Char-Em ISD’s Career and Technical Education Department continues to celebrate the success of students and graduates whose high school careers included CTE courses. Look for these regular features, Career and College Readiness in the Spotlight, recognizing the accomplishments of students, teachers, graduates and professionals! You’ll find these success stories below.

Mike and Paul Tietjen – Petoskey twins making a name for themselves in the welding arena

Sky’s the limit for Harbor Springs drone program

Courtney Streeter: High school health to high-energy medical career

Petoskey’s Tietjen twins finding career success as in-demand welders

When Petoskey twin brothers Paul and Mike Tietjen enrolled in the welding class offered at Pellston High School several years ago, they knew it could open the door to a well-paying career in the skilled trades.

They both knew they weren’t interested in attending college after graduating high school or applying for a 9-to-5 desk job. The welding program sparked an idea that led to the start of what will surely be a long and fulfilling career for the brothers.

“We both knew we weren’t going to have office jobs,” said Paul. “And I’m not the type to sit still for very long. I like to be doing something different throughout the day. I’m naturally pretty fidgety, and welding gives you something to do with your hands.”

The brothers, now 21, recently landed two open positions working on a huge new construction project for a fruit processing plant in Harrisonburg, VA, after working hard along a path to earning their welding skills and necessary certifications.

Where they started

The Tietjen brothers are Petoskey natives who graduated from Concord Academy in Petoskey, a charter school academy, in 2019. Paul enrolled in the welding class at Pellston High School his junior year; Mike, who was homeschooled through his junior year, joined his brother in the course during their senior year. (Any Career and Technical Education program in any Char-Em ISD is open to any student from throughout the ISD’s districts.)

At first, the brothers considered pursuing careers as blacksmiths – metalsmiths who create objects from wrought iron or steel by forging metal. But once they learned about the in-demand and high-paying career opportunities for welders throughout the country, they shifted gears and dug into learning all they could about this important skill.

The two enrolled in a summer welding camp offered by the Industrial Arts Institute and Char-Em ISD’s CTE department. As they learned more about opportunities in welding, the idea of becoming specialized underwater welders seemed appealing – until they considered the potential cold waters and adverse weather conditions that can be part of the job. They decided that pipe-fitting welding – on land – seemed to suit their interests more.

Mike Vandermus, a Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates (JMG) specialist with Northwest Michigan Works, was put into contact with the brothers toward the end of summer 2019 to help guide them about how to pursue a career in welding. Vandermus arranged for the Tietjens to do a work-study at FeAl Metal Design in Petoskey to start them off.

In September 2019, they headed south to Troy, Ohio to attend the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology, an esteemed training ground for future welders. At a fraction of the cost of college, the training academy has a high success rate of placing those who want to work hard into good-paying jobs.

And the Tietjens did want to work hard. “We did straight welding from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day,” Paul recalled. While the program is typically 9 months, COVID-19 pushed back the class, which ended up being an 11-month course for the Tietjens. “Nine months vs. four years (of college) was really appealing to me,” said Paul.

Mike said the program teaches students how to read blueprints for welding symbols and works its way through the various skill levels needed for professional welders. The students learn about metallurgy and various metals, and how some react differently to heat. Weekly tests ensured students stayed on track. At the end, they had to pass a welding test within 1/8th of an inch, or else they’d fail.

In August 2020, they both passed the test and became certified third-year apprentices – which opened the door for Hobart’s staff to start connecting them with jobs. Some grads go on to work for places like NASA, military contracting firms, oil fields and any size project in between. The Tietjens, who enjoy the freedom to travel to open jobs wherever that may be, took a couple job openings in Michigan and Wisconsin before getting the call that the Virginia project needed two welders on short notice.

“We threw everything in a bag and ended up staying here in a Motel 6 for a few weeks,” laughed Paul. The brothers now share an apartment about 30 minutes outside of their work site in Harrisonburg.

Today, the Tietjens are doing pipe-fitting as members of the welding union Local 10. They are contracted workers through the Dual Temp agency and are currently welding all of the piping for a new 32,000 square-foot refrigeration facility for Andros Products.

