WNC News & Notes: Adult students stand out in technical programs

Maxed out in your personal life? Too far removed from schooling?

Think again.

Busy adults such as Lindsay Moore and Michael Fitzgerald have wedged in time for classes at Western Nevada College so they can improve their careers and help their families. WNC’s Career and Technical Education program offers full-time working adults the flexibility and opportunity to complete their education goals and enhance their careers.

Moore and Fitzgerald not only returned to school, but they were standouts in their classrooms, earning the respect of their professors and serving as role models for other students.

“If I could clone Michael and place him in every one of my classes, my job would be extremely easy. He leads, motivates and mentors his peers,” said Nigel Harrison, who worked at several area construction companies before becoming a WNC Construction Management instructor. “His experience magnified the lessons I taught in my classes. Students returning to school from the field bring with them their personal experiences, lessons learned and motivation for the other students.”

Moonlighting as a student has empowered Fitzgerald to earn a Bachelor of Technology degree in Construction Management. That could mean more money in Fitzgerald’s pockets and the opportunity for him to one day operate his own construction company. He works full-time as a plant manager for Basalite Concrete Products, a Carson City company.

“Michael’s integrity and selfless service permeates everything that he does,” Harrison said. “I’m excited that he has reached this milestone in his life, but to be honest, I really wish he could stick around.”

Moore’s educational journey began as an effort to make things better for her family. Even with the demands of working part-time and caring for a son, she managed to squeeze in time to prepare for a career in industrial electronics and manufacturing.

“Being a single mom and having the responsibility to provide a good and stable life for my son was the big motivator that pushed me back to school,” said Moore, who’s completing her Associate of Applied Science degree this month. “I was unable to support myself with my previous work experience and skills. I was in security and felt I could not juggle the 24/7 work schedule with my job as a mother.”

Moore said her parents helped her free up time to go back to school at WNC and work part time.

“My parents have been a huge support for both me and my son. I have been able to stay with them as I work through this degree program and they have helped watch my son while I study or work,” said Moore, who served in the U.S. Army from 1999-2001. “Their support has made this a relatively easy process, knowing I have a comfortable and safe place for my son and I to be.”

While raising his four children as a single parent, Fitzgerald took night classes to learn specific skills in electricity, welding and auto mechanics. When his youngest child became a high school senior, he began his pursuit of a bachelor’s in earnest. He completed the four-year program in 2 1/2 years, taking as many as 22 credits per semester.

“I was trying to show my kids that you can work and you can go to school. It’s tough, but you can do it,” he said.

To keep up with his duties at Basalite, Fitzgerald’s workday would typically start at 4 a.m., followed by afternoon and evening classes at WNC. Sometimes he needed to return to work before calling it a day. Most of his studying and projects were completed during the weekends, when he routinely spent 20 to 30 hours keeping up with his classes.

“I didn’t care so much when I was younger because I wasn’t in it for a grade and I wasn’t going to get a degree. My education was driven by whatever I needed to know,” said Fitzgerald of part-time student status at WNC then. “There were times I didn’t do a paper or I did a shoddy job on it, just enough to get by. You eventually realize that you have to put in the time.”

When Fitzgerald assumed a more prominent position at Basalite, he understood he needed more education in mathematics, writing and communication.

“When I dedicated to this program, I decided to put the time in,” Fitzgerald said. “Sometimes my schedule would change a half-dozen times at the beginning of the semester, just trying to get it all to fit together. But it can be done.”

Fitzgerald’s dedication to his classes resulted in “As” in 90 percent of his classes.

Moore did her homework by choosing a field of study that offers an encouraging employment outlook and compensation for Northern Nevada.

“I enrolled in school before Tesla and subsequent other companies made the commitment to come to Northern Nevada,” Moore said. “I feel like I jumped on the boat just as it is preparing to set sail!”

A series of Applied Industrial Technologies classes and specific study modules prepared Moore to pass the Manufacturing Technician Level 1 certification exam on Dec. 4. The credential is endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers, which certifies to local manufacturers Moore’s aptitude and readiness for employment. She also produced a platinum (top) score on the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate that focuses on applied mathematics, reading comprehension and locating information.

Emily Howarth, WNC’s Professor of Electronics and Industrial Technology, said Moore separates herself from other students because of her determination, self-motivation and excitement to learn.

“She has tackled every obstacle that has appeared in her path, and she is always willing to try again,” Howarth said. “Lindsay walks in the door with an attitude of ‘what can I learn from this?’ instead of ‘I’m here, so you can teach me. That ownership is reflected in the results she has earned.”

Moore said her success in the program goes way beyond her own determination and goals.

“I credit my success in this program to my own motivation to better my life, the support of my instructor, Emily Howarth, and the comprehensive program she has created,” Moore said. “Her enthusiasm for manufacturing, educating job seekers and promoting the industry helped to build my own enthusiasm and to see how many opportunities are available in this area.”

The next step for Moore is to find employment. Through the contacts she has made with WNC’s business partners in the community and through company site tours, as well as her alliances through the college’s annual Manufacturing Month, Moore is confident about her job prospects.

“It has been very eye-opening to see how many different products are manufactured, as I have participated in several site tours at facilities in Carson Valley, Carson City and Reno,” Moore said. “I have been able to see firsthand what the manufacturing process looks like, from small, 10-person shops to large-scale international companies, and I have also been able to talk with those in the industry.

“I’m looking at companies that produce high-quality products using cutting-edge technology, focusing on the lean system and Six Sigma philosophies that offer a good work-life balance.”

Moore said finding the motivation to return to school could help many other adults in the community.

“For those of you wishing you could be in a better place in life to support yourself or your family, going back to school is the best place to start,” Moore said. “I would recommend the manufacturing field specifically because of the opportunities available in the job market and also the education and support that I have received here at WNC. I needed the right motivation to convince me to go back to school and that was my son. Find your motivation.”

Moore said a variety of resources are available to assist adults in going back to school. Federal grants, scholarships and loans can help lift some of the financial burden. She also said local funding is available through JOIN, and WNC provides childcare.

One of the reasons Fitzgerald expedited the completion of his bachelor’s degree was to prepare for the onslaught of business that’s anticipated in the construction industry in Northern Nevada. During the area’s construction boom from 2000-08, Fitzgerald said Basalite often ran three shifts per day, seven days per week, to keep up with the demand.

“A lot of the qualified personnel are gone, so now we are starting to ramp back up,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m excited, but there is a tremendous amount of work for me to rebuild those positions, find the right people and train them. Could I do this bachelor’s program two years from now? Not the way I’m seeing it.”

Fitzgerald is hopeful his degree could lead to a project manager position at Basalite.

“They are expanding all the time,” Fitzgerald said, “So I can have the opportunity later on to advance. A lot of times with management positions, they require some sort of degree. My degree is one more piece that will make me more attractive to them.

“Sometimes you have to evaluate it through life: Is it easier to work for somebody else or work for yourself? It always sounds great to go work for yourself, but to put the time in and get a paycheck, that’s worth something, too, and not be worried about a lot of the details that are out there.”


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