Atlanta Tech 'Student of the Year' Hails Benefits of Technical Education
"Light Lady" Rachel Young says technical education underrated option for many students.
Not unexpectedly, Dr. Herdie Baisden told his children that earning a bachelor's degree is a critical first step toward building a successful life.
After all, he had to complete a bachelor's program before earning a Ph.D. in psychology and becoming an industrial psychologist.
Rachel Young, his oldest daughter, listened. She also observed him and her college-educated mother intensely.
“I saw them struggling with financial loans," Young said. "I [also] noticed that my aunts, who had obtained degrees, were not working in the fields their degrees were in.”
Another observation weighed heavily on her as well. Young saw that people who had perfected talents or skills and used them to create careers had great lives. Comparing those with a four-year degree and those with a honed technical skill,
Young concluded, “I didn't see that the quality of life was significantly better.”
So, Young became the first in her family not to go to college.
Young graduated Saturday morning from Atlanta Technical College with a 4.0 GPA, earning a degree in electrical construction and maintenance. She is Atlanta Technical College's Student of the Year, and was one of nine semifinalists competing for the Technical College System of Georgia's 2011 Student of the Year Award.
“She's been a genius her whole life . . . always setting her mind to accomplish things, and she's continued doing it,” Robin Smith, her younger sister, said.
The traditional four-year education was not the route for this "Light Lady," a nickname her brother-in-law coined for her because she was always fixing electrical appliances and gadgets, and replacing receptacles around the house.
Even as a little girl, Young enjoyed taking objects apart to discover how they functioned. When she was around seven years old, she fixed the family's broken radio.
Young has her own daughter, Leah, to thank for introducing her to technical education. After working as a real estate agent for a number of years, Young was helping her daughter, then a senior at Riverdale High School, explore career
options. Together, they visited Atlanta Technical College's career fair booth.
That visit impacted both mother and daughter. “I think I can go here.” her daughter said after the visit.
“I think I can, too,” Young said.
Atlanta Technical College offers more than 80 programs in health and human services, business media, information technology, and skilled trades aimed at preparing students for high wage and high performance careers.
Career and technical education (often abbreviated at CTE) has recently been propelled into the national spotlight, taking a long-ignored place in the education reform discussion.
In February of 2011, Harvard University issued its "Pathways to Prosperity Report," which calls for more career preparations for American students. In response, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarked that for too long technical education has been ignored.
“CTE has been the neglected step child of education. That neglect has to stop,” he cautioned. “CTE has an enormous, if often overlooked impact on students, school systems, and our ability to prosper as a nation.”
Yet, parents, teachers, school counselors and administrators do not always offer students favorable or even objective reviews of technical colleges. The perception lingers that technical education is nothing more than a mere extension of basic high school curricula.
Five years ago, Dr. Alvetta Peterman Thomas, President of Atlanta Technical College, found it especially difficult to recruit students. “We had to constantly remind people that we're a college, too. We have aptitude requirements in math,
reading, and writing.”
Unfortunately, people's perceptions and misconceptions about technical education can stymie otherwise viable career choices. Many don't know, for instance, that some automotive specialists for car dealerships can earn six figures.
“I believe that often times students desire to do something technical [but are] overshadowed by someone else's desire to push them into a four year [institution],” Dr. Thomas opined.
Young certainly savors her time spent learning about electrical construction. She will remain at Atlanta Technical College throughout the summer to complete an additional course in programmable logistics control. Eventually, she wants to
merge all of her skills and establish a contracting firm specializing in green technology.
She might even find time to visit her dad in Wisconsin. Dr. Baisden is now a full-time farmer, growing his apples as he's always wanted to do. “Sometimes you have to find your dreams through the back door,” Young said with a smile.