Community College Workforce Program Inspires Student
Laurel Behrend thought her path to education would be university, but breaking with tradition, she found her inspiration in a community college workforce program.
Growing up, Behrend’s family prioritized education. Her parents attended universities and so did her brothers. As an honors student taking Advanced Placement classes, university felt like the obvious next step.
Therefore, Behrend enrolled in a four-year college. She commenced her studies in psychology, but she did not feel confident in her choice.
While she still did well academically, Behrend knew something was not right. She lacked the inspiration and drive to succeed she usually felt in the classroom.
“I had difficulty applying myself, and while I still maintained my grades and involved myself with extracurriculars, I felt uninspired,” Behrend said. “I no longer pushed for excellence, and my drive to succeed degraded into habitually doing just enough to get good grades.”
After several semesters, Behrend realized she found more joy in her summer jobs than in her university coursework. She worked for three years at a paper mill and two years at a dam doing basic maintenance. She enjoyed the active and involved processes of working in an industrial setting.
“I find the industrial setting very engaging, and I love knowing how things work,” Behrend said.
She decided to switch tracks and enrolled in Clover Park Technical College’s nondestructive testing (NDT) program. NDT is an invaluable process in industries like construction, manufacturing, civil engineering, and transportation because it allows the safety and usefulness of an object, such as a bridge or aircraft, to be tested without destroying it.
In her community college workforce program, Behrend has thrived in her academics and extracurriculars. She finds herself easily engaged and her course work interesting. She has earned the highest scores in her program’s history on two exams and numerous received leadership opportunities.
Like many workforce programs, Behrend’s program is a male-dominated industry, and she is younger than many of her classmates. However, she is a respected leader in her program.
She is the Student Director of her regional American Society for Non-Destructive Testing board of directors. She is also a student representative on an advisory committee that brings faculty and (NDT) industry representative together. The committee works to improve the community college’s effectiveness in preparing students for the workforce.
“Although I am about a decade younger than my fellow students, they look to me as a leader,” Behrend said. “I’m proud of what I’m achieving, not least of all because I’m a young woman in traditionally male-dominated industry. I have been relishing the change of pace to something that genuinely excites me and inspires me to continue aiming onward and upward.”
Behrend received recognition as Washington’s New Century Workforce Pathway Scholars and a member of the All-Washington Academic Team. The New Century Workforce Pathway scholarship recognizes students planning to enter the workforce after completing their degree or certificate program. The New Century Workforce Pathway Scholars, including Behrend, will attend the Association of Community College Trustees Conference to receive recognition.
After she completes her program, Behrend plans to enter the workforce in the industrial setting of the manufacturing field.
“While attending Clover Park, I have had the opportunity to tour local businesses employing NDT technicians, which has helped me narrow down my career goals,” Behrend said. “Ideally, I’m intending to work for an NDT contracting company because I thrive on variety and am fascinated by the inner workings of different manufacturing processes. Instead of working for one industry, I want to experience the many diverse applications of NDT across a multitude of industries.”
Behrend’s decision to transfer and enroll in a workforce program introduced her to field where she does more than just attend class. She invests her time and energy into her program because her coursework inspires her. Through active engagement, Behrend has improved herself as a student and worked to help be an asset in her program.
Benefits of Workforce Programs
Society often stigmatizes workforce and career technical education. The stigma causes negative impact to the perception of workforce education as smart or acceptable education choice. Behrend enrolled in a four-year college and academia-focused program because of the stigma surrounding “blue-collar” work.
“I felt obligated to use my intelligence for a four-year degree at a university, but my eyes were opened when I spent my summers working in an industrial environment and saw many different kinds of intelligence at work,” Behrend said.
However, once enrolled, Behrend quickly realized her workforce program and community college was the best choice for her. Moreover, workforce programs benefit associated community colleges, students, employers, and society at large.
They create beneficial inroads between community colleges and industry leaders by opening the door for apprenticeship opportunities. Students then benefit by having access to on-the-job experience and industry connections. Through internships or degree completion, employers are then provided access to highly skilled and motivated students looking for employment. These programs aid society at large by filling the need for an educated and skilled workforce.
“Technical and trade programs train students for very valuable and important career paths that are categorically overlooked in favor of university education,” Behrend said.
Workforce programs and career technical education are avenues to education for highly motivated students looking to become experts in industry. They are as critical and important as academic-based education.