Student Uses Success to Fight Stigma

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Katie Chludzinski says she once believed that attending a high school career center carried with it a stigma of limited opportunities. That all changed once she did it.

Chludzinski is the first student to graduate with both an academic honors diploma and a career-tech honors diploma from Lisbon David Anderson Jr./Sr. High School, says Principal Keith Edenfield. 

Both educational tracks were important to her and her family, and she’s an advocate for both. She was a valedictorian, scored a 33 on her ACT and won the Franklin B. Walter Scholastic Award, given to a student from each county in Ohio for academic performance, academic honors achieved, leadership, work ethic and community service and the U.S. Presidential Award for career-tech students.

“She was one out of only five Presidential Award winners for career tech students in the state and was honored in Columbus,” says Jeremy Corbisello, assistant superintendent/director of Columbiana County Career and Technical Center. 

Now a freshman in mechanical engineering at Youngstown State University, she’s glad she chose to attend the career center because it’s already helping with her studies.

If she could be an advocate, promoting trade schools to high school students, she would gladly sign up. 

“It’s something that matters to me, because I always believed the stigma before I went. And now I see it’s not what everyone hears, what they think. And that matters to me. It impacted my life and I think other people should be aware of it,” Chludzinski says. “It was always the idea that if you went to a career center or something you weren’t as involved in your education and that’s not the case at all.” 

She is humble about her achievements and passionate about encouraging more students to consider the trades.

“Some people go to college because they think that’s the next step. But for someone to intentionally go to the career center, that shows initiative,” she says. “Some of those programs are hard to get into. People work hard at the career center and people need to value more blue-collar skills.” 

Her interest in machining began when she was young. Her grandfather was a machinist and her dad has experience in that area. 

“I always heard stories when they get blueprints, that the people that make them don’t have the experience running the equipment or making it. There was always a bit of a disconnect there,” she says. 

When her biology and STEM teacher, James Watt, discovered Chludzinski was interested in mechanical engineering, he suggested she look into machining at CCCTC.

The question for Chludzinski and her parents was how would she be able to attend the career center and remain in the academic honors program? 

“Initially, we were nervous because we didn’t know what that meant. Typically, you can’t go through the honors program at the high school and the career center,”  Chludzinski says. “Staying in the top 10 and getting those scholarships – that mattered to us.”

Chludzinski and her parents toured the center and were impressed by the school and the quality of the instruction. They started talking to school officials about how to make it work. 

Corbisello, Watt, Edenfield and the instructor of the precision machine and manufacturing lab, Matt Peters, came up with a plan for Chludzinski to take part in both programs by allowing her to go to the career center quarter days so she could continue in the academic honors program at the high school. Normally, students go for either full or half days at the center.

“Mr. Watt saw that I wanted to do something more than I was at high school. I was kind of bored,” she says, explaining that Watt and Peters came up with the idea. “It’s been a great experience. It’s helped me here at [YSU] tremendously.”

“We pride ourselves in everything we do and giving our students what they need,” Edenfield says. “We’re willing to do our best to provide and meet our students’ needs, but we have to know what those needs are. It’s hard to get that candid response from [students] sometimes and we all need to figure out a way to tap into that voice.” 

While in high school, Katie Chludzinski ran track and cross country, was a member of Academic Challenge, band, Drug Free Club of America, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and several other clubs. She was also in 4-H, showing pygmy goats at the county fair. It has taught her about showmanship and leadership skills. 

She was also a summer intern at Butech Bliss in Salem, which required her to be there at 5 a.m. on Saturdays, primarily working with milling machines and lathes.

Keeping up with everything wasn’t always easy, but she says it has made the transition to college easier. 

In June 2019, Chludzinski took an internship at Firestone Laser & Manufacturing, part of Compco Industries. 

She programs for a 2D laser, which helps her understand the engineering aspect before a product makes it to machining, she says. She is able to program from her dorm room and works in the machine department during the summer and school breaks. 

She looked into several schools before settling on YSU. She likes the fact that so many manufacturers are nearby, giving her more career options.

Her plans are to stay in the area after graduation because of the environment and stay in a machine shop setting. 

“There’s a lot more opportunities here than people realize at first. In high school, we always heard about how hard it was to get a job and there’s not much available,” she explains. “Manufacturing is really 

big here. I don’t think people realize that as much. [A lot of it is] hidden opportunities that people don’t see.” 

She says opportunities do exist if people just look for them, such as job fairs at career centers or the recent job expo held at the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at YSU.

Chludzinski also likes the idea of staying here to be around family. Her mom teaches junior high school in Lisbon and her dad works in maintenance for the U.S. Postal Service. She credits their support for being where she is today.

Asked how she would change the narrative so that young people realize the opportunities here, she says changing the stigma is a start.

“I think it would help for students to hear from other students about the experience. That made a difference for me,” she says, referring to a friend who encouraged her to attend the career center. 

Edenfield says he is still trying to figure out how to change the stigma, especially among parents.

“Your participation in college, your major, your degree isn’t a sign of intelligence. …There are kids who go to college who would probably be more successful doing something else,” Edenfield says. “I feel like the stigma still exists, but I feel like it’s less here than other communities, which is encouraging.”

Pictured: Katie Chludzinski