Category Archives: CareerTech Champions

CareerTech Champions

Kacey Hawkins – Metro Technology Centers

Metro Tech student has her future buttoned up.

Kacey Hawkins knew she loved social media, and she didn’t want a “regular 9-to-5 job.” That’s where the Trinity School student started in her career planning process. Trinity is an Oklahoma City school that serves children with learning differences.

While in high school, Hawkins enrolled at Metro Technology Centers, first completing the cinematography program and then tackling web design. In the cinematography program, Hawkins learned video editing, lighting and special effects. But she picked up several soft skills at Metro Tech as well, including time management, problem-solving, and of course the importance of spell check.

She said she has also learned a lot about photo editing and is working on her Photoshop certification.

“Mrs. Roberts, my instructor, is like my school mom. She gives us a real perspective of what it’s like to work in the industry, and she encouraged me to get certified,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins graduated high school and plans to build her own business. Still hungry for knowledge, she recently enrolled in Metro Tech’s graphic design program and has started making custom buttons for special events.

As a child, Hawkins remembers helping her mom make custom buttons. But the button-making tradition goes back even further.

“My grandma told me she used to make buttons for rodeo cowboys,” she said. “She gave me her button supplies, so I have an inventory for my business!”

Hawkins recently used those supplies and her new skills to make buttons for a project commissioned by her school counselor in recognition of National Button Day. 

CareerTech Champions

Garrett Hall – Central Technology Center, FFA and SkillsUSA

Plan B sparked a new career for high school athlete

Garrett Hall suffered a stroke when he was 16 years old. The Cushing High School student, who had been active in football, wrestling, track, band and FFA, was suddenly faced with building a future much different than the one he and his parents had envisioned.

Both of Hall’s parents were graduates of Meridian Technology Center, and his mother had worked in the CareerTech System since Hall was in elementary school. It was her CareerTech connections (and his father’s advice) that helped him create a new and improved plan for his future.

“My father would always tell me to get into a trade everyone needed, so I would never be out of work and I’d always be able to provide for a family,” Hall said.

His mother introduced him to Robert Neil, electrical trades instructor at Central Technology Center. After a conversation about the program and the wide range of career opportunities in electrical trades, Hall enrolled. He attended Central Tech his junior and senior years of high school and added SkillsUSA to his list of extracurricular activities.

With Neil as his mentor, Hall developed a new skillset. Through FFA and SkillsUSA, he improved his communication skills and learned how to work as part of a team, skills he would use throughout his life.  

“My teamwork skills taught me that certain people might be better suited for other tasks, and I should let them take the lead on those parts rather than taking on the whole project myself,” he said.

In FFA, Hall competed at the state and national level on ag science, electrical shop and skeet shooting teams. His teams won several state medals, and he and another student even teamed up to earn a gold medal at the national FFA competition. He also competed at the state SkillsUSA contest.

Neil taught him basic electrical safety, and Hall received OSHA 30 certification. He also spent much of his class time learning how to troubleshoot and solve problems.

“I learned to break down the issue and find out what is causing the problem so I can fix it,” he said. “This skill has helped me tremendously.”

The Cushing teenager has made the most of a tragic situation. In 2010, he was named Central Tech Student of the Year, and after high school, he earned his associate degree from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, graduating magna cum laude.

Hall worked as a heavy commercial/industrial electrician in Texas until, once again, his mentor changed the trajectory of his life. Neil recruited Hall to teach in the electrical controls program at Tulsa Technology Center. In addition to teaching, Hall is working on a bachelor’s degree at OSU-IT and plans to follow that with a master’s degree, ultimately moving into an administrative position.

“Being able to attend CareerTech and learn electrical trades gave me hope in my recovery and life.” 

(Garrett Hall, electrical journeyman)

CareerTech Champions

Taylor Frech – High Plains Technology Center and DECA

Taylor Frech didn’t feel like her local high school was enough of a challenge, so she decided to try something new. She said she didn’t even know what DECA was when she signed up to join, but she soon discovered it was exactly what she needed. Frech said the CareerTech organization for students in marketing, finance, hospitality and management provided her the challenge she had been missing.

