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Blaze Your Own Trail

March 31, 2024 | By Suzanne Grove

Charity: Western Area Career & Technology Center
WACTC photo 1
WACTC’s mission is to provide a successful expansion of technical skills leading to post-secondary education and/or sustainable employment for students.

Annie Dillard, Pittsburgh native and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” The question of how exactly to fill our hours–of the activities we pursue every day–will ultimately have a profound impact on the course of our lives and the legacy we leave behind.

Within the context of a career, this decision is a tremendous one. For many, the first time they come face-to-face with this truth occurs as students, contemplating what will come next after their required education comes to a close. Leaving behind the structure and familiarity of school to decide what field of study to pursue might feel like stepping onto a precipice and into the unknown. It can be scary, even overwhelming.

Luckily for students in Washington County, the Western Pennsylvania Career & Technology Center provides a plethora of options beyond the familiar choices available at most colleges and universities.

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The welding facility at WACTC provides students with hands-on training experience.

Students in grades 10-12 at any of the nine participating school districts have the option of attending classes at WACTC in more than a dozen programs, including auto mechanics, automation and robotics engineering technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, emergency and protective services, HVAC, health occupations, welding, and more. Cooperative education also exists, an opportunity for students to combine classroom learning with paid work experience for local employers. In addition to these options, WACTC also provides adult education.

“The ultimate goal is to be offered full-time positions after graduation for all of our students,” said Executive Director Michael Milanovich. “To see the smiles on these students’ faces when they return to our building once a week and hear about what they have accomplished is what we are all about, earning while learning and setting them up for success in their futures.”

Recently, there have been several thrilling developments and updates to WACTC. The cosmetology program salon has been completely remodeled, and students will attend the International Beauty Show in New York City this March. Pupils studying health occupations hosted blood drives through Vitalant, with another one scheduled this May. Meanwhile, those in the sports medicine program moved into a brand-new lab with state-of-the-art equipment while also volunteering at many health facilities throughout Washington County.

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Culinary students preparing take-out orders for the Lenten Fish Fry.

During Lent, the culinary program runs its Lenten Fish Fry with a delicious menu of combo platters, featuring items like battered cod fillets, fried shrimp, hushpuppies, coleslaw, tomato soup, pierogies, mac and cheese, haluski with homemade noodles, and more.

The students aren’t the only ones who benefit from everything WACTC has to offer.

"Western Area Career & Technology Center is the best of both worlds for an instructor,” said Ms. Rachel Moss, a teacher in the sports medicine program. “I get to teach what I love to the next generation while staying connected to the community–all while being supported by a family of great coworkers!"

"Being a part of WACTC’s education of America's manufacturing leadership, workforce, and future is a phenomenal experience!" said machine shop instructor Keith Myer, while masonry instructor Brett Shriver added that WACTC allows him to thrive personally and professionally: “I can honestly say that I enjoy time spent with my students and coworkers each day."

These feelings of passion pervade throughout the school, including the teachers, staff, and students. Most importantly, WACTC reminds us that there is no set path, no one “right” career for everyone. We must blaze our own trail.

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