Students find support in nontraditional careers at Tolles

shaggerty Success Stories

Students at Tolles Career & Technical Center take pride in defining their own career path—especially when that means going into nontraditional careers.

Take Firefighting/EMS student Annie Haenszel. For this senior, firefighting is in the blood. She has two uncles who are retired fire chiefs and a cousin who is entering the field. Although firefighting is a male-dominated field, Haenszel wants to follow in their footsteps as a firefighter and a paramedic.

“I love helping people out,” she said. “It’s a rewarding feeling when you can go out and help those in the community.”

Haenszel enjoyed attending West Jefferson, but the opportunity to get a jump on her career made Tolles an easy decision. When she graduates in 2015, she’ll have her EMT card and a Fire 1 and Fire 2 card, allowing her to go straight to work. Until then, she’s getting her hands dirty with field activities that include search and rescue, vehicle extraction, live burns and crawling through mazes in full gear and black-out conditions.

It’s a nontraditional program for a girl, and Haenszel admits she was nervous going into it. “I thought, I’m going to be a girl in an all-guy lab. I’m going to be an outcast, and nobody is going to like me.”

What she found was the reverse. Not only are there two other girls in the lab, she has developed strong bonds with all of her peers. “Working with the guys, they are like my brothers. They have my back,” she said. “It’s nice coming into Tolles and feeling accepted into the program.”

Career Tech Director Connie Strebe said the school works hard to give nontraditional students the lift they need to pursue their career goals.

“There’s a nationwide push to foster nontraditional careers, but we have always focused on that here at Tolles,” she said. “We want to give opportunities to the kids, and we’ve done a good job. We have nontrads in every program.”

Tony Piccione is a nontraditional student who found his calling in the pre-nursing program.

“I didn’t think I’d go into this field of study,” Piccione said. “I like to work on my ’96 Bronco, I hunt, I fish, I trap. Being a nurse isn’t something I thought I wanted to go into.”

The Madison-Plains graduate knew he wanted to do something that would help other people. He just wasn’t sure about nursing—until he came to Tolles.

“Actually doing it and learning the anatomy and how everything works in the body was really interesting, and that set it in stone for me,” Piccione said. “I walked out of clinicals every day feeling good about myself because I improved the quality of life for someone that day.”

Piccione graduated in May with his STNA certification, allowing him to move straight into the nursing program at Hocking College this fall. He intends to specialize in trauma care, a goal he can achieve sooner thanks to the training and certification he received at Tolles.

He said he didn’t feel any less accepted at Tolles for being one of only three males in the pre-nursing program. “None of my teachers told me you can’t do this or that,” he said. “All of the teachers help you do the best you can and treat you just like everybody else in the class.”

“I’m no different than any other guy, I just want a job that I’m going to enjoy,” he added. “It’s the best decision I made, coming to Tolles. It gave me a leg up.”