They are getting hands-on experience in all facets of the project, from putting up hangers and hanging pipe from the ceiling to welding pieces together to complete the infrastructure. All the rooms in the fruit production facility will be below 40 degrees, making the accuracy of the welding paramount to the business’s success.

They expect to be on this project through May 2021, then they will see what opportunity comes their way next through their union. They hope to be able to continue to follow the job openings together, but know that might not always be the case. “We can’t really foresee if we’ll stay together or not,” Mike noted.

Advice for teens thinking about the future

Mike and Paul both said having a high GPA in the welding program and perfect attendance put them at the top of the list for recommendations to job openings. “Soft skills” such as that perfect attendance and the willingness to listen and learn from instructors go a long way in earning a valued reputation in the close-knit welding world, where names get around, the brothers said.

“If you don’t put your best foot forward, everyone is going to know about you,” said Paul.

“And if you do good work, you can get really good jobs,” added Mike.

At the level-three apprentice ranking, a welder can expect to make over $21 per hour, with a $50 per diem for showing up to the work site, not including overtime. Pension and health benefits are part of the package as well.

“We show up 30 minutes early just to make sure we are there on time. Job supervisors will notice that,” said Paul.

“Be willing to learn,” added Mike. “That’s one of the biggest things. If you don’t know how to do something, ask someone to teach you. They’re willing to teach you.”

They both encourage young adults to look into the skilled trades for valued and valuable career paths, as does JMG’s Vandermus, who works with Char-Em ISD’s Career Tech team to help students in their post-secondary planning.

“Any of the trades right now is a great way to go for a career,” said Vandermus. “We are starting to see that switch from everyone being directed to go to college to seeing the value in the skilled trades industries as a viable post-high school path.”

As for the Tietjens, Vandermus said they’re the perfect example of hard-working young adults making their way in the professional world: “It was easy to get to know them and they will be successful in whatever they do. They had a plan, set goals and worked hard. They took the right steps and had the soft skills to back them up.”

Vandermus said young people today would benefit from practicing face-to-face communication skills, another important factor the Tietjens possess. “One of the biggest things we see that kids are missing today is the ability to communicate face-to-face with adults,” he noted. “Success in the trades and in anything is based a lot on the ability to speak well and make connections.”

Added Paul, “The more connections you have, the more job opportunities you have.”

Sky’s the limit!

Drone program at Harbor Springs High School really takes off

View more drone program photos

February 2021 – Rob LaPoint’s drone class at Harbor Springs High School started four years ago as a way to show students the novice abilities of piloting unmanned aerial vehicles. Since then, it has grown to encompass so much more, opening up a sky’s-the-limit amount of potential future opportunities to the students enrolled.

When it comes to careers that utilize drone technology, each year seems to bring new avenues for their use: estimating excavation site material volume; deliveries of goods; energy industry applications; real estate photography; search-and-rescue operations; surveying; archeology; topographical mapping; logging; and infrastructure examination, such as power poles and roofs – to name just a few.

“What Rob has done for this program is incredible. He sees the opportunities this brings to students and the potential for what is to come,” said Jim Rummer, Director of Career and Technical Education for Char-Em ISD. While the UAV program is not a state-certified CTE program yet, it likely will be soon. Rummer has been advocating at the state level by demonstrating the vast career doors that can open for licensed drone pilots – and it’s close to becoming a reality.

“I expect in the next year that this program will be a state-certified CTE program, which will open up so many more opportunities for funding and opportunities, including the flow of our Char-Em ISD CTE millage dollars to the class,” said Rummer. “And on a state level, we will be proud to note that we are among the first class of its kind.”

LaPoint looks forward to the official state designation as he continues to reach out to contacts locally and Michigan-wide to grow his own skills in order to teach his students. For instance, he credited Kurtis Damerow with Emmet Drones for helping him become trained in various drone models. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t even be close to where we are at today,” LaPoint noted, adding on that particular day Damerow was coming in to class to show them how to do power pole inspections.

Students are catching on to the excitement, too, as their own skills grow.

“I have flown remote-controlled devices from a young age, so I just thought it would be fun,” said Josiah Chamberlin, a 12th grader. “Now I realize that it is a skill that is in demand all over the world.”

