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 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); 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.”
The program includes 11 sessions followed by a year of career mentorship and special events to fuel the students’ inspiration. Eligible applicants must live in the MATC 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.
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 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.”
Due to Covid
Kailiah Malone, 19, graduated from Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay in 2020. She placed her college plans on hold after the Covid pandemic hit.
“I felt like everything was changing, and I wanted to feel more prepared,” she said.
She saw an advertisement for the Gap Year program on Instagram and signed up.
“It was exactly what I was looking for to help me,” she said. “I loved every minute of it. I learned so much. Everyone, no matter what their plans are, should go through this. I also learned that it’s OK to take some time off and decide what you really want to do.”
Malone, who has a job braiding hair, will begin cosmetology courses at MATC in the fall.
“I know people who have gone to MATC, and I have realized that MATC wants to see young people succeed and do well,” she said. “I feel like now it’s time to do this. Going through this program sealed the deal.”
A change in direction
Darius Guyton-Holman thought he’d work a solid, steady job someday, like as a police officer or an auto mechanic. But after going through the program, the 20-year-old now looks forward to preparing for a career related to his talents in music.
Guyton-Holman grew up in Milwaukee, but graduated from LaFollette High School in Madison. He moved there when his mother took a job in the city. After getting his diploma, he thought he was ready to continue his education.
“I had the grades to go to college right away, but I felt undecided about what I really wanted to do,” he said.
His mother received an email about MATC’s Gap Year program. Guyton-Holman looked into it and signed up.
“During this program, I found out I’m into more creative things,” Guyton-Holman said. “It also made you feel that it was alright to be stuck, and there were a lot of other people who felt the same way.”
In the fall, Guyton-Holman plans to take courses in MATC’s music occupations associate degree program and eventually hopes to hit it big as a rap star.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a while,” he said. “Music has stuck with me. I know it will be challenging and I know I have a lot to learn. But I feel I’m a lot more prepared thanks to going through this program.”