By AUDREY BARNEY
Capital News Service
LANSING — Like many Michigan residents, Ida native Mary Denniss’ decision to pursue a degree has proven to be a power move.
Four years ago, Denniss decided to take classes to improve her quality of life. She attended adult education classes held at Cantrick Middle School in Monroe for three years, then enrolled for the sign language studies program at Madonna University in Livonia in 1998.
“When I took my first sign language class, I knew that I had found something I wanted to do for a living.”
Denniss, a sophomore at Madonna, attends school part-time while working two jobs.
Her children, Erin, 14, and Chris, 11, have no problem with their mother attending school.
“My kids are really supportive of my decision to go back to school,” she said.
For Denniss, that’s a relief because she is aware of the importance of being prepared for today’s job market.
“The purpose of my education is to better my life and increase my income for me and my two kids.”
Denniss is not alone. Many Michigan residents and corporations are seeking out colleges to enhance skill levels.
“Enrollment is up 8 percent this year,” said Tom Bernthal, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “People are coming back to school to train and retrain.”
Last month, Barbara Bolin, director of the Michigan Department of Career Development, announced that several good-paying occupations in Michigan are on the critical list because of the lack of skilled job seekers.
“Maintenance and enhancement of Michigan’s economy depend upon the availability of a skilled workforce,” Bolin said.
Among the occupations that need more skilled workers are computer systems analysts, graphic designers and special-education teachers. The MDCD works with several agencies and organizations, including local colleges, to provide easy access to job training designed to help job seekers, employers, students and parents.
“We want job seekers, students, parents, teachers and counselors to know that there will continue to be good jobs available in Michigan, and what education and training they require,” Bolin said.
Bolin hopes to help individuals avoid experiencing the disappointment and financial hardships that can result from a mismatch of a person’s skills and the occupation they desire.
Monroe County Community College plays a significant role in economic development throughout the county by providing training programs designed to maintain a competitive work force. They offer training programs for various fields such as office management, welding and accounting, to name a few.
“MCCC has seen quite a few people coming back for more training and some of them have already obtained degrees,” said John Joy, dean of corporate and community Services.
MCCC offers customized training and retraining programs for local companies such as National Galvanizing and Monroe County Road Commission.
“We’ve been fairly active in the Michigan economic development,” Joy said. “We acquire contracts with local companies, like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and train their staffs in various areas from supervisory training to basic math and reading.”
Joy said there are several ways for professionals to increase their knowledge and improve their skills at MCCC.
“We will come to companies and do training or sometimes companies will drop their employees in accelerated courses offered at one campus.”
MCCC offers several short-term training programs, most of which can boost a person’s income dramatically once finished.
“We have a power-plant boiler-operator program that is expanded over 10 weeks for a total of 80 hours of instruction,” Joy said.
He said those who complete the program are hired with starting pay at $19 per hour. The starting pay for automotive engineering program is $17.43 per hour, for general technician, $12 per hour, and for the nursing program one can start at $17.33 per hour.
While the benefits of going back to school are great, the actual process is easier said than done.
For Mary Denniss, who has the responsibility of caring for her two children, pursuing her dream is an uphill battle.
“It takes a lot of work to be the cheerleader mom, attend ball games, help them with their homework and still go to work and school,” Denniss said. ” I try to schedule my classes so that I’m not away from kids too much. It’s going to take a little longer for me to obtain my degree because I’m only in school part-time, but my kids come first.”
Denniss decided a long time ago to face her challenges head on and do what it takes to get her degree. She realizes that it takes focus to accomplish her goal.
“When I was in high school, I wasn’t the best student,” Denniss said. “People who go back to school do it because they want to. I am more focused now, and as a result I’ve have been on the dean’s list for a couple of years now.”
Denniss is now working in her field as a part-time interpreter for DEAFinitely It, an agency in Toledo. She will receive her certificate of achievement in sign language studies from Madonna in May. She plans to get her bachelor’s degree by 2006.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By AUDREY BARNEY