Meagan “May” Valentine ~ How cool would it be to be a welder!
Meagan “May” Valentine made the Dean’s List at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and her future seemed bright. The only problem was, she didn’t know what she wanted out of college, and she was there for all the wrong reasons. “I just went because everyone told me to.” It was expected.
And while May flipped through multiple career choices in the Rolodex of her mind – Teacher, Chef, Performer, Lawyer, Psychologist – she wound up Majoring in Communications. For May, Communications was the obvious choice because “That’s what people pick when they don’t know what they want to do.”
One semester break she came home to her parent’s house and evaluated her situation. She was obviously getting excellent grades but she had no idea how to turn them into a meaningful career. And those grades came with a price tag – $11,000 in debt, and growing. “What a tremendous waste of money,” she thought. May read about how competitive and saturated the market was with people looking for jobs in the fields of her interest, and she made a bold decision – she would not return to UT. She wasn’t ruling out going back at some point, she just needed time to reevaluate her path. “I have friends that graduated with degrees but can’t find work in their fields. They were making as much as I was making, sitting at a desk without a degree. And they had $70K in debt. It didn’t make sense.”
Instead of hitting the books, she started working odd jobs, all the while imagining herself making a career of each of them. At a foster care office, she imagined a career as a social worker. At a hair salon, she thought of a career as a stylist. It was at the hair salon that May read an article about welding. “How cool would it be to be a welder?” She obsessed on it, absorbing all the information that she could. The more she read, the more she saw herself doing something with her hands. She read about how few women are in the skilled trades (only 5% of skilled trade jobs are held by women). She didn’t view this information as a deterrent; she saw it as an opportunity, a challenge almost. “Anything you can do, I can do better.” May decided to learn a skilled trade, not just to start her career, but also to be an example for other women. To say to them “You can be a part of this too.”
May’s parents were not pleased to hear her decision. Her mom didn’t want to talk about it. While she never openly dissuaded May from pursuing her newfound interest, she always tensed up when the topic was broached and quickly changed the subject.
Her dad was worried about his little girl competing in a traditionally male field. “My dad fancies himself a realist, I think he’s a pessimist… but then again, I fancy myself an optimist, and he thinks I’m naive.”
Her dad didn’t know it, but he was instrumental in helping May choose which skilled trade to pursue. When May was just 11 years old, he brought home a beat up ’67 Mustang with the intention of refurbishing it with May. She loved the idea of fixing up this old car with her dad but they never got the chance. Her mom was pregnant at the time and as soon as they learned she was carrying twins, the Mustang was sold for something more… practical.
But the seed had been planted. May did a walk through of Lincoln College of Technology in Nashville. The minute she saw the Collision Repair & Autobody Technology shop, she knew she had found her calling. In February of 2015, May applied and was accepted to Lincoln Tech.
That April, May got an email from her mom. In it was a link to the mikeroweWORKS work ethic scholarship page and application. “It was her quiet way of admitting that she fully accepted my choice.” Both her parents are now 100% supportive.
May currently holds a 3.5 GPA at Lincoln Tech and plans to graduate in May. After that, she intends to fulfill her certification hours and begin working. I asked May where she sees herself in five years. She said, “I would love to be someone’s best employee.” That should be no problem.
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