Foundation scholarships pave a path to a career in the trades

By : 
Kristin Burdey
Tri-County Record

The Foundation for Rushford-Peterson Schools is currently seeking sponsors to contribute to the funding of scholarships for graduating seniors. In 2018 the Foundation awarded 11 $500 scholarships, with plans to add four more in 2019. After a successful rollout in 2018, the Foundation plans to continue providing scholarships to students pursuing a trade instead of a four-year college. For its inaugural year, five R-P students received a scholarship out of this new category.

The Foundation for Rushford-Peterson Schools is a charitable organization made up of people with a passion for investing in the youth of the community. Founded in 2013, the organization seeks to help R-P students springboard into successful adults, with an emphasis on academic scholarship and building relationships to inspire lifelong learning. Since its inception, the Foundation has set a goal of providing $500 scholarships to at least 10 percent of each graduating class.

But the notion of a trade-focused scholarship is a new one. The idea was first brought up by Rushford alum Jack Culhane, who had spent 36 years working in the field of education before returning to his hometown, where he serves on the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

In conversation with a friend, the topic of the need for skilled labor came up, leading Culhane to ask himself if the Foundation could provide assistance to students seeking to pursue that career path. Culhane brought the idea to committee where it was enthusiastically received by members Chuck Ehler, Jenny Helgemoe, Sally Ryman, and Claire Olstad, and a plan was devised to make the dream a reality.

The Foundation created scholarships for students pursuing careers in five areas of study: agriculture, automotive, construction, manufacturing, and cosmetology.

Then Culhane and Olstad began pounding the pavement, asking local businesses for their support. Olstad admits they were  uncertain of the reception they’d receive. “We understand that local businesses get tapped so often, and they can’t say yes to everything,” he explained. “But they sure stepped up!”

“Our local businesses weren’t just good to work with – they were great!” echoed Culhane. “People see the importance of this. There are so few young people going into the trades.

Olstad noted “(A four-year) college isn’t for everybody. It doesn’t make anybody better or worse. When I was a boy most people got a job, some went into the service, and just some went to college.”

There was uncertainty as to how much appeal these new scholarships would generate, but eight students applied in 2018, resulting in the awarding of five one-year scholarships to Dawson Dahl, Ian McNeill, Mackenzie Waldo, Josh Miertschin, and Ben Maynard.

Dahl has since enrolled in Wisconsin Western Technical College in LaCrosse, Wis., where he is studying wood tech, a program that builds skills in carpentry and cabinet-making.

Dahl’s interest in carpentry was sparked during his sophomore year of high school, when representatives of various career paths were brought in one day to talk to students about what they do for a living. One of the guest speakers was an instructor in woodworking from Minnesota State College Southeast Technical. “I liked what he was saying,” recalled Dahl. “It stuck with me.”

Prior to that career exploration day. Dahl had entertained thoughts of either teaching or working as a game warden, but what he learned stayed in the back of his mind until his senior year, when he applied for a Foundation Scholarship. Dahl would advise underclassmen to both apply for the scholarship and to explore options down a similar career path. “I would definitely recommend it,” Dahl asserts. “The scholarship made a huge difference to me. It’s encouraging that we have so much help from the community – all of those sponsors are great. It really puts me at ease so that I can focus on learning and not worry about how I’m going to pay for it.”

Dahl said that his experience is a typical one for a student interested in pursuing a trade. He worked summers throughout high school to save for college, valuing the experience of working for local companies, such as Atkinson Construction. “You gain a lot by watching others; you’re basically learning from the experts,” he said. “It’s good to get that sort of experience. I’m excited to learn more about how to do these things myself, and do them well.”

After graduating in 2018, Dahl began coursework at WWTC, taking classes that will provide useful knowledge and experience, giving students a taste of what the hands-on work will be come summer. “We started out with cabinet-making in the fall, where we learn to comfortably use fine machinery. Then we take framing, where we build a model house in a shop, learning stairs and doorways for example. We also learn how to read and speak the language of blueprints.”

Dahl is confident that the skills he is learning will prove quite valuable. “WWTC is leagues ahead of other schools in what a wonderful job of teaching they do.,” he said. “There are businesses that come and pick students right out of the classes because the reputation of the program is so good.”

His WWTC experience has Dahl formulating a plan for places he’d like to apply after completing his schooling. “Because of the physical labor involved, it isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll be rewarded for it,” he said  “The pay is really good, and most places offer health benefits. It doesn’t require much schooling, so you can get out and make money right away without loans. It’s always been a goal of mine to reach the end of my college career debt-free. This scholarship has made this goal much closer to reality.”

Olstad and Culhane expressed satisfaction with the results of the first year, with hopes of continued success in the future. “Folks know that this is money well-spent. We are investing in the future. There’s such a demand for people in the trades, and we want to see kids succeed,” Olstad said. Culhane affirmed, “It’s our goal to help kids to get the degrees. Ideally they’d want to come back to the community, because it’s a great community.”

Area businesses that helped to provide scholarships in 2018 include: Agrimson’s Deer Brook Farms, Johnson Rolling Acres, Metz Hart-Land Creamery, Smith Farms, Anderson Auto, Brown Tire & Battery Inc, Curt’s Place, L&L Volkman Auto Body Repair, Darr Auctions & Realty/D&D Car Wash, Duane Bunke Construction, Norman’s Electric, Woxland Heating & Cooling, Woxland Plumbing, Connaughty Sales, Hammell Equipment, Mel’s Shear Magic, New Beginnings Salon, Pam’s Corner, Rushford Manufacturing, The Shop Salon, and Visions Salon. Businesses interested in contributing to the foundation to increase availability of scholarships can contact Jenny Helgemoe at jennyhelgemoe@r-pschools.com.