When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to go to a technical high school. It was not a popular decision, and that's an understatement. My chemistry teacher worried that if I didn't go to a conventional, college-prep school, I wouldn't amount to anything. My parents, who both have college degrees -- including an MBA for one of them -- thought college prep was the only way to go, and so did their friends. No one thought I'd accomplish much if I went to a career and technical school.
Well, I proved them all wrong. I got an awesome job in my field -- engineering -- right after high school.
I make $70,000 a year working on electrical assemblies for military and commercial aircraft, and my employer is paying my tuition for a college degree in aeronautics. I get to work on Seahawk helicopters and other aircraft, both commercial and military.
Maybe back in the day vocational schools didn't emphasize academics, but that's no longer true. My program in electronic technology at Platt Technical High School in Milford, Conn., was challenging -- in fact, my classes were considered college-level -- and I earned college credit for Introduction to Engineering, Precalculus and Physics.
And the hands-on learning was fun! We had 13 different trades at Platt Tech, and during freshman year we got to explore all of them. Instead of sitting at a desk all day, we made robots -- or we crafted toolboxes in the carpentry shop, or baked or cooked in culinary, or did hair in cosmetology.
The best part was that as graduation approached, employers came to the school looking for people to hire. I still get emails with job offers from companies who are familiar with the school.
When I graduated, I had choices: I could go directly into a trade or I could go to college. I chose both! I went straight from a high school internship at Sikorsky Aircraft to a full-time job there, and I took part-time college classes on the side. I know so many unemployed college graduates--not only can they not find jobs, they also have student loans to pay. Because I didn't have to worry about financial aid, I was able to buy a car and move out of my parents' home at age 18.
Why did tech-ed work so well for me? Sikorsky knew I could hit the ground running. Managers there know the Platt Tech program, so they knew I was trainable. I'd already learned to solder, I could wire components, and I was familiar with the electrical engineering basics that I use in the workplace every day. So when they hired me, they hired me with confidence.
I think tech-ed is just getting better and better. There's actually a waiting list to get in to Platt Tech now; everybody wants to go there. Hopefully it will change the stereotype of tech schools. I want people to know how great they are.