Gap Year Program Participants Served Straight Scoop

High school graduates taking time off told it’s okay to be undecided and unsure about future

Mark Feldmann,

November 15, 2023

Gap Year Panel

It’s okay to be undecided, it’s okay to be unsure. You’ve got to know what you really want to do.

Nathan Perez MATC Nursing Student

MILWAUKEE – Dee Turner was fine being a firefighter until he found out he didn’t like flames. 

Nathan Perez thought about being a dental hygienist but wanted to do more than help patients floss.

Gabrielle Armon-Wickers thought a four-year college was the right choice for her until she went to one.

Finding the right educational and career path can take time, and that’s just fine, said Perez, who is in the Registered Nursing program at Milwaukee Area Technical College.  

“It’s okay to be undecided, it’s okay to be unsure,” Perez told a group of high school graduates who are taking a year off before figuring what to do next. “You’ve got to know what you really want to do.”

Perez, Turner, a student in the Legal Studies/Paralegal program, and Armon-Withers, a student in the Financial Services program, addressed nearly two dozen students in the MATC Gap Year program November 9 at the Downtown Milwaukee Campus. 

Established in the fall of 2020 as a partnership with NEWaukee, the MATC Gap Year program provides an alternative educational experience for high school graduates taking time off to work and save money, to figure out their future, or to plan how to best continue their education. 

The program offers career exploration and hands-on experience in a variety of fields: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), business management, creative arts, healthcare, community and human service, and manufacturing. The learning experiences are paired with community showcases, speakers field trips to Milwaukee businesses and cultural assets.

As part of the program, students heard from current MATC students about their educational experiences and personal growth.

“They’re here to tell you how it really is,” said Courtney Kelly, MATC’s special projects coordinator for scholarships.

Leary of fire and smoke, Turner left firefighting and went back to school. “At college I learned I was a very hard worker,” Turner said. “I was always a big procrastinator and now I’m not. Once you get into the right environment, you get the work done.”

Armon-Wickers, a self-described overachiever, always thought she would be a doctor, a lawyer or some kind of professional. She attended Richmond University after graduating high school in Spain. “But it was not the best experience at all,” she said. 

She left college, worked for a year, learned she liked business and came to MATC. She enrolled in MATC’s Business Management degree program, then received a full-ride scholarship from the Ellen and Joe Checota MATC Scholarship Program to get a technical diploma in Financial Services at the same time. When she leaves MATC, she’ll have both an associate degree and technical diploma.

Perez said his sister is an emergency medical technician and his brother a paramedic. He thought about dental hygiene but was attracted to the help his siblings provided people. “I found I wanted to be much more hands-on,” he said. “I can deal with blood and broken bones, so now I want to be a nurse in a trauma center.”

Once the Gap Year participants decide what they want to do, the MATC students told them to fully integrate themselves at whatever college or university they choose.

“Make sure you are a part of the school,” said Perez, who plans to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “Check out scholarships, internships, job shadowing, groups, clubs. This is a time to make connections, develop connections and advocate for yourself.”

And make time for yourself, said Armon-Wickers, who plans to study business at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after MATC. “Mental health is key,” she said. “Being a student can be overwhelming.”

Learn about MATC’s Gap Year program

ABOUT MATC: 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. Nearly 28,000 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 180 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.