High school students explore MATC’s career-focused programs

MKE Fellows summer camp shows value of getting education, gaining skills

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

July 20, 2022

MEQUON – The high school students listened politely, but the idea of working as an electrical lineman didn’t sound very appealing to them.

At least not at first.

The job can be dangerous: Climbing 100-foot poles and dealing with high-voltage electricity. The job can be stressful: Working in bad weather, at night, on weekends, during holidays.

Then Matthew Reindl told the students about the pay.

A first-year apprentice lineman can make $65,000 or more, said Reindl, an electrical power distribution instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Mequon Campus. An experienced lineman who travels to sites affected by natural disasters can make nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year, he said.

“We’re starving for linemen right now,” Reindl told the students. “There’s more demand on our power grid, which means more repairs are needed. There’s no shortage of work.”

About 40 high school students from Milwaukee Public Schools and other districts got a firsthand look at several MATC programs during a summer camp sponsored by MKE Fellows.

MKE Fellows is a Milwaukee organization that strives to create a strong pipeline of young, African American, college graduates ready to stay or return to Wisconsin to excel in their careers, build wealth and become engaged leaders. 

During the Empowerment Camp, students toured MATC’s Downtown Milwaukee, Oak Creek and Mequon campuses. They learned about careers related to respiratory therapy, police and fire science, electrical power distribution systems, automobile technology and horticulture.

“Our objective with this camp is to enlighten African American males and other students of color to a variety of educational opportunities available at MATC that will lead to careers and family-supporting wages,” said Gregory Ware, MATC’s coordinator of student success initiatives and projects.

Working as an electrical lineman isn’t for everyone, noted Reindl, but it can satisfy you physically, financially and even emotionally.

“There’s no greater feeling than flipping the switch and providing power to people who haven’t had it in days, weeks or even months,” he said. 

At MATC’s automotive technology lab at Mequon, instructor Jeff Gahan showed the students how to run computerized diagnostic tests on the spark plugs of a Dodge Dart. 

“Automotive is a great career to get into,” Gahan told the students. “Almost everyone needs some form of transportation. At some point, the transportation will break down and need repairs. That’s where you could come in.”

Douglas Winfrey, who will be a senior at Milwaukee Public Schools’ Rufus King High School in the fall, said during a WUWM-FM radio interview that the hands-on visit to MATC cemented his goal of becoming an auto mechanic.

“If I’m able to see it and touch it, get the feel of it, understand it from point A to point B — then that’s a lot better than looking at paper,” Winfrey explained.

At the college’s horticulture lab, educational assistant Cassie Brayton helped students don tree climbing gear to scale training ropes set up in a warehouse.

The students also engaged in yoga to emphasize the importance of physical and mental well-being. MATC yoga instructor Shayne Broadwell guided the students through breathing exercises and stretching.

“We are all trying to be the best version of ourselves, and if we don’t feel good, we’re not our best selves,” Broadwell said.

Most of the participating students still have a year or two left in high school. But it’s never too early to have them thinking about the future, Ware said.

“We want to show students that once you have a skill in a trade, you will always have that skill to fall back on,” Ware said. “The ultimate goal is for students to understand the importance of higher education and what skills are necessary to be successful in the workplace, industry and beyond.”

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 150 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 35 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.