SKOWHEGAN — Dressed in steel-toe boots, Carhartt jeans and a work jacket with rough leather sleeves, 17-year-old Sarah Finnemore puts her long hair up in a bun, flips her welder’s mask down and gets to work.

Sparks of melted metal fly.

Finnemore, valedictorian of the graduating Class of 2013 at Skowhegan Area High School, is a welder. She is certified in stick welding and flux-core welding through high school courses at the Somerset Career and Technical Center offered at the Cianbro construction company in Pittsfield.

Also, she will be attending Harvard University in the fall.

“I was thinking about doing engineering for a career, and welding would be helpful if I were to pursue that,” said Finnemore, of Norridgewock, cutting steel with an oxygen-acetylene torch. “I’m considering engineering sciences and economics for a major. I thought this would be a fun change of pace to have a hands-on class. I like having a nontraditional class. It’s a great tool to have and something to fall back on.”

Finnemore said she has not decided on a major at Harvard, but added she is “definitely a math and science person.”

She said she has a summer job already lined up at Cianbro, where she will do an internship with the administration. Finnemore is the daughter of Mary Finnemore, a chemistry teacher at the high school; and Chris Finnemore, an engineer who works as utilities manager at Sappi Fine Paper.

Troy Twitchell, of Hartland, Finnemore’s welding instructor at Cianbro, said Finnemore is only the second girl of the 40 students to enroll in the welding class in the four years the high school has been offering the course.

“She’s above average,” Twitchell said from the welding shop. “It’s a statistical fact that women have better hand/eye coordination than a man does; it’s a great fit for women who want to do it for a career.”

Finnemore said she also does volunteer work, works with youth field hockey, is a volunteer board member for the Greater Somerset Public Health Cooperative, rings a bell for the Salvation Army at Christmastime, helps tutor other students at the high school and is president of the local National Honor Society chapter.

Sarah’s mother, Mary, said tackling the welding course is an example of her daughter’s ability to take on new tasks.

“She’s one of those kids who has always done her own thing,” Mary Finnemore said. “Wherever her interests have taken her, she has always been willing to try different things. She’s never seen limits for herself. She’s absolutely excited about her future and looking forward to the diversity of the Harvard campus.”

Richard Wilson, principal at the high school, said academically, Sarah Finnemore is No. 1 in her class.

“She’s as good at it gets. She’s driven,” Wilson said. “She comes in before school and after school and works with Debby Hight, the tutor in the library, during her free periods.”

Finnemore also plans to play field hockey at Harvard. She was a varsity member of the three recent state championship field hockey teams at Skowhegan High School.

“I’ve played field hockey since I was in second or third grade,” she said. “I’ve been varsity since my freshman year.”

Finnemore said winning at field hockey also can be somewhat of a metaphor for life.

“It’s really remarkable,” she said. “It’s really special to know that you can come from a small town in Maine and be competitive. We just worked really hard together as a team, all year around. I definitely worked very hard in school in everything that I do to try to be the best that I can be.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com