She served as state officer for two years and said the lifelong friends she made through DECA were just bonuses on top of the other benefits she garnered. She gained insight into the day-to-day operations of multiple businesses, learned how to work as part of a team, and developed effective communication skills.

Frech took marketing as an elective at High Plains Technology Center, and she attended the tech center three hours a day.

“I began to fall in love with coming to school each day,” she said, “and I found ways to challenge myself through the marketing program and DECA.”

After high school, Frech received a bachelor’s degree in restaurant, hotel and institutional management. She’s now revenue manager for Hilton’s corporate office and vice president of Hilton’s service organization, Hilton Helping Hands. Frech said she uses the skills she gained from CareerTech every day, both professionally and personally.

“I felt as though CareerTech had enabled me with years of experience that others my age did not have,” she said. “It prepared me to take on each challenge and opportunity head-on.”

Welcome to CareerTech

For more than 100 years, Oklahoma CareerTech has been connecting students and businesses with training opportunities that help Oklahomans find rewarding careers and support Oklahoma industries. Our goal is to develop a world-class workforce for Oklahoma employers and prepare Oklahomans to succeed in the workplace, in education and in life.

  • 29 tech centers operating on 59 campuses 
  • 394 PK-12 school districts 
  • 13 Skills Centers campuses 
  • 31 Adult Basic Education providers at 116 sites
  • 426,00 total CareerTech enrollments in FY21
  • 5,670 companies served by CareerTech in FY21

CareerTech Champions

Chantel Owens – Eddie Warrior Skills Center

Inmate had employment lined up before release.

Then: A homeless mother who lost custody of her daughter and spiraled out of control. Before getting involved in drugs, Leta “Chantel” Owens had completed several health care training programs, including medication assistant, phlebotomy, EKG and X-ray technician. But after losing her daughter, Owens said, she stopped caring about anything. She gave in to her drug addiction and was eventually incarcerated for drug-related crimes.

A clerk at Eddie Warrior Skills Center recruited Owens for a different kind of CareerTech training. Owens said she began to change her way of thinking. She became a clerk and then enrolled in the transportation, distribution and logistics program, where she

  • Learned to communicate more effectively.
  • Developed computer skills.
  • Received job search assistance.
  • Received certifications in manufacturing, tools, safety and logistics.

“They worked with nonprofit organizations to find clothing for me,” Owens said. “They set me up with a mentor, told me about job openings and taught me interviewing skills. It boosted my confidence and pushed me forward.”

Owens said she also learned how to teach. After she completed the Skills Centers program, she became an instructor, teaching other inmates skills such as how to use a computer and operate a forklift.

Her instructor, Steve Evans, said she is the only student he has worked with who moved from clerk to student to instructor, setting the bar for herself and others,.

“If there ever was a way to model change and set the stage for success, Chantel mastered it,” Evans said. “It’s been my honor to teach and work side by side with Chantel, supporting her now and in the future as she does great things.”

Now: Owens is an assembly worker at Pregis IntelliPack in Tulsa. She was offered the job prior to being released from prison.

“I was able to share what I learned to help better the lives of other people.”

Chantel Owens, assembly worker

CareerTech Champions

Dr. Joana Pantoja – Metro Technology Centers and HOSA

First-generation American adds “Doctor” to her name.

Then: A soft-spoken, first-generation American whose parents didn’t speak English. Joana Pantoja’s father was a roofer, her mother was a housekeeper, and they both worked hard to try to save enough money to send their children to college.

In middle school she wanted to be a lawyer, but by high school, Pantoja realized she preferred science over social studies. When a Metro Technology Centers recruiter visited ASTEC Charter High School, Pantoja decided to enroll in Metro Tech’s Biomedical Sciences Academy, a three-year Project Lead the Way program. After attending a classroom lecture about the eye, including a dissection, she discovered a passion for vision sciences. She also joined HOSA, the CareerTech organization for students pursuing health careers, and excelled at state and national contests three years in a row.

After high school, she graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in biology and biomedical sciences. 

