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Career Crossroads

By Celia Tarnowski | Photo by Jeff Frey

John Wolf Sr. found himself at a crossroad a few years ago when a slumping economy gave him a chance to self-assess and redefine his career path and future.

 Life doesn’t come with a map or a predetermined timeline. We travel along its path in a variety of ways; choosing directions, handling delays, craning our necks in the hope of seeing what lies ahead.

If your journey takes you to the intersection, where intended route meets unplanned career possibilities, which road would you choose? John Wolf Sr. found himself at such a crossroad a few years ago when a slumping economy gave him a chance to self-assess and redefine his career path and future.

Wolf, a 29-year-old Superior, Wis., resident had held a variety of jobs; some offering a degree of employment security, but not much in the way of opportunities for advancement professionally or financially. The birth of his child was a catalyst for looking at the future through different lenses.

“I was at a crossroads in my life,” Wolf says. “We had just had our son and at the time my wife was working days at the hospital and I was working nights so we could watch our son. We were making ends meet – but I didn’t have the best paying job, so we weren’t getting ahead. We made it work but we definitely realized that we needed something more.”

 “Something more” came in the form of an opportunity for Wolf to attend a welding boot camp held at the WITC-Superior campus. This proved to be a very positive experience and Wolf flourished in the classroom setting. John Palmer, welding instructor, was very pleased with the effort he put forth in the welding camp.

“John is a resourceful, intelligent and diligent student,” Palmer says. “He exemplified ideal student learning behaviors in the classroom during the welding boot camp by his rapt attention during lectures, appropriate questions and utilized his lab time 100 percent. He often provided helpful suggestions to other students in the class. “

When Wolf finished with the camp, the economy had really started to slump, so he thought it was the perfect time to go back to school and increase his skills and education with the hopes that by the time he graduates the economy will have turned the corner.

Taking time off work might be a bit of a risk, but Wolf considers pursuing a college degree an investment in his family’s future.

“I wanted to see bigger things for my family,” he says. “I knew my wife and I are both very capable people, so I’m taking a few years off of work with the knowledge that it will have its rewards at the end.“

Originally, Wolf had intended on enrolling in WITC’s Welding program, however this very popular program had a waiting list, which left him to consider other options. His grandfather was a highly successful machinist whose trade had given him opportunities to travel around the world. He encouraged him to enroll in the Machine Tool Technician program.

Wolf speaks of his grandfather’s career accomplishments with pride. “His job took him to foreign countries where he had the opportunity to teach his trade,” Wolf says. “His professional career in machining was very impressive, spanning language barriers and borders. I looked at my life and was able to see what he has accomplished in his and I thought I want that for my family too. It’s attainable if you go get it.”

Now in his second year of the Machine Tool Technician program, Wolf has completely embraced college life excelling in his courses and becoming a leader to fellow students on campus. Ken Jones, Machine Tool instructor, has high praise for Wolf,

“He took responsibility for his education,” Jones says. “He has a wonderful attitude, very positive, and full of enthusiasm. He really took an interest in Machine Tool. He was always looking up information on the internet and asking questions. John was a team player who worked well with others and was willing to do more so he could learn more. For example, he wrote a program that the whole class benefited from, even though it required him to do extra work.”

At the end of last spring, the campus elected Wolf as Student Senate President. Health challenges have compelled him to resign his post, a difficult decision, but one he felt he had to make.

“I always give everything I do 150 percent,” Wolf says. “I felt I might not be able to do that with these health issues, and I believe the student body deserves better.”

While some might view going back to school later in life as a disadvantage, Wolf feels that it has given him a clearer focus and added benefits.

“Going back to school was the best decision I ever made,” Wolf says. “When I graduated from high school, college wasn’t really an option for me. Being a nontraditional student definitely has its advantages. I’m more mature and more stable because of my family. That has allowed me to concentrate a whole lot harder. My son sees me doing homework, and now he’s excited about going to school himself. I feel like I’m setting a real good example for him.”

Wolf has set his sights on a future with possibilities. He would like to work in the field for a few years to get practical experience, and then return to college to pursue a degree in manufacturing engineering.

“There are jobs out there now and I’m really excited to graduate!” he says with a smile.

For more information about the machine tool technician program, click here.

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