a bachelor's in early childhood education while serving as director and a teacher at UC's child-care center.
Finch is among a wave of men who are passing up traditional male jobs to pursue careers in areas promising more job security and, for them, a higher level of fulfillment. Many of those careers are typically dominated by women.
Finch finds his new career fulfilling and secure. The fact that he's a man in a traditionally female profession is not a concern, he said.
In the Tristate, professions noting the trend include teaching, nursing, court reporting, massage therapy, child care and medical services.
"The feeling that I get is not that they are settling for a traditionally female profession but that they are actively choosing it," said Joyce Rimlinger, program chairwoman for the associate of arts and associate of science degrees at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
"It could be that what the women's movement said 25 years ago is happening. The traditional gender roles are breaking down a little bit."
Enrollment statistics for local colleges and universities vary, but most administrators say they are noticing more men interested in fields such as nursing, education and social work, especially at the graduate level.
Dr. Susan Schmidt, dean of nursing at Xavier University, said percentages of men have remained constant at the school, but the department has received a rising number of phone calls from men wanting to leave their current profession and study nursing.
"These are folks that went out there to get their job and realized the competition is severe and people are being laid off. In nursing right now, starting salary is $40,000, so these are nice salaries for these folks. Plus, because there is a shortage, there are jobs," she said.
The national nurse shortage is expected to hit 150,000 unfilled positions by 2005, the United American Nurses AFL-CIO reported. In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in nursing is projected to grow between 21 percent and 35 percent by 2010, increasing the opportunity to find a job in the field.
Miami University's School of Nursing has noticed increased male enrollment, which was 7.5 percent for 2002-'03, up from 6.3 percent the year before. The school rises above the 5.4 percent national average of male nursing enrollment.
Chairwoman Eugenia Mills said the nursing shortage as well as more acceptance of men in nurturing careers is behind the numbers.
"I think nursing has always been perceived as a female role. Our young people today are seeing raising children as a male and female role. Nursing could also mean men," she said.
Education fields are also experiencing this trend.
The UC and Northern Kentucky University schools of education report significant jumps in male enrollment in graduate level education programs in recent years.
UC's male enrollment in education increased from 22 percent in 2000-'01 to 29 percent in 2002-'03. At NKU, the percentage of male students jumped from 16 percent in 2000-'01 to 24 percent in 2002-'03.
NKU's program gives students the opportunity to pursue a master's degree in education as long as they have a bachelor's in any other field. They can hold another job and go to school at night.
Rachelle Bruno, dean of the College of Education, said the program has been a big attraction to men and minorities, especially those that have been displaced because of the poor economy or are looking for a more satisfying line of work.
Cincinnati Public Schools have now surpassed the national average, 25 percent men, in 2003, up a percentage point from 2002 and from 21 percent in 2001. The National Education Association reported last weekthat the percentage of male teachers dropped to 21 percent nationally in the latest survey in 2001, compared with 26 percent in 1996.
Joining with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, the Ohio Department of Education is pumping more money into its Troops to Teachers program, which was started in the early 1980s. The department will be using a $2.5 million grant from the federal government to increase enrollment in the program, which is based at Wright State University. The goal this year is to get 50 students. So far, 30 have enrolled, and most are male.
Next year, the state hopes to work with institutions in northern Ohio to include the Coast Guard base in Cleveland.
"Because, often, most military personnel retire at an early age, this was something to help them ease into a second profession," said Marilyn Bratts, a communications representative for the department.
UC's School of Nursing has lunches and roundtable discussions for males in the program, so they can discuss issues confronting them and challenges to increasing their numbers.
But recruiting men into these careers continues to be difficult, administrators say.
As long as there are parents that don't feel comfortable leaving their children with men, or women patients who are more willing to trust a female nurse, men in these fields will encounter scrutiny.
"I think they have to be more wary about doing the traditional nurturing. There are people that raise eyebrows about that, and that's unfortunate," said Vicki Carr, chairwoman of the early childhood program at UC.
Andy Seitz, a nurse at Mercy Fairfield Hospital, said he was scrutinized while in school at Xavier University, but it was mainly from people who didn't know what a nurse's job entailed.
Since leaving school, he has had female patients request female nurses, but mostly has not encountered stereotyping.
Experts said men are entering the careers partly because salary levels have increased in the last few years.
"I think that as long as they (male nurses) support our initiatives, pay increases will continue to happen as in the past," said Linda Warino, presidejt of the Ohio Nurses Association.
However, experts say they hope men will be aggressive in pushing salaries to the next level, for themselves and female counterparts.
Richard Scott said that when he told people he left his job as an accountant to be a court reporter, they thought he was crazy.
"It's funny how many people think of us as secretaries. It's a professional field of its own," he said.
Court reporters provide verbatim transcripts of court proceedings but they also have the option of captioning for television and movies or doing quick-order entry for hospitals.
Scott was attracted to the flexibility of the work, the pay and the fact that jobs are easy to find.
The profession is typically 90 percent female, according to the National Court Reporters Association. At Cincinnati's Academy of Court Reporting downtown, only four of 240 students have been male. But in recent months, half of the calls inquiring about the program have been from males.
Director of admissions Danielle Spinato suspects the increased interest is due to the shortage of court reporters and the guarantee of good money. Court reporters average a salary of about $62,000 a year, the NCRA reported.
University administrators acknowledge that bridging the gender gap in some of the traditionally female professions is one of their main challenges. They say they are thankful that many men seem to be doing it on their own.
A prime example is Frank McGoron, who finished his master's degree in education in 2000, after working 20 years as a service manager in a garage. An employee of the Head Start program at the Arlitt Center at UC, he is thankful he had the chance to pursue a more satisfying, more helpful career.
"I think I'm in a place where I can have an effect on children's lives. They'll be taking charge and taking over, and I like to think that I have at least a small effect on their ability to do that, to be prepared for those types of challenges and responsibilities in the future," he said.
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