LaPoint and Rummer drive that point home regularly in conversations about unmanned vehicles, both above water (UAVs) and underneath it (ROVs). Char-Em ISD’s annual summer camp, Career Academy for Kids, has featured a drone program introducing both types of vehicles to young students. To further illustrate the program’s growth, this year students from Harbor Springs Middle School are being bused to Harbor High to take a STEM class, Basics of Aeronautics, to hopefully ignite their interest in the high school program and, ultimately, careers.

“What we are trying to accomplish is to show students that these are good-paying, in-demand careers that can take them anywhere in the world,” LaPoint said. “I think the message is getting through.”

The message is indeed getting across. Senior Robbie Gillette said the class opened his eyes to a career path after high school. “I would like to do oil field inspections or other jobs (using drone technology) on weekends to earn money if I decide to pursue a different route,” Gillette said.

Safety and skills go hand-in-hand

A big part of LaPoint’s classes center on safety. In fact, students are able to take a safety exam from the Unmanned Safety Institute (USI) at no charge to the student, which, while not required to legally fly drones, goes a long way toward pursuing post-secondary degrees or professional operation. Students can also take the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone piloting test and become FAA-certified drone pilots in high school. These testing opportunities provide cost savings to the student, as the fees for USI and FAA testing are covered by Char-Em ISD. And both provide a big boost toward a career utilizing drones.

Several students from LaPoint’s class have passed the FAA exam already with flying colors. Some have gone on to study further at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, which operates one of the premiere drone programs in the region and state. Others have used their skills to land summer jobs, while others continue to ponder how they might use the lessons they are learning as 10th through 12th graders.

Jason Slade, Director of Technical Academic Area at NMC, said the Harbor Springs program is unique in part because LaPoint was an early adopter of drone technology in the classroom.

“While drone applications in STEM and CTE classrooms are growing, Rob was on the forefront and has been the most progressive. His class gives students insight into the current and future applications of drone technology. In addition, those skills are transferable to a number of other industries as the same skills can be applied to marine applications and more,” said Slade. “We hope in the future other schools will use the Harbor Springs program as a springboard to start their own drone or unmanned systems program or add drones into an existing program. We are hopeful the collaborative grant we are working on with Char-Em will help with this.”

Slade said students from Harbor who have gone on to attend NMC’s Engineering Technology – Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) / Drone Specialization have been well-prepared.

“First, many enter the program with their FAA Part 107 Drone license, which allows you to safely operate a drone for all non-recreational purposes. This certification is articulated into our program which gives the student credit for one of our UAS classes, saving them time and money!” Slade said. “This credit is part of Engineering Technology – UAS degree (AAS, 2-year) and the UAS pilot certificate. It is only awarded because of what occurs in the HSHS classroom.”

More than adept at passing tests, Slade said the students show impressive competencies across the board.

“They are up-to-date on the latest drone technology and on piloting drones. Just as importantly, they are skilled troubleshooters and are competent with system integration. Once they enter our program, we add additional skills including electronics, programming, microcontrollers, advanced drone operations and then a capstone / project course that brings it all together,” Slade noted.

Funding and support boosts program

Last year, AT&T awarded the program $14,000 to purchase equipment, which LaPoint used to buy some impressive gear like Phantom 4 RTK drones for 3D mapping and volume calculations.  

It’s one example of how community and organizational support continues to grow for the program. Students have been able to participate in real-life practices as well, such as using their drones and software to estimate volume of materials for Harbor Springs Excavating, and inspect roofs and power lines for the city. A few of the students’ experiences have landed them part-time summer job offers from area businesses. 

Support for the program has resulted in LaPoint being able to use the latest technology for his students. A Parrot Anafi Thermal drone lets them practice roof (and home) inspections, and general heat loss. The Mavic/Phantom 4/Inspire 1 gives the students the chance to inspect power poles, practice general photography and videography.

With Harbor High School being home to a swimming pool, LaPoint and Rummer foresee growing the program to include an ROV – Remotely Operated Vehicles – that operate underwater. Once again, a host of career opportunities await those skilled in ROV operations.

