Five Pierce College District students will receive two years of free tuition at the public or private school of their choice after having been selected as winners of the prestigious Washington Award for Vocational Excellence (WAVE) by the state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
The following are the WAVE scholarship winners for the Pierce College District:
• George Lang, 42, of Malone, began at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom last spring after a workplace injury ended his 20-year career as a carpenter. Lang enrolled in the college’s construction management program using funds from the state’s Labor and Industries (L&I) worker retraining program. With his L&I funding running out at the end of the current quarter, Lang didn’t know how he would continue his education.
“The money from L&I is the only money I have available,” he said. “I want to go on and get my four-year degree, but I’m married with two kids. I have a family to support. Without this scholarship, I wouldn’t have any funds to continue.”
Lang will use his WAVE scholarship for two years at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. He plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in business management. He wants to stay focused on the construction industry.
“I have 20 years in the trades already and I want to utilize all those skills I already have,” he said.
• Oscar Gonzalez, 32, of Lacey, will use his scholarship to continue his work with male perpetrators of domestic violence. Gonzalez, who is completing his associate’s degree in social services and mental health, plans to continue his education at the University of Washington-Tacoma this fall. Ultimately, Gonzalez wants to lead the domestic violence groups that benefited him when he was the perpetrator of a domestic violence incident against his ex-wife many years ago. The group changed his life and created in Gonzalez a desire to educate men on abuse.
“After I was involved in a domestic violence incident, I did a year of treatment,” he said. “It brought a lot of focus and freedom to my life. I spent so much of my time preoccupied with things I had no control over, but I learned that having control of yourself is having complete freedom. It’s put me in a good place now.”
Gonzalez said part of his mission is being honest about what he did and sharing that with other men, while empowering women to recognize abuse and leave dangerous situations.
“I keep an open mouth about it because people need to be educated,” he said.
Gonzalez juggles his education with a number of volunteer positions. He teaches parenting classes and works within the court system to provide therapy for abusive men in Thurston County through Cain, Atwell and Associates. In addition, he is trying to start a divorce support group for men and is advocating to local legislators to get domestic violence education programs in high schools.
At Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, where he works in the Veteran’s Services office, Gonzalez worked with the Women and Family Services office to have special flyers posted in the men’s bathrooms. The “Am I Abusive?” flyers let men know that abuse is not limited to physical violence.
“It made me feel good to see those flyers,” he said. “I hear from men all the time who say, ‘I didn’t know that was abusive.’ The better educated we are, the better off we are.”
• Kaylee Eckert, 20, of Federal Way, will use her WAVE scholarship to complete the dental hygiene program at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom. She started the program last fall after spending 17 months working as a dental assistant. She said she saw first-hand the good work being done in the dental community and wanted to play an even bigger role in helping people have healthier lives.
“I absolutely love it,” she said of dental hygiene. “It’s so rewarding to get down to the nitty gritty and educate people. So many people don’t know how to take care of their mouth and their teeth. It sounds so simple, but it’s something a lot of people have never been educated on.”
Getting the rest of her education paid for is a huge relief for Eckert.
“I was taking out loans and stuff, even though I knew it would come back to bite me later,” she said. “Winning the scholarship made my day, my week, my year. I never win anything!”
• Adriane Wilson, 31, of Lakewood, has battled homelessness, single motherhood, and poverty to finish her associate’s degree in business from Pierce College Fort Steilacoom. She will now take her WAVE scholarship to The Evergreen State College, where she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in business.
Wilson started taking classes at Pierce in fall 2006. With four children to support, she needed more than temporary employment, which was all she could get after dropping out of high school.
“I was a single mother tired of the 9 to 5 grind,” she said. “I did temp work and I was in and out of Washington. I needed to be settled and I needed a better life for my kids.”
With little resources, Wilson struggled. She and her children lived in their car and in an abandoned apartment for a period of time, but she never stopped taking classes and working towards her degree.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is for some students,” she said. “If you don’t have a home, you don’t have access to computers. You can’t cook or take showers. But, I made it through. I never dropped out. That’s what I’m trying to teach my kids.”
Wilson said many people on campus helped her. One of her teachers even bought her a hotel room for a week.
“What helped me were my teachers. They knew what I was about. They knew I was struggling,” Wilson said. “That’s the only way I’ve gotten through it.”
Homeless no more, Wilson has given back by volunteering at the college’s Multicultural Leadership Institute. She started a program to have necessities available for students suffering economic hardship. Now, there are things like meal vouchers, blankets, and shampoo available for students.
Having the next two years of her education paid for is a huge relief for Wilson.
“For me to have this to continue my education is huge,” she said. “At least now I don’t have to worry about dropping out of school. Honestly, I don’t even know how to feel just yet. I’m in shock.”
• Jake Brain, 18, of Puyallup, is now enrolled in the two-year construction management program at Pierce College Puyallup. He plans to finish the program next June and transfer to a four-year university to study either architecture or business.
In the meantime, the scholarship is good news for Brain and his parents.
“It’s pretty big. It takes a lot of financial stress off me and my parents,” he said.
Brain said he was especially surprised to win the scholarship. He applied last year and made it to the state finals, but his name was not chosen. He was encouraged to try again and won.
“It was really nice to win this time,” he said. “My parents are pretty impressed and thrilled.”
Brain started at Pierce last fall. He graduated from Puyallup High School in June 2007.
WAVE scholarships were established by the state Legislature in 1984 and provide undergraduate educational tuition for two years at any accredited public or private college or university, or at any licensed private vocational school. Winners, who must have completed either a high school or a college career and technical education course of study, are selected by a committee with members representing business, labor, education, government, and private citizens.