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Changing careers helped Blackhawk Tech grads compete for jobs

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Brian Gray/The Monroe Times
January 4, 2011
— Starting a new career is never easy, but in these economic times it's become a necessary and often difficult life change for many.

While the tide of career switching is driven largely by the unemployment rate, it's also part of an overall trend in the workforce, as employees seek to keep themselves competitive in a changing, increasingly global workforce.


With prices rising and wages stagnant in recent years, many people simply need to earn more money for their families.


Setting an example

Facing hard times ahead, Jon Ischi, 38, of Albany wanted do something to help his family after losing his GM job in Janesville.


Ischi worked at the plant for six years before he was laid off in 2008.


"I grew up with the place, and I always heard rumors that the plant might close," he said. "I saw the writing on the wall when the economy started getting tough."


After he lost his job, Ischi enrolled in lab technician program at BTC in Monroe.


Going back to school was a challenge.


"I was taking college chemistry classes and microbiology classes, but once the gears started turning, I realized I could do this," he said.


Still, it was stressful at first, he said.


He kept going because he wanted to graduate to help provide for his family and to set an example for his children, Audrey, 7, and Joe, 5.


"I want them to see how important it is to get an education," he said.


When he graduated in May 2009, his wife, Lisa, and their two children were at the ceremony.


Audrey was in kindergarten, and she was impressed by the event, Ischi said.


"She thought it was pretty neat," he said.


'A few hurdles'

Lisa Vavra, 31, Monroe, wanted a chance to advance her career. After a few years as a certified nursing assistant, she went to Blackhawk Technical College in Monroe to become a registered nurse.


"I wanted a career that offered more opportunities for advancement," she said.


Her then fiance, Scott, who is now her husband, encouraged her to go on to school to get her nursing degree. His support helped as she worked toward her goal.


It wasn't easy, she said. She was in her early 20s and had a daughter Natalee at home. In addition, she hadn't been to school in a few years and had to get back into the habit of studying for exams and doing homework.


"There were a few hurdles," she said.


Health problems made her journey more difficult. In the last semester of her general education studies, she began to have problems hearing. Ultimately, Vavra was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the nerve connecting the ear to the brain.


She had surgery, bur it took her weeks to completely recover. She said teachers at BTC supported her through her recovery.


"They worked it out so I could get the lectures on tape, get the notes from other students and take the exams later," she said. "I don't know what I would have done without them."


Despite her challenges, Vavra still was in the first nursing class to graduate from the Monroe campus in December 2006.


Now working in her field at Monroe Clinic, she sees herself as an example to others facing similar career challenges.


"I tell people they can do anything they want to do, if they're determined to do it," she said.



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