A year on
By Mark Feldmann
May 5, 2022
The Gap Year program at a Wisconsin college helps students set course for the future
When it comes to numbers, Ingrid Rondin can always figure it out.
“I was good at math and science,” said Rondin, 19, who graduated from Milwaukee Public Schools’ Alexander Hamilton High School in 2021. “I took all the Advanced Placement (AP) classes in those subjects. But I never really knew what I wanted to do or what I could do with those skills.”
Thanks to a Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) program for high school graduates who are not yet sure about their next step, Rondin is on a path to a satisfying, in-demand career.
The MATC Gap Year program, in partnership with NEWaukee, provides an alternative educational experience for high school graduates who are taking time off to work and save money, to figure out their future, or to plan how to best continue their education. The program offers career exploration in a variety of fields.
The participants experience hands-on learning in career pathways including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); business management; creative arts; healthcare; community and human services; and manufacturing. The learning experiences are paired with community showcases and speakers, and with field trips to Milwaukee businesses and cultural assets.
“It was really interesting seeing all the possibilities,” she said. “There were careers I knew nothing about.”
While participating in the Gap Year program, working with computers and information technology caught Rondin’s eye as a way to harness her mathematical and analytical skills. She plans to start IT classes in the fall at MATC and wants to become a cybersecurity specialist.
Additionally, when she finishes at MATC, Rondin will be the first person in her family to graduate from college.
“I highly recommend this program because it doesn’t focus on only one path and that can really help open peoples’ minds,” she said. “Plus, you get to meet people who are actually working in the field.”
Anai Calderon Perea had hopes of becoming an artist – she loves painting with acrylics and drawing with graphite pencil. After graduating from Milwaukee’s Cristo Rey High School, she received a scholarship to Columbia College in Chicago that covered nearly all her tuition.
But then her mother became infected with Covid-19 and struggled through a lengthy, arduous recovery. Instead of heading to college, Perea, 19, and her siblings took jobs to help pay the family’s extensive medical bills.
“It was kind of heartbreaking,” she said. “But life goes on.”
A high school counselor told her about the Gap Year program and she tried it. “I learned so much,” she said. “There are so many things you can do. For me it was a real eye-opener.”
Perea was attracted to the automotive repair industry and plans to start classes at MATC in the spring of 2023. In the meantime, she will work to save money. She wants to learn skills that can give her a steady, successful career.
“I’m pretty determined,” she said. “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to finish it.”
To be eligible to apply, applicants must live in the Milwaukee Area Technical College district, have graduated in 2020, 2021, or be graduating in spring 2022 with a high school diploma, and have a demonstrated financial need as determined by household income not exceeding $75,000. There is no cost to apply or participate.
“This new curriculum uniquely addresses a growing need in American education and workforce development,” MATC President Vicki J. Martin said. “We are looking forward to partnering with NEWaukee for a second Gap Year class starting in September.”
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