Female students learned how determination can help make dreams come true at the Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) Workshop Thursday.
Two hundred sophomore girls from Lakeland Christian Academy, Tippecanoe Valley, Triton High School and Warsaw Community High School attended the annual event. The workshop was held at the WCHS TRAC.
The objective of the workshop is to introduce female students to nontraditional career opportunities, increase female enrollment in nontraditional Career & Technical Educational course offerings and to increase female awareness of innovative employment opportunities that should lead to helping local businesses achieve their federal employment goals in the area of nontraditional placement, according to a provided news release.
During Vanessa Silvestro’s keynote speech, she told students she hoped by hearing her story, students would find the strength and determination within themselves.
From a young age, she yearned to explore the world with dreams of being extraordinary, she said.
Alison Poorman, volunteer for the Habitat for Humanity of Kosciusko County, leads students through a try-it session during the Nontraditional Employment for Women Worksop Thursday. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union
She was born in California and found herself going from battered women’s shelters to homeless shelters with her parents.
“It was in those moments of adversity I had a choice in shaping my future,” she said.
At 13, she went to an event where she heard a woman talk about her son’s career in welding. She said stories of repairing ships and oil rigs were nothing short of enchanting to her. From that moment, Silvestro said she was on a mission.
Through her years, education became her sanctuary. Although she was not an A+ student, she understood academic excellence was one factor in her success. What mattered more was her perseverance and unwaivering determination in her dreams.
At 16, she was thrilled to be eligible for the Elkhart Career Center.
She was the first female to enroll in the Elkhart Career Center’s welding program. At one point, Silvestro said she was asked to think about a different path. She chose not to back down.
“The journey was filled with skepticism and doubt and I ventured into what had traditionally been a male-dominated field. My passion and determination to break down barriers propelled me,” she said.
She was on a mission to prove gender should never be an obstacle to pursue one’s dreams.
She found out she was pregnant and started the welding program nine months pregnant. Her instructor, “a stern preacher,” voiced his disapproval of Silvestro being pregnant outside of wedlock.
“This chapter taught me a valuable life lesson that not everyone will do the right thing,” Silvestro said. “After giving birth, my instructor failed me for taking a mere two weeks of pregnancy leave, claiming it was too long to miss class.”
Vanessa Silvestro speaks at the Nontraditional Employment for Women Workshop Thursday. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union
Silvestro said it wasn’t the end of her journey. With her mother’s unconditional support, Silvestro was accepted back into the welding program. She said she not only graduated, but she graduated early.
From there, Silvestro attended Divers Academy International and became an underwater welder “and again the first girl to graduate.”
Her dream was coming true one adventure at a time, she said. After honing her skills, she expanded her horizons and pursued careers in manufacturing. She was able to work in the automotive and marine industries.
Through a passion for learning and combining experience and passion for excellence, she is now making over six figures.
Her journey in manufacturing and welding became a testament to the power of perseverance, she said.
She holds various certifications, including verified welding inspector, certified welding educator and welding engineer. She has even taught at the college level, even though she’s never attended.
She hopes to open her own welding school so others can chase their dreams just as she did.
She said one inherent truth that shines brightly is that with an unwavering belief and the power of dreams, anything is possible.
After Silvestro’s keynote speech, students were able to have six round-table sessions with women from more than 45 different careers, including civil engineering, banking, child advocacy, environmental science, emergency medical services, machining, law enforcement, veterinary science, project management and transportation.
After the round table sessions, students were able to participate in try-it activities.