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Connecting with our communities

April 2017

Amy Swackhammer, NS road foreman of engines, standing at left, speaks to scouters attending the weekend Girl Scout Rail Camp.

Girl Scouts learn about opportunities for women railroaders at NS

Seven years ago, NS partnered with a Girl Scout council in Virginia to create an industry-first railroad safety patch, “Explore Norfolk Southern.” Girls earn the patch by learning about rail safety, the environmental benefits of shipping by rail, and other essential railroad facts.

Since then, NS has partnered with Girl Scout groups across its rail network, letting girls know that they can find good careers at the railroad. In the latest partnership, Norfolk Southern teamed with the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C., to participate in the museum’s first-ever Girl Scout Rail Camp.

The idea for the camp stemmed from the museum’s success sponsoring Boy Scout camps, said Kelly Alexander, museum executive director. “Rail Camp is a great opportunity for scouts to interact, camp alongside each other, and work together to earn advancement,” Alexander said.

More than 260 Girl Scouts, troop leaders, and parents from North Carolina and South Carolina attended the late March weekend camp on the museum’s grounds, the site of NS predecessor Southern Railway’s historic Spencer Shops. The girls had the chance to earn the Norfolk Southern safety patch as well as the “Historic Spencer Shops Railroad Heritage” patch. They learned about railroad history, the different types of locomotives and rail cars, the impact women have had on the industry, railroad safety, and railroading careers.

Girls in awe of women railroaders

NS employees taught classes on railroad careers and train safety. Amy Swackhammer, who works in NS’ Transportation Department at Spencer Yard in Linwood, N.C., talked about what she does in her job. She explained how her career progressed from conductor and locomotive engineer to her current management job as road foreman of engines, a position that includes training, testing, and supervising train engineers.

“The best part of this event was being able to share how great of a career the railroad has been for me and that women can do anything we put our hearts and minds to,” she said. “I felt I was able to motivate and educate these young girls that working for a railroad isn’t just a man’s job. Getting them to think outside the ‘norm’ was very rewarding to me.”

Jennifer McDaid, NS historical archivist, shared stories of pioneering female railroaders who broke gender barriers when hired by NS predecessor railroads. She also talked about her role to help discover these stories in the company’s archives and keep them alive.

“It’s always exciting to talk to people about something you love doing, especially when the group is enthusiastic and interested,” she said.

Mark Shull, shop supervisor at the Charlotte (N.C.) Roadway Shop, taught the girls about rail safety.

“I think we hit a home run with the kids and the adults,” Shull said. “The girls seemed eager to learn about train and railroad safety, and they had some great questions. Hopefully, what they learned will keep them safe and maybe even help them to keep others safe around railroads.” 

The scouts, troop leaders, and parents had many follow-up questions for McDaid and Swackhammer.

“We all really enjoyed learning about the many different jobs available to women in railroading today – the girls had no idea,” said parent Teresa Schrader. “They were completely in awe of Amy and Jennifer.”

Jennifer McDaid, NS historical archivist, helps scouts stamp cards with an 1894 corporate seal once used by NS predecessor railroad Southern Railway to mark official documents.

NS is part of the community

Carolina Girl Scouts patch
NS’ latest Explore Norfolk Southern
patch is for scouters in the Girl Scouts
Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont Inc.

An employee suggestion in 2010 triggered creation of the Explore Norfolk Southern patch as an innovative way to connect with communities the railroad serves. NS introduced the patch to the Girl Scout Council of the Colonial Coast, made up of girls who live in southeastern Virginia communities in and around the company’s headquarters city.

“The patch was the first of its kind for the Girl Scouts,” said Stacey Mansfield, director public relations, who was a Girl Scout growing up. Now, Girl Scouts in Illinois, Greater Atlanta, and the Carolinas can earn it. Two more scouting councils, in central Indiana and the Virginia Piedmont, have expressed interest.

Why would NS create a railroad safety patch and participate in Girl Scout events?

“We don’t just ‘roll through’ these communities,” Mansfield said. “Our employees live and work in and contribute to each of the towns in these regions. Teaching these Girl Scouts about rail safety and the many job opportunities the railroad offers means teaching our neighbors and families about the values of the railroad, the benefits it provides, and the opportunities available for women. We want them to know that, one day, they could be railroaders, too.”

Contact to learn more about the Explore Norfolk Southern patch and how Girl Scouts in your community can earn it.

Beth Nelson, NS corporate communications coordinator, talks to scouts about her work at NS and the many job opportunities the railroad offers.