Catching up with mikeroweWORKS Scholarship Recipient Alexa Harter
This is Alexa Harter, but you can call her Lexy. On December 4th of 2015, and with help from a work ethic scholarship from mikeroweWORKS, Lexy graduated from Environmental Technical Institute (ETI) in Willowbrook, Illinois. I spoke with Lexy about her life and the unlikely journey that drove her to pursue a career in the skilled trades.
“Growing up I wanted to be a dentist. I had tunnel vision about it,” she said – “I was going to move away, go to school, and save everybody’s teeth. But my senior year of high school, life just caught up with me.” After graduation, Lexy watched all of her friends go off to become hairstylists and nurses. “That just wasn’t the route I wanted to take.” But she was no longer sure what direction she wanted to go.
It was her high school art teacher, Mrs. Harris, who unintentionally planted the seeds in Lexy’s mind of working in the skilled trades. “She gave me such a hard time” – Lexy recalled. Mrs. Harris always pressed Lexy to work harder. Lexy didn’t like it. Then one day, Mrs. Harris took her art class to Chicago’s Millennium Park to view the giant Silver Bean. Lexy thought it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen. She wondered how it was made.
Back in Mrs. Harris’ class, where the students had previously worked with oil and clay, a new medium was introduced – metal and fire. “She put a 120 volt welder in our hands and made us weld.” Lexy loved the bright flame and dripping metal. “We didn’t know what to do. Everybody pretty much welded stick figures.” Again, Mrs. Harris continued to challenge Lexy to do more than she thought she could. Lexy couldn’t understand why this old woman was so mean to her.
Lexy didn’t understand why Mrs. Harris was so demanding until she received a card from her after graduation that read, “I pushed you so hard because I believed in you. You have drive.”
That drive was instilled in Lexy by her mom, Connie. She would repeatedly tell Lexy, “Don’t wish for it, work for it. You can’t pray for an A, and only study for a C.”
“It used to make me so mad when I was a kid,” Lexy said, but now she understands and appreciates the sage words she received from both Connie and Mrs. Harris.
Several years after graduating high school, Lexy was still waiting tables at a little family restaurant. She wasn’t going to school to be a dentist and she didn’t have a plan for the future. She had always remembered how much she enjoyed welding in Mrs. Harris’ class and thought about going to school for it, but she wasn’t doing anything to make that happen either. Her drive was gone. It was a time of inertia.
Then, in the fall of 2014, everything changed.
“I found out that I had a little boy on the way.” Lexy realized she had two options. “I could have a dead end job, or I could have a career.” So she called ETI to apply. “I knew with just a little bit of change, I’d be able to change the future of my family. I knew this was my opportunity, so I seized the moment.” That’s when Lexy applied for a mikeroweWORKS scholarship. The drive was back! “Next thing you know, I was in school a week later welding, welding, welding.”
Lexy took three weeks off to have her son, Liam. Tom Davis, her instructor at ETI, was worried she wouldn’t return. He thought it was a lot to juggle school and a new baby. But Lexy came back, and was awarded Student of the Module in MIG welding, which is the highest grade in the class.
On February 3, 2016 Lexy will test out at the Pipe Fitters Local Union #597. If she passes, she will be able to work on union welding jobs, giving her and her family the career she is driven to have. “I have drive and motivation in me, and I want to do the world some good by rebuilding it.”
Please join me, and everyone else at mikeroweWORKS, in wishing Lexy all the success in the world.
Chuck ~ mikeroweWORKS Facebook Page