Pantoja credits Metro Tech and HOSA for:

  • Teaching her how to use lab equipment she would need to use in college.
  • Helping her improve her networking and communication skills, including how to write research manuscripts and lab reports.
  • Introducing her to notetaking and study methods that aligned with her learning style.
  • Writing letters of recommendation and offering resume guidance that led to several scholarships, including the first ever James D. Branscum Scholarship.

“I felt connected to my teachers at Metro Tech,” she said. “I felt like I could talk to them, ask them anything, and they were there to give me advice and support me in anything I wanted to do.”

Traveling to the national HOSA conference was her first airplane trip. Through HOSA activities she traveled to Disneyland, Disney World and Nashville, Tennessee. There were even more travel opportunities as an undergrad at UCO, where she presented her research at national conferences.

Now: This spring, a confident, well-spoken first-generation college graduate graduated from optometry school at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. Dr. Pantoja joined the eyecare team at Advanced Family Eyecare Vision Source in Oklahoma City. She specializes in dry eye management, myopia control and vision therapy.

“I never liked blood, growing up, and I had the false view that anything related to healthcare would not be a good choice.”

Joana Pantoja

CareerTech Champions

Riley Sutton – Meridian Technology Center

Pre-engineering grad’s career is on fire!

THEN: As early as high school, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an engineer. Riley Sutton enrolled in Meridian Technology Center’s pre-engineering program and built his first robot when he was a high school junior. He said pre-engineering and the FIRST Robotics competition taught him how to work as part of an engineering team.

“Everyone had an opportunity to provide input on the design,” Sutton said. “And we worked together to finalize the design and then assemble the robot.”

Sutton said the program offered more in-depth, hands-on engineering instruction than he would have received in a traditional high school setting. He said the program provided him

  • The ability to take difficult classes, such as chemistry, physics and calculus, that prepared him for his college engineering courses.
  • A chance to learn about the many career paths in engineering.
  • An understanding of the importance of obtaining professional certifications.

“Since graduating college, I have received the certified fire protection specialist certification from the National Fire Protection Association and have been designated as a professional member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers,” he said. “I am also working on achieving the certified safety professional and on becoming a licensed professional engineer.”

Sutton said Meridian Tech’s pre-engineering program has made him a better engineer and a better professional, which has led to job opportunities and advancements.

NOW: A fire protection engineer and deputy fire marshal at a decommissioned nuclear production complex operated by the U.S. government. Sutton maintains the infrastructure for the site and is responsible for ensuring compliance with fire protection program requirements and minimizing the risk of fire.

“I review lots of engineering designs as part of a larger design team that must work together effectively in order to achieve the desired result,” Sutton said. “The pre-engineering program is the foundation upon which my engineering career was built.”

Without the pre-engineering program, I would not have been nearly as prepared for my engineering degree program at Oklahoma State University.”

Riley Sutton, fire protection engineer and deputy fire marshal

CareerTech Champions

Alyssa Ulrich – Francis Tuttle Technology Center, FCCLA and SkillsUSA

Pastry chef discovers a recipe for career success at Francis Tuttle.

THEN: An aspiring pastry chef before she was old enough to drive. When Alyssa Ulrich complained to her family that she was wasting time on homework she knew she would never use as a baker, her sister-in-law told her about Francis Tuttle Technology Center’s culinary arts program.

“As soon as I saw images of Francis Tuttle’s kitchens and heard stories of their famous Swedish baker,” she said, “I made an appointment the very next day to try to get enrolled in the coming school year.”

Ulrich participated in two CareerTech student organizations, winning state and national titles in cooking competitions sponsored by both FCCLA and SkillsUSA.

She had completed the culinary program by the time she graduated high school and followed up with a three-month internship. Despite her passion, Ulrich said, she realized after she enrolled how little she knew about cooking. In addition to receiving “a phenomenal and comprehensive” cooking education, Ulrich said, she also

  • Learned about the power of a first or single impression and to treat every introduction as if it were an interview.
  • Developed problem-solving skills that allow her to work smarter, rather than harder.
  • Gained an understanding of the importance of continuous learning.
  • Strengthened her teamwork and communication skills.
  • Received her ServSafe certification, which she said gives an applicant a higher chance of getting a job or starting at a higher pay rate.

