Gabriela Sundberg says a four-year degree isn’t for everyone—including her.
After graduating from Maple Grove Senior High in June, she plans for a career as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician. The senior is still mulling her first step on that journey, either pursuing a two-year degree at Hennepin Technical College or securing a trade apprenticeship.
Through hours of job shadowing and online research, the Maple Grove resident has done her homework on all that HVAC entails. While trades attract more men than women, Sundberg believes HVAC is a good match for her skill set because the work is hands-on and pays well.
“I wish the schools would do a better job at telling kids you don’t have to go to a super fancy place to be something,” Sundberg says. “It’s not what your parents want, not what the rest of the world wants, but what you will feel happy and most satisfied doing.”
Enter Michael Vecellio, college and career specialist at Maple Grove Senior High. He has come up with a unique way to recognize students like Sundberg considering a technical education. In June, seniors will sign letters of intent to study at local two-year tech schools or do an apprenticeship to learn a trade or other careers, such as graphic design. The recognition is similar to how student-athletes commit to play sports at a college on National Signing Day.
“Choosing a tech college in our community is a non-traditional choice, and I’m honoring them for having the courage to make a non-traditional choice,” he says.
When Vecellio began at the school three years ago, he realized that students’ post-secondary focus was primarily on four-year colleges. But, as baby boomers retire, some of the most in-demand jobs are in trades. Another benefit is less student debt. “I want to make sure students and their parents don’t discount this,” he says.
To boost awareness of other options, the school hosted a ceremony in 2018 for tech-bound students, but the first signing day, in which nine students took part, was last year. Vecellio says it surprised students. “But that’s part of trying to change the culture,” he says. “It’s not lesser valued [than a four-year college]; it’s equally valued.”
Sundberg has her future mapped out. After a few years as an HVAC technician, she plans to move into management and then open her own business. “I have this whole vision, which I know will happen,” she says.