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Weld Done: Teen Follows Passion at CVTC

Altoona HS senior weathers adversity, pursues welding degree

Vanessa Carr flipped through the pages of her welding workbook while standing in an empty classroom at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

The 17-year-old isn’t even out of high school yet, but she’s halfway through her first semester of welding at the college.

Carr is taking advantage of CVTC’s high school academies – a series of courses designed to meet the need of high school students who wish to explore a program or industry. In Carr’s case, she wants to finish her first semester of the welding course, graduate from high school and then continue at CVTC to get her associate degree in welding fabrication. 

Carr has the drive and the ambition to get her college degree as quickly as possible to land her dream job.

‘All things are difficult before they are easy’

That fortune from a cookie is typed on a small, rectangular piece of paper placed between Carr’s cell phone and its transparent protector. It’s likely not so much a fortune as a reminder for Carr.

She hasn’t had it easy.

In her young life, she’s moved more times than can be counted on one hand. Her home life hasn’t been the best.

“I did everything I could to keep myself out of the house,” she said. “I feel like I have to be doing something all the time.”

She acknowledged that she could have busied herself with drugs, alcohol, or other non-constructive things. But in not so many words, Carr divulged that’s not her style.
Instead, Carr dove into creating. Jen Robertson, Altoona High School Alternative Learning Center Program coordinator and teacher, was impressed with Carr’s determination from the get-go. Robertson met Carr three years ago.

“She knows that her hard work and determination will pay off and provide her with stability in life she has not had so far.”

“Vanessa is highly motivated and driven to succeed in her education, which just happens to be welding,” Robertson said. “She maintains good grades while working seven days a week at two different jobs. She asks for help when she needs it, which is a considerable skill for college.

“The welding academy provides her with a great opportunity to jumpstart her schooling.”

Robertson’s son went through the welding program at CVTC several years ago. When Robertson learned of Carr’s passion for welding, Robertson knew how to foster additional learning.

“(Carr) loves learning and welding, so that is a big part of what drives her,” Robertson said. “She also sees this as a way out of her present circumstances and into the life she envisions for her future.

“She knows that her hard work and determination will pay off and provide her with stability in life she has not had so far.”

Setting up her future

Like taking a college course is a first for Carr, teaching a college course to high school students is a first for CVTC welding instructor Kevin Taylor. But not much is different in his classroom, he said.

“I don’t run it any differently,” Taylor said. “The class has 10 or 11 college-age students and six or seven academy students.

“To be honest, it’s not like I even think of my class as having high school students in it. They fit right in, and I run it like a regular class.”

When Carr, or any high school academy student, passes the semester-long class, they receive the college credits. But it’s not a cakewalk, Taylor said.

“You need a practical mindset and a mechanical mindset,” he said. “You need to be able to do math quickly – to convert decimals to fractions.”

Carr has those mindsets, said Cody Curry, Altoona High School alternative teacher. Curry began working with Carr last school year in the Alternative Program.

“Vanessa is not only a hard-working student, but she is certain and confident in her desire to become a welder and gain financial security,” Curry said. “I am very proud of Vanessa. The amount of adversity she has had to navigate and overcome is incredible.”

Curry has helped guide Carr through courses that will help her in the future, but Carr has given back to Curry as well, even if she doesn’t realize it.

“Vanessa is one student whom I not only brag about often, but one who makes me determined to continue to do the work I do each day,” Curry said. “Although the world of education may define things differently than I do, I would firmly say that students like Vanessa are the model students in high school today.

“Although some of her accolades are not translated to paper or noticed by all, her achievements as a human and innumerable.”


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