“My teachers were tough and realistic,” she said, adding that she had a better understanding of what a kitchen would be like.

“I walked into a kitchen with realistic expectations of long, hard shifts and never settling for good instead of great,” she said. “Every job I have ever had or been offered, I can trace in some way back to my culinary school.”

Ulrich uses her cooking skills every day in her profession, but when she’s not at work she is usually baking at home or thinking of something new she can make.

NOW: A pastry chef for The Hall’s Pizza Kitchen for the past three and a half years, Ulrich will soon manage the pastry and lamination side of the new Harvey Bakery and Kitchen in Oklahoma City.

Five years after high school graduation, Ulrich said, most of her peers are either recent college grads or about to graduate.

“They are still figuring out what they want to do and are now deeply in debt. No, I didn’t go to a formal college post CareerTech, but I am further along in my career than most of my peers. I’m able to work in a career I love and not have student loan debt looming over me for the foreseeable future. I can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life,” she said.

Ulrich said she would like to become a certified master baker.

“I love being challenged and pushed to be better and think differently.”

Alyssa Ulrich, pastry chef

CareerTech Champions

Evan Retherford – Central Technology Center and SkillsUSA

State champion welder graduates high school with honors – AND a job offer.

THEN: He didn’t like it when his Ripley High School friends teased him about not knowing how to do metal work. It wasn’t that Evan Retherford couldn’t weld, it was simply a lack of training.

Before he signed up for an introduction to welding class, Retherford thought he wanted to be a truck driver. But after he finished the class, which was part of his agricultural education curriculum, he realized he enjoyed welding enough to enroll in a two-year welding program at Central Technology Center.

At Central Tech, he learned to weld, but he also

  • Received numerous certifications, including OSHA 10, the Platinum level in the WorkKeys test, forklift certification, GMAW (gas metal arc welding), FCAW (flux-cored arc welding), SMAW (shielded metal arc welding), GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding), PAC (plasma arc welding), CAC (carbon arc cutting) and fire extinguisher.
  • Received the National Technical Honor Society award for having all A’s in his Central Tech classes as well as at least 97% attendance and an A/B grade point average at Ripley High.
  • Developed important leadership skills.
  • Improved his worth ethic.
  • Placed first in the state in the welding sculpture event.

Retherford was Class of 2021 valedictorian at Ripley, and he was offered a full-time welding job before he graduated in May.

“Other people go to college, spend a lot of money and may not receive a good paying job at the end of it,” he said. “I wanted to prove you can make a lot of money working a trade.” 

NOW: A welder at Ditch Witch in Perry, making $48,000 plus benefits, right out of high school. At that salary, it would appear that Retherford has proved his point.

CareerTech Champions

Branson Brewer — High Plains Technology Center and DECA

THEN: A marketing class offered through his high school was all it took to send Branson Brewer down his career path. Brewer enrolled in the marketing program at High Plains Technology Center, and that’s where he discovered his passion.

At High Plains, Brewer gained a number of skills he uses in his career, including

  • Public speaking.
  • Marketing.
  • Investing.
  • Filming and video editing.

He was president of his school’s DECA chapter (the CareerTech leadership organization for students in marketing, finance, hospitality and management) and received his marketing assistant certification from High Plains.

“These skills have helped me be a better communicator, be more social and have better working relationships,” he said.

Brewer said networking was the best part of his CareerTech experience, meeting great friends and mentors who made a positive, lifelong impact.

His marketing education didn’t end with his high school diploma from Woodward High. He is working toward his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in marketing at Northwest Oklahoma State University.

NOW: Brewer uses the skills he gained in marketing and DECA every day, both as a hobby and in his career. The on-air radio personality and account executive at Classic Communications Inc. discusses advertising plans with prospective clients and uses his skills to market and promote local businesses. He also creates videos for the radio station’s online live sports stream.

Away from work, Brewer applies his love of photography and videography to making vacation videos that allow him to capture lasting memories of his leisure time.

“CareerTech is an affordable way to learn real life skills that will help you for years to come,” he said.

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