Student Sparks Passion To Advance Career

Many people experience several job changes in their lifetime. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans hold an average of 12 jobs in their lifetime.

And with increased availability of courses, training opportunities, and enhanced technology – it’s becoming easier, and more common, for people in our community to advance their careers.

This is true for Erica Turner, a welding student at Rock Valley College.

After graduating high school, Erica enrolled in college to pursue Sports Management. She was a three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball, and softball. However, in her second college semester, she unexpectedly had to stop playing sports and ultimately decided to drop out of college.

In the workforce, Erica worked a number of jobs before finding her true passion – welding. At the time, she was working as a Powder Coat Painter and had always been fascinated by the work of the welding team who was right across the aisle from her workstation. “I’ve always loved making things and getting my hands dirty, but I never really thought about how I could make that into a career until now,” shared Erica.

This spark inspired Erica to advance her career in welding.

“I chose to attend Rock Valley College because it was close to home and I knew it was a great school,” said Erica. “And I honestly couldn’t have done it without my wife, my support system.” Erica’s wife supported her career change and helped make the transition back to college as smooth as possible by helping Erica find a class schedule to fit around her work schedule.

In August, Erica started the Welding program for the Fall 2021 Semester. From August to December, she was taking her classes and labs in the Stenstrom Center. “The lab space was smaller and was shared with other programs,” Erica recalled. This created limitations in lab schedules and flexibility.

Then, Erica and her classmates found out that their program would be moving to the new Advanced Technology Center (ATC) beginning in January 2022.

The Belvidere, IL facility would offer innovative, hands-on learning opportunities to help both RVC students and currently-employed workers advance their futures toward high-demand jobs with local manufacturers. In addition to the Welding program, CNC Machining, Mechatronics, and Truck Driver Training relocated to the ATC.

Erica is proud to be part of the ATC’s history as the first class of students. “It was jaw-dropping,” Erica recalled the first day she and her classmates stepped inside the ATC, “It humbled us to come to the new facility with all of the new technology.” With dedicated program spaces, classrooms, labs, and new equipment, the ATC was prepared to advance education and hands-on training. Erica added, “We are able to see what the instructor is doing from our booths, through the mounted TVs.”

This semester, Erica was also hired on as a student worker, working closely with George Bane, RVC Welding Instructor. She added, “George is an absolute genius. He knows so much about welding and brings over 30 years of experience.” As a student worker, Erica assists with prep work – like cutting pieces for other classes – and continues to expand her knowledge in the trades.

Erica credits her success to the positive connections made with faculty, including her Welding Instructors – Bill Isham and Jeffrey Petty. “One of my favorite things about Rock Valley is the camaraderie between the faculty and students,” said Erica. “In my experience, the instructors have felt more like a friend or mentor than a teacher. They don’t just teach you how to weld, they truly enjoy what they do and that rubs off on us as students and allows us to have fun while we learn.”

And her success extends beyond the classroom.

This spring, Erica was invited to become a member of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society. To be formally inducted into PTK, students must have completed at least 12 credit hours and have a minimum 3.5 cumulative GPA. “Being inducted into this prestigious group was definitely a highlight of my life,” shared Erica, “and I could not have done it without the support of all of my family and the staff here at the ATC.”

“I now have less than six weeks of classes left until I graduate,” Erica added. After RVC, Erica plans to advance her skills in stick welding – and hopes to make time for traveling.

For others considering Rock Valley College, Erica advised, “I definitely think it is worth it. Not only will you get a great education, but you will also meet great friends, instructors, and professors that will stick with you for life.”