Aurora Mora is a single mother who wanted to learn how to build a clubhouse for her child. Now she's spending her days building a full-size residential structure from the ground up, and gaining valuable real-world training that she hopes will lead to a fulfilling career in architectural design.
Mora is one of 14 students enrolled in the Native American Career and Technical Education Program
(NACTEP), a partnership between the Tulalip Tribes, the U.S. Department of Education and Edmonds Community College. The hands-on training takes place in a former Boeing missile factory just north of Seattle Premium Outlets on the Tulalip Reservation.
The construction trades program is one of four courses offered through NACTEP. The others, all of which are directly related to tribal work opportunities, are Business, Fire Science, and Hospitality. The training programs are available at no charge for all Native Americans, spouses, children and Tulalip Tribes employees. The students are even paid a small stipend during the training, thanks to a federal grant.
Mark Newland, the construction trades instructor, explained that the building course ensures students have a broad overview of the construction industry. They learn about the permitting process, project management, the proper use of power tools and safety equipment, and the many trades involved in residential and light commercial construction.
EdCC president Jean Hernandez added, "The students receive college credit for their work, and earn a certificate upon successful completion. The credits can be applied toward a two-year construction management degree or to a four-year degree in a related field."
On the day of our visit, students Wade Sheldon, Corey Honanie and Jerry Phillips were learning to cut out a window opening and install a window unit in the training structure.
"This is a great way to get skills to help me get a good job," said Honanie. "I had done a little carpentry before, but now I'm learning to do things the right way."
"When our students leave here, they have the skills and confidence they need to make a difference," said Newland. "Not only does it help them get a good job, but they can do things around their own homes, take care of maintenance and improvements that help them feel good about themselves and their environment."
Because art and culture are such critical components of tribal heritage, the students are also encouraged to express their creative side while learning construction techniques. 20-year-old Vashti Williams had crafted a coffee table that she planned to embellish with a carved design in the table top.
"My grandpa has worked in construction since he was 15," said Williams, "and I always wanted to be like him. I plan to take more courses and continue with construction and design work."
Welding instructor Dave Taylor showed off his students' metal creations-a giant buffalo sculpture, an orca whale fabricated out of old filing cabinets, schools of salmon crafted from scrap automobile metal.
"We salvage everything we can," explained Taylor. "We use old partition walls out of offices, scrap metal of any kind, even nails and screws. We have an anvil that's made out of a railroad track. We're very low budget," he smiled.
"This program is designed to help the underemployed and unemployable," said tribal spokesperson Francesca Hillery. "Students are required to attend classes and put in their hours, and to meet behavior expectations. Even if they don't continue in the construction trades, they've learned what it's like to get a job and keep a job."
To find out more about the NACTEP program, call the office at (360) 716-4759 or visit http://const.edcc.edu