Haylee Vujanovich acknowledges that she is a nontraditional student at Western Area Career & Technology Center – a female at a tech school.
Yet some of her peers, generally the unenlightened, speak derisively to her about her educational and career paths.
“I’ve been typecast. People have told me, ‘You’re in tech, you’re not going anywhere,’” said the senior, a resident of Burgettstown Area School District. “Well, the program works for me. I’ve learned a lot, and I do my job well. That sounds like I’m bragging, but I do.”
Vujanovich is a nontraditional student in a more significant way: She is a high schooler who is well ahead of many her age as far as pursuing a long-term job. She is in the machine shop program at WACTC and is working part time at Perryman Corp., making medical implants.
“I’m proud that I go to Western Area,” she said.
Vujanovich was one of the speakers Friday at an energy forum at her Chartiers Township center – and the one who may have had the biggest impact, as she underscored the theme of the morning: educating students, parents and school personnel about the many – and potentially lucrative – opportunities available in oil and gas and support industries.
A related message was that college isn’t for everyone, and that college debt isn’t coveted by anyone.
“College is nice,” Vujanovich said, “but if you can be educated for free, do it while you can.”
She was but one of about two dozen speakers who addressed an audience of about 100. Representatives of work force, energy- and educational-related organizations and a number of energy companies stepped to the dais. So did students from WACTC and Mon Valley Career and Technology Center, the latter accompanied by instructor Dennis Dull.
A number of educators were on hand, some pursuing continuing education credits.
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, was the emcee and co-host with state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane.
A question-and-answer session followed the final speaker, and there was a tour of WACTC’s welding facility, about 70 percent complete largely through the labors of students.
Solobay addressed the educational issue in his introductory words.
“Not every students is set up for college,” he said. “There are great opportunities for students with high school educations up to PhD.
“The last six or seven years, I’ve learned more about oil and gas than I ever imagined. But what is happening in this region is quite a phenomenon.
“Educators get it, and students are starting to get it. We have to get parents on board. A lot of them want their children to go to college, and they end up $100,000 in debt.”
Joy Ruff, outreach manager for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, directed a number of comments toward students, but had dynamic messages for all who may be affected by the Marcellus Shale boom.
“One recruiter told me that technology schools and basic math skills are needed now more than ever,” said Ruff, whose coalition is a trade association of about 50 oil and gas companies and about 250 supply-chain firms. “We’re trying to encourage learning math skills and reading and writing, but also establishing a work ethic. The biggest obstacles are wanting to work hard and being willing to travel. You also may get laid off in the winter.
“But if we set the stage, we can keep youth here and have an economy that makes us the envy of the state, nation and world.”