TCTC Plugs Brain Drain With Diverse Training

WARREN – Viola McClimans’ motorcycle sits on a rack in the back room of the auto collision technology lab at Trumbull Career and Technical Center. Much of it has been disassembled with the wheels and other parts awaiting custom work.

The senior from Girard High School began this personal project before December and plans to have all the parts customized and the bike completely reassembled before the school year ends, she says.

“I’m painting the bike black to match the red frame,” she says, “and then I’m getting the wheels powder-coated black. It’s a fun project.”

Growing up, McClimans worked on cars with her stepfather, she says. She particularly enjoyed painting, so she enrolled in the auto collision technology program at TCTC. Although custom work is her passion, it’s the most challenging part of the curriculum, she says.

“You have to watch out for so many things and you have to do so many steps just to get the painting,” she says. “Once I was able to do it, it felt great being able to accomplish that goal.”

McClimans plans to attend college after high school to learn more about air-brushing, then looks to start her own business providing custom work for customers’ vehicles. She currently works at Sicilian’s Auto Body in Girard.

She isn’t alone in looking to use what she learns at TCTC to further her education. Alexis Parthemer aspires to be a cardiologist and has been accepted into the nursing program at Kent State University at Trumbull for the fall semester.

The senior at Maplewood High School is enrolled in the pre-nursing phlebotomy program at TCTC. Initially, she planned to enter the career and tech school’s public safety program. But she says she determined the pre-nursing program would give her a better opportunity.

“I realized I really like the medical field and I like being part of something to make a better change,” Parthemer says.

Parthemer uses what she’s been learning at TCTC to work with home health clients. Eventually, she would like to work at a local nursing home or hospital. To achieve those goals, the hands-on training at TCTC is critical, she says.

“It helps you learn and it helps you experience it so that when you get out into the real world, you can do the work,” Parthemer says.

Her classmate, Anna MacKenzie, agrees. Hands-on education is important to medical work, she says, because a person’s body won’t always match what’s in a book or on a chart.

“It’s all different,” MacKenzie says. “We need the hands-on aspect to be able to see each person and the way that their body is formatted.”

The young women put their skills to practice during a lab demonstration Feb. 9 at TCTC. Students and instructors volunteered to let the pre-nursing students practice blood draws on live patients rather than the mannequins that line the back wall of the classroom.

In addition to feeling better prepared for the transition to college, the class is providing her some college credits, MacKenzie says. She plans to enroll in Cleveland State University’s pre-med in the fall and hopes to be an anesthesiologist one day.

The demonstration coincided with TCTC’s celebration of Career and Technical Education Month. The public awareness campaign takes place in February, and is sponsored by the Association for Career & Technical Education website.

Providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to move on to post-secondary education, enter the workforce or enlist in the military is the goal of TCTC, says its director, Mary Flint.

With TCTC operating on a hybrid model during the pandemic, students get more time in their labs for hands-on education, Flint says.

Theory work is done outside of the classroom with some opportunity for in-school tutoring, she says. Otherwise, students are in their labs from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and there are fewer interruptions.

“I’ve always tried to maximize the time in the labs with our kids because that’s what they come here for,” Flint says.

The Trumbull Career and Technical Center gives students an edge, she says, because they can explore career options and earn college credits, licenses and certifications in the process.

“We’re always looking for ways to expand our curriculum to make it more beneficial for students,” Flint says. “Kids who have a plan and a focus on their future tend to do well.”

In the pre-nursing program, for example, the phlebotomy certification makes students more marketable, says the program instructor, Barb Meyer. Speaking from her experience as a registered nurse in a hospital setting, nurses with the phlebotomy certification “can do more at their job,” she says.

TCTC’s pre-nursing program recently achieved one of the top first-time passing rates for the state-tested nursing aide exam, with students scoring 90% on its written part and 95% on the skills portion, well above the statewide rates of 67% and 83%, respectively.

Between the phlebotomy and the pharmacy tech programs, the school has 18 students who attained their STNA credentials this year, Meyer says.   

“So we have 18 students now that can go out and work as nursing assistants in long-term care facilities or in the hospital setting or doing home care,” she says.

Long-term care centers make up the biggest sector for job placement after graduation, Meyer says.

Lake Vista in Cortland and Windsor House in Champion, and most recently Shepherd of the Valley in Howland and Liberty, bring students in to complete their clinical experience, which is necessary to earn STNA certifications.

Most pre-nursing students end up working at those skilled nursing centers, she says. They are also part of the advisory committee of the program.

“They’re always searching for employees,” Meyer says. “I get emails at least once a week from people who are looking for STNAs.”

Job placements were a challenge in 2020 “because some businesses are not up and running right now because of the pandemic,” says Flint, TCTC’s director. Work-based learning is even more important now that it’s one of TCTC’s accountability measures.

The school has adapted to provide virtual job shadow opportunities when appropriate, Flint says, and is always looking for new businesses to partner with. Partnership opportunities can include paid and unpaid internships as well as simulated experiences, she says.

Some seniors and juniors in the auto collision program are already working locally, says program instructor Bradley Ronyak.

In the last month, three collision shops in the area have contacted Ronyak for students. “We’ll take whatever you have,” he says they told him. Those shops have said they will even provide on-the-job training for students on tasks they don’t know yet.

“If you’re looking to get a job, this is where it’s at because they’re pounding down my door looking for recruits,” he says.

Ronyak brings 13 years of professional experience to his classroom. While the program focuses on vehicle body work and design, it provides students with a “wealth of knowledge,” that includes welding, plastic repair, painting, metal fabrication and body work, as well as some mechanical work, such as steering, diagnostics and suspension.

“We have to know the ins and the outs of a vehicle,” Ronyak says. “We have to be able to do almost A through Z.”

Similarly, the early childhood education program prepares students who look to pursue an education degree in college. It also allows students to attain the child development associate credential to enter the workforce after graduation, says Ashley Chilton, program instructor.

“Preschools want to hire people with the CDA,” Chilton says. “So they will get jobs a lot easier and they will get paid a little bit more money.”

Hands-on education for the program includes working with children ages 4 and 5 in TCTC’s on-site, state-licensed preschool. Students get the children prepared for kindergarten, particularly with developing social skills.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a “huge demand” for early childhood teachers as more people work from home, Chilton says. “People need a place to take their children. And they want a place to take their children to get them prepared for kindergarten and get them the social skills they need at such a young age,” she says.

Alayna Tyler, a Howland High School senior enrolled in TCTC’s early childhood education program, says the skills she’s learning will help her transition to college. Tyler will study education at Kent State University at Trumbull in the fall and eventually wants to be a fourth-grade teacher.

“I’ve always had a passion for teaching kids. I’ve always loved being around them. I love the energy that they give off. They’re so much fun to be around,” she says. “There’s just never a dull moment in here.”

After college, Tyler says she’ll work anywhere but would prefer to find a job nearby. “I’d love to stay here in my hometown. I grew up here,” she says. “I just want to be able to do what I want to do every day.”

Pictured: For her personal project in the Trumbull Career and Technical Center’s auto collision technology program, Viola McClimans has taken apart her motorcycle to repaint it and powder-coat the wheels.