Porter County Career and Technical Education hosted its first ever Nontraditional Employment Workshop (N.E.W.) at Valparaiso University on October 18, 2022. Local professional women from a variety of businesses came together to educate middle schoolers about their respective fields.
The event featured 23 companies, including Hebron Police Department, Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), the U.S. National Guard, Northwest Health Porter, and the Superior Court 5 Judge in Porter County to name a few.
Olga Velazquez, former mayor of Portage, Indiana, kicked off the event by sharing her story of becoming mayor and the obstacles she had to overcome, one of which was simply her being a woman.
Audra Peterson, director of career and technical education for Porter County, hopes that the middle schoolers will leave the event talking about it with each other and their families.
“My goal is to have the students walk away with something,” Peterson said. “Hopefully they’ll plant a seed that will help them think about what field they might want to go into.”
Peterson expressed the importance of educating children on stepping out of their comfort zones and talking with different people.
“We have it set up so that the students can intermingle with students from other schools,” Peterson said. “This gives them the opportunity to network and to explore nontraditional careers such as women in truck driving or the steel industry.”
Hebron Elementary and Middle School Counselor Timilyn Hunzelman has been in the field for 22 years. Hunzelman mentioned how this event has made an impact on the students.
“It’s so meaningful to them,” Hunzelman said. “I want the students to think about what they really want to strive for. I want them to expand their thought process about what is out there for them.”
Denise Conlon, public affairs and economic development manager with NIPSCO, hopes that the students hearing from women in their respective fields and the journey that led them there will encourage them to try new things.
“We want them to know that there’s nothing they can’t try. Maybe we’ll help the students along by sharing our experiences with them,” Conlon said. “We have multiple roles at NIPSCO that women occupy, and some of them are very nontraditional. Sandy is a heavy equipment operator, but we also have many women in engineering.”
Conlon offers valuable advice to the younger generation.
“Be humble, and help each other,” Conlon said. “Also, be curious and stay curious; You can try anything.”
Raigen, one of the eighth graders who attended the workshop, has opened up about her experience at the event.
“I’m finding careers that I never thought I would go into,” Raigen said. “I really liked the military speaker because I didn’t know much about it before today.”
Amongst some of the many guest speakers that attended the workshop, Gabrielle Pazour, owner of Aster & Gray, expanded on the importance of hard work and perseverance.
“I worked for women that owned small businesses all throughout high school and college, and I’ve always been inspired by what these women were able to deal with,” Pazour said. “They were able to provide jobs for other women in the community and also do something that inspired other women.”
Pazour started Aster & Gray, an artisan boutique located in downtown Valpo, back in 2016. Pazour originally worked for an ad agency and then later decided that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. She noted that working for herself is both challenging and rewarding and offers some insightful advice to the future generations.
“Put your phone down, read, and go outside,” Pazour said. “I had no idea, even in my 20s, that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Try different things, follow what you’re passionate about, and don’t be afraid to fail and try again.”
Peterson expressed her gratitude to those who attended the workshop and looks forward to growing N.E.W. in the future years to come.
“I want to thank the professionals who gave up their time to be here today. My hope is to expand this event so that other girls can be exposed to this opportunity,” Peterson said.
For more information about Valparaiso University, visit www.valpo.edu
For more information about the Porter County Career & Technical Education, visit www.pccte.org