Meet today’s WCTC students -- They may not be who you think they are
They are adults coming back to school after postponing their education to focus on family. They are career-changers and downsized employees looking to retool for the future. They are military veterans returning to civilian life who want to complete a degree. And, they are recent high school grads taking a traditional, post-secondary path.
These are just a few types of students currently attending Waukesha County Technical College; meet a few more who are in College at just the right time.
Stacey Rudolph | Dental Hygiene -- associate degree program
Life seldom follows a linear path—something Stacey Rudolph knows all too well.
Right after high school, she began studying sculpture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design but soon became fascinated with anatomy. She transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and earned what she calls a “mismatch of credits,” but enough for a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
Along her academic journey, however, life events happened. Rudolph got married and had her first daughter, who was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect that would require surgery at four months old. She put school on hold to care for her baby, had a second daughter 20 months later, and in 2013, finished her degree.
Then, more change. Rudolph’s husband took a job in Seattle and the family moved. Because of the area’s higher cost of living, if they wanted to get ahead financially, they both needed jobs, she said.
“I needed to do something—and I knew psychology wasn’t it; and I always loved teeth,” she said. “I remember taking my daughter to the dentist and seeing how [the staff] were trained in dealing with kids with special needs. That was something I could do.”
Rudolph applied and was accepted into a dental program in Washington, but she had to withdraw. Her family would soon be returning to Wisconsin for another new career opportunity for her husband and to be near her mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Back home, Rudolph quickly enrolled in WCTC’s Dental Hygiene program, impressed by its reputation and rigor: “WCTC’s program is renowned in the state; it has an incredible pass rate. And, it’s a great time to be in dental hygiene,” she said, noting progressive changes happening in the field.
Rudolph immersed herself in the program, serving as vice president of the Student American Dental Hygienists’ Association and as student representative for the Wisconsin Oral Health Coalition Steering Committee. Foremost, she has been committed to her patients, getting to know them and offering high-level care. After graduation, she plans to work with underserved populations and to establish a mobile dental unit.
“It’s not just about getting a job; it’s about helping people,” she said. “I’m genuinely interested in learning about my patients and making sure they are getting the care they need.”
Jean Martinez | Foundations of Teacher Education -- associate degree program
A few years ago, Jean Martinez volunteered with Junior Achievement (JA), working with grade school students to help them learn about business and economics. She vividly recalls a comment made to her by the classroom teacher: “She said, ‘If you ever want a second career, you should think about teaching,’” Martinez said.
At the time, Martinez was in the middle of a lengthy banking career, having worked in various management and customer service roles. A few years later, however, she would find herself at a crossroads.
“My husband had been downsized from his position, and there were some changes going on at my work. We thought it might be a good time for us to reinvent ourselves,” she said.
Martinez left the financial sector and started working part time in guest services for the Milwaukee Bucks, but she wanted to explore the field of education.
After attending a WCTC open house, she became inspired and rediscovered her passion for working with children. (Besides JA, she has volunteered in her sons’ grade school classrooms, as an international English tutor through her church and as a reading mentor at a charter school.)
With these experiences behind her, it was a natural fit to enroll in the Foundations of Teacher Education program, so in her mid-50s, she did.
“I figured if I’m going to take these classes, I’m going to take them seriously. You’re never going to lose by learning,” Martinez said.
The classes and practicum have prepared her well for many possibilities in the teaching field, and she has enjoyed helping children reach their “a-ha” moments—when a concept or idea is understood.
“The way things are going in Wisconsin, I could go in and be a long-term sub, I could go on and get a bachelor’s degree, or I could go into a classroom as a student learning assistant. There’s a lot of options open to me,” she said. “This program has been wonderful, and I can’t say enough about the caliber of the instructors.”
Marco Alvarez | Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair -- technical diploma program
When Marco Alvarez moved from Ecuador to the United States in 1991 at age 21, he was following in the footsteps of three brothers who immigrated to America a few years earlier. The promise of new possibilities and a better life is what drew him to the U.S.
His two sisters and parents soon followed, emigrating from Ecuador, and in 2015, Alvarez became a U.S. citizen.
“I like it a lot in the United States; it is a country in which you can have many different opportunities,” he said, noting he has been working for a manufacturer of medical and healthcare products for more than a dozen years. “In South America, there’s not as many opportunities.”
His first experience at WCTC was in 2008 when he enrolled in English as a Second Language courses to improve his speaking and writing skills. Fast forward to 2019, and at the recommendation of his girlfriend’s family, he decided to pursue a formal education and earn a technical diploma in Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair.
“I’ve been out of school for a long time now, and I’ve always wanted to go back,” he said. “I started doing brakes and suspension work, and that inspired me to be in this program.”
As an older student, now 50, Alvarez said he’s had a few challenges with his studies, but his classmates and instructors have been a great support.
“It has been a really good experience, my classes at WCTC,” Alvarez said. “When I thought I couldn’t do it [my instructors] told me, ‘you should stay; you can do this.’ And that’s why I stayed. They’re always ready to help with anything.”
Sierra Winter | IT - Web and Software Developer -- associate degree program
Sierra Winter took a traditional route to college, starting in the IT-Web and Software Developer program in fall 2018 after graduating from Mukwonago High School in June that same year. Upon enrolling at WCTC, she already had 12 credits—earned through advanced placement classes and exam—that transferred into her program.
Winter’s friend, who was dual enrolled at WCTC, gave her some insight about the College and encouraged her to research information technology (IT) offerings. She checked out programs, toured the campus, met with instructors at an open house and determined it was a good fit.
“I often see the College priding itself on ‘Hands-on Higher Ed’—and for good reason. Computer science is approached differently by a few universities, as I’ve learned, and I am happy that I am experiencing WCTC’s approach,” she said. “We were coding already in my first semester and working with tools that are current and practical.”
Because of her technical acumen, Winter has thrived in IT.
In high school, she earned a Microsoft Technology Associate-Database Fundamentals certification, and she participated in a STEM outreach experience at Northwestern Mutual that involved working with its digital workplace and illustrations teams. Since last May, she’s been a college-level software engineering intern on the company’s client website team, and she has also been involved with different volunteer efforts at the company.
At WCTC, she serves as president of the BIT Connections club, was chair of the Service Learning committee, and she attended (and competed and placed in) an application development contest at the U.S. Information Technology Collegiate Conference—all of which have helped her hone her leadership and IT skills.
“My experience has been one that I don’t regret. … The education I have received has proven to be useful and job-ready. And I have no debt!” Winter said.