“Rob is an instructor who continues to go above and beyond to make things happen for kids,” said Rummer.

For some students, having fun has gone hand-in-hand with the learning. Domitien Dante Boda, a 12th-grader, said it’s not likely he will pursue a career in drone work, but “I still want to fly drones and play around with them, as long as I follow the regulations.”

Senior Luke Baker said he enrolled in the class because it seemed fun, and in the process learned “how to think critically under pressure and how to evaluate risk.”

For that reason, Slade, the NMC director, said the class is preparing students for whatever their future might bring.

“The skills they are learning can be applied to so many applications and systems. We will see drone technology morph and change over the coming years. However, the problem-solving, integration, and technical skills they are learning can be applied to so many jobs and industries,” Slade added. “It is an exciting time to be involved in this technology and any field related to STEM.”    


Courtney Streeter: From high school health occ to high-energy medical career

Dec. 2020 – When Courtney Streeter was a high school student at Charlevoix High School, she knew she’d have to work a bit harder than her peers to succeed.

“School was hard for me,” said Courtney, now 21 and a recent graduate from North Central Michigan College’s medical assistant two-year program. “I would get discouraged. I had some obstacles to get around, and I had to learn to advocate for myself and find what would work for me. I had to study harder and work harder to understand than other students to succeed.”

And that she did.

With the assistance of Liz Nachazel, Career Preparation Specialist with Char-Em ISD’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department, the two charted a course for Streeter’s future that would meet her goals and interest of entering the medical field.

 “Mrs. Nachazel worked with me through my high school years to help me get job shadowing opportunities in medical occupations, and she helped me understand what I’d need to do to get set up for college,” Streeter recalled.

Nachazel’s work, and that of Char-Em’s CTE staff members, involves helping connect students with career and college readiness opportunities as the end of high school approaches, particularly those who might have more challenging situations than their peers. “I’ve never met another student with the motivation and work ethic that Courtney has,” said Nachazel. “It was a treat to work with her.”

During a recent Zoom interview, Streeter shared her path to success that might help inspire other high school and college students to follow their own dreams.

After taking two years of health occupations, a CTE course, at Charlevoix High School, Streeter said she felt extremely prepared to begin the associate’s program at NCMC after graduation in 2018. She credited the instruction by her high school health occ teacher, Mabel Carson, a Registered Nurse (RN), for that preparation.   

“Mrs. Carson was really awesome. She gave us great tips and knowledge, especially with anatomy and medical terminology, which I use on a daily basis,” Streeter said.

When she began college classes she felt well-prepared, particularly in the areas of medical terminology and understanding various diseases. “It really helped me to not feel as stressed out in college,” she said.

She graduated as a registered medical assistant in spring of 2020. In August 2020, she landed a full-time medical assistant job at Digestive Health Associates in the Burns Clinic in Petoskey, a position offered to her promptly after she interviewed for the open position. She credits the quick job search to her education at both NCMC and in high school, and preparation with “soft skills” like interviewing tips, how to present oneself appropriately, and preparing answers for anticipated questions in advance.

She grabbed several job shadowing opportunities during her summers that also provided a big boost to her career aspirations. She spent time in the fusion center and medical surgery unit at Charlevoix Hospital, and also as a medical assistant at Charlevoix Primary Care. As she undertook these experiences, it became clear that she was moving in a career direction that fulfilled her.

“There are a lot of job opportunities in medical assisting, if I want to move up I can. There are so many opportunities to help people and the job outlook is strong,” said Streeter, adding she may pursue the next step of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN).

She’s finding the work in the digestive health field interesting and engaging. She also said the increased safety measures in the office and clinic give her confidence in her safety during the ongoing pandemic. “I feel really safe and they are making sure everyone is wearing a mask and getting the proper screenings,” she noted.

Nachazel said she is proud to see Streeter’s success. “She was one of those amazing kids that was going to go far in life,” she added.

Streeter had some advice for other teens starting on their own post-high school paths, as well: “There are times when it might seem overwhelming and discouraging, but I just kept plugging along and it paid off. You don’t know how far you can go until you push yourself.”


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