Ashley Wagner dropped out of school after the first day of her junior year. "I decided to be young while I could be young," she said. She worked part-time at a fast-food restaurant, a gas station, and as an administrative assistant through a temp agency. When her daughter was born 20 months ago, Wagner decided it was time to settle down. "I know I'm smart," she said. "I didn't want to be another bum on the street."
She enrolled in a program to study for her GED, but after the first class, they told her, "Just go take the test." She passed all five sections on the first try. Two months later, she enrolled in Dunwoody College's Electronics Engineering Technology program. Although she looked at several schools, manufacturing was the only career she considered. "I like to solve problems and see how things work," she said. As a kid, she recalled, she used to take stereos apart, and she started doing algebra problems in fourth grade. "There was one class in high school where I got 100 percent, and that was the electrical class. It's something that challenged me," she said.
In her two-year program, she'll complete courses in basic electronics, digital electronics, electronic devices, blueprint reading, statistics, algebra and trigonometry, computer programming and communications. She enjoys the combination of theory with hands-on practice that she gets in the Dunwoody program. "We programmed a simple calculator," she said. "I would never have imagined how complex a simple calculator can be."
"We're continuing to see strong demand for graduates in our manufacturing and robotics programs," said E.J. Daigle, director of the Robotics & Manufacturing Technology department at Dunwoody College. "In fact, many of our students have landed jobs long before graduation." To meet the demand of employers in precision manufacturing and automated packaging, Dunwoody is piloting a fast-track program called Right Skills Now for Manufacturing, which trains graduates to work as CNC operators in only 24 weeks. "It includes 18 weeks of classes and hands-on lab work at the College followed by a 6-week paid internship," Daigle said. For more information, go to www.dunwoody.edu.
What drew you to a career in manufacturing?
My grandfather worked at Honeywell for 30 years. I watched my grandfather's sons get laid off. Now, manufacturing is coming back to America, and I want to help bring it back.
Why are you so much happier in technical college than you were in high school?
I want to know this. I'm looking for a career--- something I can do for the rest of my life. In high school, I thought, "You're boring me." I was working so much ahead; I just thought, "You're going too slow."
Would you recommend manufacturing to other women?
I hope to see more girls get into manufacturing. I hope someday my daughter will pursue something that's not the usual. We'll always need nurses, and people will always need to get their hair cut, but there are other options, too.
What kind of work are you looking for after graduation?
I'm hoping to pursue robotics. I've thought about going into industrial engineering. Twenty years from now, I'll be working on projects and machines that people couldn't imagine right now, just as people 60 years ago wouldn't imagined the simple calculator I just programmed in class. I want to make our lives better, using the brain God gave me.