For Sara Vaske, being laid-off from what she thought was her forever job turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
It was June of 2020 and Sara was enjoying her 12+ year career in the manufacturing industry as a Quality Engineer. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full-swing and many manufacturing companies were experiencing lay-offs. Unfortunately, Sara was among the employees whose positions were no longer deemed necessary.
During the span of her career in manufacturing, Sara worked in a variety of roles. She began as an operator, inspecting and packing parts, and was promoted multiple times within her first couple of years with the company. She was first promoted to a Shift Lead, then to a position in Quality Assurance, and finally to Quality Manager. During her time as Quality Manager, she was approached by another area company that offered her the position of a Quality Engineer. She accepted, and it was in this position that she discovered her passion for design and project development. Sara thoroughly enjoyed being involved in the manufacturing design process from start to finish.
After being laid-off, Sara jumped right into researching her next move. She decided she had two options: either try to find another job in Quality Engineering or go back to school to further her education in hopes of obtaining a more advanced position in the engineering industry. During her research, she discovered the Design Technology program at Northwest Iowa Community College, and it was exactly what she was looking for. This unique program bridges the gap between production and engineering by creating a well-defined and diversified graduate for the manufacturing industry. Sara met with admissions staff and was surprised to learn the next cohort of classes was beginning the very next day. She would either have to jump-in or wait an entire year to begin the program with the next cohort.
Sara decided to jump in. As a non-traditional student, she was nervous to return to school. She focused on the benefits of being non-traditional; her goals were more specific, she was setting an example for her children and her family was also making sacrifices so she could complete this degree. Another positive thing about the program is the small class sizes. The Design Technology program can accommodate up to 12 students per year. This allowed for a lot of 1:1 time with instructors and classmates while learning new concepts. Her classmates had a lot of respect for her insight and experience in the industry. Since a majority of her classmates were traditional college age, Sara became known as “class mom”, which she took as a compliment. She would encourage her younger classmates and share her personal story, hoping it would keep them motivated to work hard and finish the program as she wished she would have done at their age.
Sara graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Design Technology in May of 2022. During her two years at NCC, she accomplished so much more than earning her degree. Sara graduated with honors as a member of NCC’s Beta Lamba Pi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, she served as the commencement speaker during her graduation ceremony, and due to her academic achievements, she received numerous scholarship awards to assist in paying for her education.
Today, Sara serves as an Engineering Technician for Sioux County Secondary Roads Department. Her duties include road and bridge construction design and all aspects of project management from start to finish. Sara draws up blueprints and designs the project, works with contractors directly throughout the construction process, serves as a liaison between engineers, oversees all aspects of construction, handles documentation, inspection, payment processing, auditing, and finally, the closing of the project. Her quality engineering background combined with her education from NCC prepared her extremely well for this position. Sara thoroughly enjoys going to work every day and feels that her current position is truly her dream job.
Although she didn’t feel this way three years ago, she now sees being laid-off as a blessing. “I never would have quit my job as a Quality Engineer, but being laid-off forced me to take a different path than I ever anticipated. I wish I would have completed the Design Technology program at NCC years ago as it led me to my true dream job. The sacrifices my family and I made so I could attend school have come back to benefit us tenfold.”
For more information about educational opportunities at NCC, either on campus or online, call 712-324-5061, 800-352-4907, or visit nwicc.edu.
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