Katherine Ewaskowitz knew what she was getting herself into, and she knew it was going to be tough.
But despite the jokes, despite the snide comments, she made it through. And not only was a diploma waiting for her on the other side, so was a little bit of history.
Ewaskowitz is the believed to be the first woman to achieve a technical diploma in Milwaukee Area Technical College's tool and die making program.
Others have started and stopped, and it's possible that women were in the program previous to 's records - particularly during World War II, when many women were enrolled in those types of programs, said Ginny Gnadt, a public relations specialist with MATC. There have also been women in the apprenticeship program.
But no instructors can recall any other females achieving the diploma and she is officially the only woman to do so according to the school's records, Gnadt said.
It's accomplishment that means quite a bit to Ewaskowitz and her family.
"I am really proud of myself for it," she said.
Ewaskowitz has always been around tool and die thanks to her father, who owns Masik Tool & Die in Cudahy, where she works as a machinist.
She took shop classes at Franklin High School and found that she was much better suited for that type of education, as opposed to the traditional classroom.
"I learn better hands-on, versus sitting in a classroom and having a teacher talk to me," she said.
But even in her high school shop days, it became clear that others of her gender were not latching onto machine-related work the way she was. Not that it was going to deter her. She graduated from Franklin early, in January of 2010, to pursue courses at MATC. She did the first half of the two-year program at the school's downtown campus before finishing in Oak Creek.
Going into it, she anticipated some problems as the only female in class.
Unfortunately, her fears were realized.
"It wasn't easy. It was definitely a struggle to go through it," Ewaskowitz said.
"There were girl jokes made all day, every day. 'You have spaghetti arms.' 'Are you going to be able to lift that?' It made me really upset and on some days it was just like, 'Really?'"
But she forged ahead and completed all of the course's requirements. Like making molds, dies, a washer die set - you know, things that are supposedly too hard and heavy and dirty for girls to do. She found support from some of her classmates, which she said helped her make it to the end.
Sometimes she would need to make minor adjustments, but not often.
"To tighten the tools in the machines, I had to make a long bar that ... gave me more leverage to make it tighter," she said. "It's little things like that."
Though other women started but didn't finish for various reasons, Ewaskowitz walked proudly across the stage at the U.S. Cellular Arena Wednesday night and received her diploma. She plans to keep working at her dad's shop and continue her education, going for for an associate's degree in MATC's mechanical design technology program.
And she won't stop there, either.
She recently sent emails to local high school principals asking to be a guest speaker. She feels that not enough girls know that programs like that exist, and maybe they would find they like it if they gave it a shot.
"I find it kind of discouraging that no girls had ever graduated," she said. "In high school, they never really made any of this type of stuff known. The only reason I knew about it was because of my dad.
"I think it's something that if I can do it, anybody can do it. You just got to have the mindset for it, you have to be willing to get dirty, and you have to push through it and get it done."