WTC is breaking barriers through Trailblazer program Non-traditional students break gender barriers at WTC

Students at Withlacoochee Technical College (WTC) are breaking barriers by entering courses once fueled by gender, such as welding or cosmetology which are called non-traditional students.

“Non-Traditional implies that there is less than 25 percent of students in a particular occupation that aren’t the standard genders,” said WTC Career Advisor Angel Vincent. “Currently, we have 45 students who qualify as a non-traditional student in their programs.”

To help deflect any negative actions against these students — the school started the Trailblazer Program which provides support and helps students network, while also providing scholarship and career opportunities.

“These students let our community know that it is OK, that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, that you can go into a particular program and be just as successful as anyone else,” Vincent said. “The pendulum has shifted for careers and employees — people realize you can get into a field and learn a trade regardless of the gap.”

The Trailblazer program helps students define the barriers in careers considered non-traditional such as Family and Consumer Sciences, Health Science, Information Technology, Technology & Engineering and Skilled & Technical Sciences.

“Often women and men who enter these nontraditional employment fields encounter a variety of barriers that may prevent them from staying in training programs or jobs or could inhibit career advancement,” said WTC Certified School Counselor Ryan Naugle. “Our program helps to introduce all students to career pathways of their interest — while opening doors to remove these barriers.”

The program helps students define their interests while also promoting their future rather than isolating them.

Angela Bennett knows all too well the limitations of working in a male-dominated workforce.

“I have been in non-traditional positions for a long time,” Bennett said. “I worked as a Heavy Equipment Mechanic for many years — while also truck driving, but I liked working in the gas industry which got me thinking about the HVAC program.”

Bennett started the HVAC program at Withlacoochee Technical College in August — but finishing up the 11-month program in almost six months.

“My gift that God gave me was mechanical inclinations, so I felt it doesn’t matter how much I’m pushed down it’s what I love to do — so I keep at it,” Bennett said.

Rebecca Forteau recently graduated from the Automatic, Production and Technology program at WTC.

Although she is considered a non-traditional graduate in the program — she says that it is all about how the individual perceives gender barriers.

“I am prior military and used to being in a male-dominated career — so switching into this field wasn’t as difficult for me,” Forteau said. “I did notice when touring manufacturing plants there were more males, you may have one woman out of a whole collection of men — so I can see how it is intimidating for females to come into a career that is dominated by the opposite gender.”

She was the only woman in class — but has a mentor in the program instructor Laurie Newkirk.

On the opposite spectrum, men also have many careers that are considered non-traditional.

Richard Hutchinson has wanted to be a cosmetologist since he was in middle school.

Now, at 20 years old — he is midway through the program with three other men who plan to be barbers.

Hutchinson said although he is the only man becoming a Cosmetology rather than barber in his current program — he admits to never feeling barriers.

“We are crossing barriers,” Hutchinson said. “This has been my dream and no one or anything is going to stop me. I admire women who do mechanics or doing what they are interested in — it is a beautiful thing.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or jgorham@chronicleonline.com.

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