Women In Technical Careers (WITC) helps 16 women begin their careers in technical fields
On May 20, 2017, 16 Dunwoody Women In Technical Career (WITC) students will walk across a stage ready to begin the next chapter of their lives. Dunwoody is thrilled to announce that the first cohort of the WITC Scholarship Program will graduate this month.
The program, which started in 2015, was created to help women students succeed in technical degrees and careers considered “non-traditional” for women. Recipients receive a scholarship of up to $20,000 as well as childcare stipends, monthly professional development workshops, a strong peer support network, and career-focused mentoring.
“It’s very exciting to see our first class of WITC graduate,” WITC Program Manager Maggie Whitman said. “It’s been an honor to watch these students gain technical skills and confidence, and now we are seeing them secure high-paying jobs and internships. Those were the exact outcomes we were hoping for.
“College is not easy for anyone, and when you compound that challenge with being a woman in a non-traditional field, parenting, working full-time, being a first-generation college student, and the many other identities and responsibilities these students juggle, it’s very impressive.”
WITC combats obstacles that prevent students from pursuing college
HVACR Systems Servicing student Jessica Hertel knows about juggling responsibilities well. A mother of two, Hertel shared that deciding to pursue post-secondary education wasn’t an easy decision.
“When I first applied for college, I was so incredibly nervous. I decided and undecided thousands of times. I didn’t know if I could actually do it,” Hertel said.
But after learning about the other women who would be a part of the cohort and the additional childcare support services WITC would provide, Hertel said she was sold.
“After I spoke with Maggie, I was so excited and ready to be here because I knew that no matter what happens I will have a group of women who support me—even if it’s just emotionally. Knowing that someone would be there was really essential for me.”
Scholarship dollars are what ultimately allowed Automotive Service & Technology Student Beverly White to attend Dunwoody—her first choice for college.
“Growing up, my parents never really showed a particular interest in school,” White said. “When I got older I had to find self-interest in school. I joined a college readiness program in high school, and we toured colleges all over Minnesota. To me, college was naturally just the next step after high school. I figured if I wasn’t 100% sure on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, a more mature learning environment might help me narrow down my options.”
White found that learning environment at Dunwoody, but other schools with lower tuition were tempting. When White learned she was accepted into the scholarship program, her dream of attending Dunwoody became a reality.
“The WITC program alone is what [allowed me] to attend Dunwoody,” White said. “I was definitely interested, but I was weighing my options with other schools that I had close to full scholarships to, or a school I wouldn’t have to take out many loans for.
“When I received the [acceptance] email from Maggie, my decision was made,” she said.
Workshops prepare students for their careers, life after college
In addition to emotional and financial support while at Dunwoody, WITC also helps women prepare for life after college.
Every month the cohort meets to touch on different professional development topics that will help them navigate workplaces where few women work. Past workshop topics have included interview preparation, public speaking, interpersonal savviness, and workplace rights such as Equal Opportunity.
During their first year of the program, students were also paired with a local, successful woman in the same profession. This partnership allowed the cohort to see first-hand that enjoying—and thriving in—a typically male-dominated profession is completely possible.
Web Programming & Database Development student Siri Springer shared that these various workshops and presentations have helped her to “feel more at ease” about entering a field with few woman.
“It’s made me feel not so stressed about it,” Springer said. “It’s totally okay, and I have the impression that I’m the one probably making a bigger deal out of it. I just go on with my day and [know that no-one] is going to single me out.”
Workshops and various speakers have also helped Engineering Drafting & Design student Jazmine Darden to feel more informed and prepared for future life events like budgeting income and purchasing a home.
“You learn things that you don’t learn in the classroom,” Darden said. “It’s a time to talk about the things that we don’t think about day-to-day.”
Whitman shared that the goal of each activity—and the program as a whole—was to help women gain confidence in themselves, their work, and their career paths. And as the first cohort prepares to graduate, she believes that not only have they learned to believe in themselves, they’ve inspired others to do the same.
WITC graduates leave their marks at Dunwoody
“In the scholarship essays that they wrote two years ago, many of the women in the WITC program said they hoped to one day be role models for other women and girls,” Whitman said.
And whether they realize it or not they have done just that. Over the past two years, these students have seized opportunities to speak at events for young girls, be interviewed for news articles, testify before the Minnesota legislature, promote technical education in high schools, attend conferences, and mentor new Dunwoody students.
“I am proud of the tenacity of this group of students,” she said. “I know they will continue to pay it forward and shift perceptions surrounding women and the kinds of work we can do.”
Hertel, White, Springer, and Darden will graduate on May 20, 2017, at 11 a.m. The Commencement Ceremony will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center.