Building Skills for Life

By Beth Dedman on Thursday, September 15, 2022

Jacob Slaton

The Cook family was renovating their home and attempted to add an entire room to the house. At first, they tried to handle it on their own, but eventually decided to bring in a contractor. This DIY adventure sparked a passion for bricklaying and masonry in Ramiah Cook and she found a program at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton that would teach her the skills and set her on the path to earning a certificate.

“I would see different buildings and designs all the time, and watched videos on my phone about how to lay brick, so when I discovered that my college could teach me how to do it, I was really excited,” Ramiah said. “I find it so calming and satisfying.”

Dynamic Duo

But she wasn’t alone in her studies. Her mother Miyahna Cook was learning a new trade right alongside her. During the same home project, Miyahna discovered an interest in carpentry and went to UACCM to specialize in framing. 

Within three months of being in the program, the Cooks were already impressing their instructor, who signed them up for the Arkansas SkillsUSA Competition. While they were excited, the Cooks were also very apprehensive. 

“We felt like we didn't have enough experience to compete,” Miyahna said. “We had only been doing it for three months, so to go somewhere and to compete against everyone in Arkansas — we were a little nervous about that.”

On the way to the competition, mom and daughter revealed to each other that the main reason they decided to compete was to support the other. 

“After we realized that we were doing it to support one another, it just kind of gave us a little more momentum,” Miyahna said. “Our thing was, don't look at what everyone else is doing. Just focus on what you're doing, and do your best.”

SkillsUSA Champs

Their best was more than enough, as both Ramiah and Miyahna won first place in their respective categories. Ramiah could hardly believe she had won and kept asking the judges if they had really meant to call her name. Miyahna too was completely shocked as they announced the bronze winner, then the silver winner and then announced that she had taken the gold. 

As state winners, the Cooks advanced to compete in the National SkillsUSA Competition in Atlanta. And while they didn't place, Miyahna said, “It was just a completely different ballgame. ...still such an amazing experience.” 

Framing the Future

Ramiah is still in school but hopes to continue designing custom brick layouts on the side. Miyahna already has her technical certificate, but she only has one more semester of fine carpentry before she earns her advanced certification. She helps a contractor friend with various jobs and jumps at the chance to help frame. She is currently helping renovate a church. Miyahna also has a real estate license and hopes to eventually use her skills to flip houses. 

Together, they hope to train other members of their family on how to build. 

“I have a son and all his friends, and I want to start a carpentry club and teach all these young boys about how to use tools and how to build,” Miyahna said. “So while I am learning, I want to share what I'm learning with the younger ones. And, hey, by the time I'm done, we'll have a whole team of builders.”

As the founder of their building team, Miyahna is proud of Ramiah’s tenacity and determination in learning any new skill. 

“She kills it under pressure,” Miyahna said. “She puts her all into everything that she does.”

Rooting on Women

Just as they have encouraged each other, they also want to encourage other women to consider construction careers and similar trades.

While the Cooks were competing at SkillsUSA, vendors constantly told them how much women are needed in the trades and how many opportunities are available to women.

“The sky's the limit,” Miyahna said. “Don’t doubt yourself. If you want to reach the sky, you just have to go do it.”

Build You Up

► 10% of U.S. construction workers are women. Women are also substantially underrepresented in agriculture (26%), manufacturing (29%) and transportation and utilities (24%). (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Women’s Databook Report, 2021)

► Women supporting women in construction: The National Association of Women in Construction gives female construction professionals of all experience levels opportunities for networking, professional development, leadership training and more. There are 118 NAWIC chapters in the U.S., including two in Arkansas (Greater Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas).

Jacob Slaton

“I don’t want women to feel judged or like they shouldn’t do skilled trades because 'it’s a man’s job,’” Ramiah said. “Sometimes ladies can feel a certain way about carpentry and electrical work, but you can still do it; don’t let shame push you away from it.”



  • Arkansas Northeastern College
  • Lexicon Inc.
  • NorthWest Arkansas Community College
  • Northwest Technical Institute
  • Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas
  • University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton
  • University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana


  • Lexicon Inc.
  • McKee Foods Corporation
  • University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana
  • Weaver-Bailey Contractors