Amherst Resident Pursues Non-traditional Training Program
Jennifer Koleno, Welding and Fabrication, Class of: 2010
With the national unemployment rate hovering at about 10 percent, adults are enrolling in classes in record numbers to enhance their skills or learn new trades.
While returning to school is rewarding, it is also challenging for these "non-traditional" students, some who are working full-time jobs and cracking the books after prolonged breaks in their educations.
Count Jennifer Koleno among these students. Koleno, of Amherst, became a certified welder through the Lorain County JVS Adult Career Center's Welding & Fabrication Program.
"I've always enjoyed art, things like drawing and wood carving, and decided to pursue welding to express my artistic side in a new way," said Koleno, who was familiar with the JVS because her brother graduated from the Precision Machine Technology Program.
"I accompanied my brother Bill when he toured the JVS and was very impressed," she affirmed. "He's a success in his own right, as a partner in Titan Aircraft in Austinberg, Ohio."
Koleno is quick to mention the impressive Welding & Fabrication Lab, which was completely remodeled and re-equipped in 2008. It is used by the high school program during the daytime hours and adult students in the evening.
"The JVS facility is phenomenal, and the equipment I trained on is probably more advanced than what most companies have in their shops," Koleno said.
Also important to Koleno was the program's convenient evening hours and the instructors' level of expertise and flexibility.
"I knew it would be difficult juggling both work and school. I worried about finding time to study, but since both of my instructors also worked other jobs, they understood my situation and gave me plenty of freedom to learn."
That included allowing Koleno to create her own project - a portable beverage stand with cup holders that she designed and fabricated for her mother's birthday party.
"I'm a hands-on learner more than a book person," Koleno admits. "I didn't want to spend my evenings staring at a chalkboard. My classes were well balanced. I got credit for my project and took it home with me."
"In the short-term, I wanted a trade under my belt, something I could use both personally and professionally," said Koleno who is currently a full-time inventory control specialist and 17-year employee at ACH in Sandusky. "If the opportunity presented itself, I might be interested in applying my new skills working in maintenance."
But for now, she's using what she learned to pursue her real passion - motorcycles.
"I thought it would be cool to build my own chopper, but I didn't know anything about working with metal," said Koleno, who rides a 2001 Harley Davidson softail and is restoring the Indian motorcycle that she found at a motorcycle swap meet.
While her 19 male classmates didn't intimidate her, Koleno acknowledged that being the only woman in a male-dominated field was a challenge.
"As adults, we all had our own personalities and agendas," she said. "Some guys were 50 steps ahead of the others, but toward the end of the class we all became one dysfunctional family who inspired each other."
Indeed. Koleno was awarded the Kopronica Memorial Scholarship from the Lorain County JVS Educational Foundation for her outstanding attendance and classroom performance. She also earned four welding certifications, including stick, MIG, TIG and flux core. "Earning those certifications was icing on the cake. I've added some new tools to my toolbox that could benefit me down the road."