Michelle Ahola ~ Her Success is Set in Concrete
For as long as Michelle Ahola can remember she has been building things. As a kid, anytime her parents purchased a new piece of patio furniture (or anything that required assembly), she volunteered to put it together – without the instructions. “I always wanted to see if I could ‘logic’ my way through it.” Often times she was taking things apart as well. Just to see how it all worked. It was only natural that she wound up helping her dad work on his dirt bike and car. And it was a logical conclusion that when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Michelle would immediately respond “A mechanic.”
School came naturally to Michelle. She loved everything from math and science to chemistry and calculus. Her parents encouraged her to broaden her interests. They instilled in her the belief that one should have a proper ratio of book smarts to street smarts. She wasn’t into sports. “I played sports, I just wasn’t really good at it.” She preferred replacing a fuel pump to running the bases. So, Michelle gravitated to shop class. For her senior project at Colusa High School, Michelle held a car show to raise money for shop. She raised over $1,100 in spite of the fact that it rained. She also wrote a paper about the shortage of women in the automotive industry. That’s when Michelle decided she would do something about that.
Michelle enrolled at Butte Community College in Oroville, California with an eye toward a degree in automotive technology. She set a goal to get through college in four years, and to do it debt free. “I have always been very careful of how I choose to spend my money, even if some may call me cheap.” It’s no wonder her favorite part of Mike Rowe’s S.W.E.A.T Pledge is number 5 – I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it.
Michelle had it all worked out. She loved building and fixing – particularly automobiles – so a career in the automotive industry seemed destined. But her first semester at Butte came with a rude awakening. She discovered the future of the car industry was all electrical. The average modern car has over 30 computers in it. “Electricity isn’t something tangible to me. I wanted to work with my hands.” She wasn’t sure what to do. For the first time in Michelle’s life, she questioned her life’s dream of becoming a mechanic. She didn’t know what she wanted to be.
She pressed on at BCC, taking general education classes, not sure of what she wanted to do. She knew automotive was no longer for her. But what was?
One day she got a call from her mom, who worked at a feed mill for animals. One of her customers worked in the college of engineering at Chico State and told Michelle’s mom about an elite program they had. Chico was one of only 4 schools in the U.S. to offer it. It was called the Concrete Industry Management Program.
After meeting with mom’s customer once, Michelle was convinced she knew what she wanted to do. “Literally, everything is made of concrete. I love knowing how things are built so this was the perfect fit for me.” Michelle set her sights on going to Chico and taking their Concrete program.
But first Michelle had to get through BCC. She remembers going into the counselor’s office and showing him the classes she had taken. “Can I make a degree out of this?” She did. In 2013 Michelle got an Associate’s Degree in “behavioral and social sciences.” Then she was off to Chico.
In 2015 Michelle graduated from California State University, Chico with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Concrete Industry Management. She met her goal of getting that degree in 4 years. And as for debt? Well, thanks to several scholarships from a generous Concrete industry, a mikeroweWORKS work ethic scholarship, and financial frugality, Michelle met her goal in its entirety. She is debt free.
Today she is working as a Project Manager on two buildings with the company that offered her a job before she even graduated, HMH Concrete Services in Sacramento, California. Now, instead of putting together patio furniture, Michelle puts together buildings.
If you’d like some help putting together your career in the skilled trades, remember that the mikeroweWORKS Work Ethic Scholarship Program is happening now. Find out how you can #GetSkilledWithMRW at mikeroweWORKS.org/scholarship