KENDALLVILLE — Sparks flew, bouncing off of a metal table as two pieces of metal were tack welded together as individual welding booths were lit up with the orange glow of those sparks.

As the tack welds were completed, Hamilton High School senior Jersey Ramos lifted the shield on her welders helmet to check her work. Ramos is one of a handful of female students working to break into a male-dominated profession.

“It was very scary at first,” she said. “My friends think I’m pretty ballsy to do it.”

Ramos is part of Impact Institute’s welding program, one of 14 technical education programs offered to students in the four-county area by the Impact Institute, located in Kendallville. February is Career and Technical Education Month, so Impact Institute is recognizing its students, teachers and programs.

Having dreams of one time becoming an architect, Ramos said her vision changed after that first time in the welding booth.

“I wanted to be an architect, but I thought it would be cooler to be the one building it,” she said. “It is where the money’s at.”

Ramos will be one of a couple hundred graduating seniors who will have technical education certifications allowing them to go directly into the workforce after graduation.

Steps away from the welding shop in another building East Noble senior Nik Wood worked on buffing out a car bumper.

Wood who has always had an interest in classic cars is part of the auto body and collision repair program. After graduation those students in the program will have the training necessary to enter the workforce as auto body specialists.

During Career and Technical Education Month, Impact Institute Director Jim Walmsley says none of this would be possible without the dedicated staff of educators at the Impact Institute.

“We couldn’t get the things done we do without our incredibly skilled staff,” Walmsley said. “With COVID-19 it has been stressful in many ways. They have shown major resolve in a tough situation.

“They are our greatest asset, we couldn’t do what we do without them,” he added.

The institute’s 14 technical programs are taught by individuals who have direct experience in the field they are teaching.

Other technical education programs offered include automotive service technology, design technology (CAD), cosmetology, construction trades, culinary arts, criminal justice, health occupations education, electrical, plumbing & HVAC, interactive media, marine service technology, precision machining and primary healthcare.

The institute serves students of 14 school districts in Noble, DeKalb, Steuben, LaGrange and Whitley counties. Offering morning and afternoon classes, school districts provide transportation to one of six locations in Kendallville.

Impact Institute started 51 years ago as a four-county vocational cooperative program. This school year, 565 juniors and seniors from the 14 school districts are enrolled in the institute’s program.

Walmsley said that number stays from year to year.

Technical education vs. college degree

Offering students a technical education while earning their high school diploma gives students the opportunity to go directly into the workforce if they feel college isn’t right for them.

Walmsley said the trades have suffered over the past years, because of the push for students to attend college. He went on though to say, that mindset is changing as not every student is college bound.

“I think we have swung the pendulum in the right direction, we hope to find a good balance,” he said. “We know the schools all take chances on kids, when they get here many times this is the breath of fresh air they have been looking for.”

Upon completing two years at the institute in each of the given courses students will either learn dual college credits or certifications recognized by employers in the workplace.

Walmsley said the education students receive at the institute means time and money for employers. Students can jump right into their selected industry, without training or they move on for further certifications.

Many students turn to the trades because of the cost of college.

One of those students is Elizabeth Leonard, a senior at DeKalb High School who is completing her second year in the cosmetology program. Leonard is currently completing an internship with SmartStyle Salon and will begin working in the salon in two weeks.

“I really couldn’t afford to go to college, this program has been amazing,” she said.

She said she fell in love with cosmetology as a freshman as the makeup and beauty craze hit social media. She went on to say that she is very excited to be able to enter the workforce.

Lydia Rawles, a junior homeschool student who is also enrolled in the cosmetology program echoed the sentiments of Leonard.

Rawles took part in Impact Institute’s summer boot camp, where she fell in love with the cosmetology program.

“I knew I wanted to go into a profession I can use in the future,” Rawles said. “I have it here it is fun, everyone is nice.”

A few doors down in the auto service technology program Jerrod Sawyer, a junior at Lakeland High School was working under the hood of his blue Ford Ranger.

Sawyer, who has always been interested in automotive mechanics jumped at the opportunity to enroll in the course at Impact Institute after moving back to the school district this year.

“I was really excited,” he said.

After high school he plans on pursuing a career in the automotive industry.

Other services

Impact Institute also serves the four county area by offering adult education classes. Those classes include preparation for high school equivalency or diploma, adult basic education, literacy services, English language acquisition, end of course assessment, occupational skills training, preparation for college and career.

For more information on the programs offered by the Impact Institute can be found at impactinstitute.net.

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