Motivated by a question posed in class at Empire State College, New York Local 3 apprentices collaborated with professor Sharon Szymansk (back row, third from left) on a children's book to show young girls what it's like to be a union electrician.

A requirement of the New York Local 3 apprenticeship is that everyone get at least an associate's degree in labor studies. It dates to the days of legendary Business Manager Harry Van Arsdale Jr., who believed that all members should have critical thinking skills as well as electrical. A recent product of that decades-old mandate is the children's book "Wire Women Lighting It Up: What It's Like to Be a Female Union Electrician."

Co-written by eight apprentices — seven women and one man — with one journeywoman serving as an adviser, “Wire Women” takes the reader on a tour of what it's like to be an electrician, from "pulling wire with the strength of an elephant" to climbing ladders "with the agility of a mountain lion scaling a peak."

Co-written by eight apprentices — seven women and one man — with one journeywoman serving as an adviser, the book came out of Professor Sharon Szymanski's class "Women, the Economy and the Trades." A question that always comes up, Szymanski said, is, "Why aren't there more women in the trades?" For one cohort, the answer was that young girls don't know that being a union electrician is an option — and a good one.

"We need to show young girls that if they can see it, they can be it," said Local 3 journeywoman Erin Sullivan, who consulted on the project. "This book is a way to do that."

With that as a catalyst, Szymanski developed a course specifically to write a children's book. The students researched children's books about work, and to get ideas about messaging and style, they read articles and watched videos about women in unions. They even heard from New York firefighter Brenda Berkman, who was the subject of her own children's book about her struggle to become a firefighter in the late 1970s. What they discovered is that there aren't many books about tradeswomen, much less union tradeswomen.

"We wanted to fill a void," said Szymanski, who shares author credit with her students. "Young girls don't hear about this."

Accompanied by watercolor-style illustrations, "Wire Women" takes the reader on a tour of what it's like to be an electrician, from "pulling wire with the strength of an elephant" to climbing ladders "with the agility of a mountain lion scaling a peak."

And since this is a book about New York City wirewomen, there are passages on lighting up the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, powering the subway and lighting the giant ball that drops every New Year's Eve in Times Square. It also includes fun facts, like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree weighing roughly 11 tons and using over 50,000 lights that could stretch out over five miles.

"My students have a lot of passion for their trade and for seeing their work, and the book shows that," Szymanski said.

Now they have one more thing to be proud of: being published authors.

"It was a really fun project," fourth-year apprentice Natalie Rivera said. "It was cool to see our words come to life alongside the illustrations."

For fifth-year apprentice Mary Lin Gil, the book is an example of the potential in so many wirewomen and other Local 3 members.

"To see that I am part of something like this makes me proud, and it makes my family proud," Gil said. "My son is my biggest inspiration and my biggest fan, and he loves the book."

It's not just Gil's son, either. The reception to the book, which was written for all ages, has been positive, said publisher Tim Sheard.

"People who see the book love the book," Sheard said. "We produced a beautiful product that adults like as much as children."

As a book born out of a labor studies class and published by Hard Ball Press, a union publishing house, "Wire Women" doesn't shy away from the importance of being a union member. Or as the book states, "Wirewomen are superheroes, and our union is our superpower."

Being a union member is "how women do better," Sullivan said. "There are more positives with a union, and the book makes that connection clear. It's good for parents to see, too."

Part of the goal of showing young girls that they, too, can be electricians was to show how varied the work is, and how many paths a person can take with their journey worker's license.

"People have a limited idea of what electricians do in general," Rivera told labor publication Work-Bites in an interview for the book. "I did, too. But now, even my daughter knows more about tools at 5 than I did when I first came into the union."

"Wire Women" also shares how many journeywomen didn't start out as electricians. Some were teachers or graphic artists. Others were store clerks or worked in an office. But they all wanted something more, and they found it as union tradeswomen.

"It just goes to show you that our membership loves this trade and what they do," Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson said. "That they were able to so easily share it with others exemplifies that."

While Local 3 has a long and proud history of inclusion, Erikson noted that eye-opening books like "Wire Women" could have drawn more women to the electrical field much earlier.

"We are proud of the pioneers and of these apprentices who put their hearts on their sleeves to share their fulfillment and what motivates them with others in the hopes of increasing the number of women in our industry," said Erikson, who also chairs the International Executive Council.

"Wire Women" has inspired other projects. Sheard said he would like to do a book on all tradeswomen. Szymanski said she collaborated on a labor calendar that includes different artistic works from some of her students. Rivera completed her bachelor's degree in December and said she's looking forward to having more time to pursue her passions. It's part of the message that she hopes readers will get from the book.

"Try new things. You never know what you may be good at or what will spark a passion," Rivera said.

If the book has one overarching message, it's that being a union electrician isn't just a good way to pay the bills; it's also an incredibly fulfilling career — and one girls can aspire to.

"Being an electrician has made me more confident as a woman and as a mom," Gil said. "I'm helping to light up New York City. Women are a power that cannot be underestimated, and that's what the class, and the book, exemplified."