By Ed Weirauch
When a young man becomes a student at Williamson College of the Trades, he’s sure to get an education in the trades. But what’s not detailed in a textbook, workshop or course catalog is the character development that comes while attending Williamson. It may seem intangible… until the student truly embraces it and ultimately reaps the full benefits of his educational experience.
CJ Mills is a graduating senior in Machine Tool Technology at Williamson who has become a role model for younger students. He now embodies the brotherhood, high standards, exemplary conduct and conscientiousness of Williamson. But this wasn’t always the case, as CJ himself admits.
“Until half-way through my junior year, I was sort of floating, sometimes being late to classes and just doing enough work to get by.”
But it was his Character Review just before the Christmas-New Year’s holiday that seemed to mark the turning point.
Turning Point: Character Review
A Williamson student who accumulates a high number of disciplinary points takes part in a Character Review to determine if he should stay in school or be dismissed. During the review, faculty members and administrators who work with the student give their formal feedback. For CJ, his instructors (Harold Ney, Director of Machine Tool Technology as well as instructors Dave Carvin and Kevin Brown) and mentor, Director of Financial Aid Gretchen Skipworth, all agreed on a course of action.
“We told CJ that if he didn’t get it together, he’d have to go. And we all agreed,” remembers Gretchen Skipworth, Director of Financial Aid and a mentor to CJ.
CJ recalls that discussion had a stand-out message: “They all said they saw great potential in me but I wasn’t living up to it, that at times they were very impressed by me and my work, but not consistently. They said that my actions have consequences and that my future (at Williamson and beyond) was up to me.”
“Yes, a Williamson education is focused on the trades,” says Tom Moffit, Dean of Students. “But we’re looking at the whole person. It goes to our core values, among them integrity, diligence and excellence. If a student isn’t living and practicing these, he can’t and won’t be as successful. In the future, his trade or profession suffers and indirectly, so does Williamson.”
During that Christmas break over a year ago, CJ had a lot to think about back home in Chester, PA, a city that faces great economic and social challenges. “I want my story to be a positive reflection on Chester and I want to use my brain to achieve that success.” CJ says he took their feedback, the good and the bad, to heart.
CJ remembers thinking he would show everyone that he wanted to be at Williamson, that he was committed to his education. And that semester break, he especially recollects making that commitment for himself.
“Before, I was here because my Mom wanted me to pursue an education. I was here because it was a tuition-free college. But when I came back after Christmas, I wanted to be here because I wanted to succeed. I finally made the commitment.”
Gretchen Skipworth vividly remembers that post-holiday conversation with CJ. “I thought… ‘we’ve heard this before …we’ll see.’ Well, CJ sure has shown us he’s committed. It’s been a complete turn-around. CJ has become a model student who has earned the respect of the staff as well as his fellow students.”
His turn-around was also fueled by something else from his Character Review. “That was the first time I heard positive feedback. Those compliments made me feel good, but also felt terrible that I had let them down. I had not known that my teachers thought so highly of me. I felt like I needed to correct myself, to make up for disappointing them,” CJ says now.
“I think when CJ went home that Christmas, he looked around and decided he wanted more. He finally saw that committing to his education was the way to get it,” Gretchen points out.
CJ really sees himself as having a full set of motivations. In addition to responding to the challenges and positive feedback of his teachers and mentors, he really prides himself on being a role model for younger Williamson students. “I try to guide and help them to not be like me in my earlier days, to show them the right path.”
After his junior year, an internship that CJ was hoping for didn’t materialize. Sensing that CJ could pivot to another discipline, Paint and Coatings Instructor Kevin Brown jumped at the chance to get CJ on a job he had lined up painting labs at Villanova University. Kevin had grown close to CJ while coaching him on Williamson’s basketball team.
A Machine Tool Technology student, CJ already has a full-time job lined up with Jabil, a national company with a medical equipment manufacturing plant in West Chester. “I think of it as hands-on engineering, which is much more of what I’m interested in doing than the designing of products.”
On this first job, he’ll build on what he learned and accomplished at Williamson. “Employers are searching for us; they know the caliber of worker that comes from Williamson.
CJ aims for a future in management but wants to learn as much as possible about the work first. If and when I manage people, I really want to know the work that’s involved so I can share my knowledge, and for workers to take me seriously because I did their job.”
“I’ll come back…”
Is it any wonder that CJ uses the word ‘love’ to describe his feelings about Williamson? “They set us up for success here, not just through education but with the real interest that the teachers and everyone takes in us. We really feel like they want success for us. I love Williamson and I’ll definitely come back after graduation. I’ll stay in touch.”
Your support makes it possible for students like CJ to attend Williamson College of the Trades with a full scholarship that covers tuition, room, and board. You can help to prepare the next generation of Williamson Men to be respected leaders and productive members of society by Making a Gift Today.