Kicking butt and taking jobs

Liz Kiewiet was a junior at Paw Paw High School in southwest Michigan, “always interested in computers.”

But she said her high school had little to offer – she knew more than the teachers.

A friend suggested she tour the Van Buren Technology Center hub of Van Buren County's vocational program. She wound up in a class with students who had created a network with six computers, enabling them all to play some silly motorcycle racing game.

That's all it took.

“Once I saw I could do that, I got really jazzed about it,” Kiewiet recalled.

She enrolled in the center's computer networking and systems administration programs her junior and senior year, where she studied with teachers with Microsoft certification and real-world knowledge. The programs are among 28 career programs offered by the center, which serves 11 high schools within the county's intermediate school district.

“They knew what they were talking about. They were fantastic. They could pretty much answer any question I had,” Kiewiet said.

“They had industry experience. They owned their own businesses doing this kind of work. Real-world experience goes so much further.”

Kiewiet graduated from Paw Paw High School in 2006. Armed with the confidence she gained from the center, she enrolled in New York state's Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with honors in 2010 with a four-year degree in applied networking and systems administration.

She worked three years as a data center network engineer for Cisco Systems in North Carolina, then took a job in December as network engineer with e-commerce firm ChannelAdvisor in Morrisville, N.C. At age 27, she earns a six-figure salary.

Robert Smith, an administrator at the Van Buren Technology Center, said outcomes like that are the direct result of funds that fuel the district's vocational program. It is backed by a 2.5-mill property tax, an amount that costs the owner of a $200,000 home, with a taxable value of $100,000, $250 a year. The tax revenue allows the center to accept students free of charge and to maintain a diverse career curriculum. The district also provides about $250,000 a year in free community college tuition to students in qualified courses.

“It's really about the community and what it deems valuable and worth their tax money,” Smith said.

Smith said officials are considering offering students two or three more career courses next year.

It’s another story for students in places like Livingston County east of Lansing, where they make do with fewer vocational programs scattered among several different high schools. The county’s intermediate school district has no tax millage to support vocational education.

In Iosco County north of Bay City, students have just five career programs to choose from. The county’s intermediate school district also has no millage to support vocational education.

Looking back, Kiewiet is certain she got a jump on the competition because of what she soaked up at the tech center. She gained more experience through a work-study assignment one summer installing ethernet cable and security cameras for a new school in the district.

“I went into networking programming and I kicked butt because I was so well prepared by Van Buren Tech,” she said.

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Tue, 01/13/2015 - 5:29pm
Liz Kiewiet is another success within the Michigan educational system. We can learn much from her if we take the time to ask her why and how she excelled and listen to what she has to say. I would like know what the barriers or challenges she have overcome and how she did it. I would like to know why she was willing to invest in her learning, how she was able to learn, what she did to learn, when she needed help where she turn and how did you know to seek that help. With all we hear from the educational 'experters', she is the expert of her learning and I would like to learn from her journey to this success.
Tue, 01/13/2015 - 8:29pm
Funny how she learned everything using Michigan money, then took her knowledge to North Carolina and pays taxes of some form there. So tell me why I, as a Michigan taxpayer, should continue to fund North Carolina's gains. Let her pay back, or rather, let her employer pay for these types of programs. Another commenter said it more eloquently than I could have that the citizens pay the bills, but the employers reap the profits.
John Q. Public
Wed, 01/14/2015 - 12:04am
Wed, 01/14/2015 - 1:49am
Rich, "So tell me why I, as a Michigan taxpayer, should continue to fund North Carolina’s gains." I have to admit that I had to reread this a few times because it so outside my experience and thinking. I see learning as so valuable that I pay my taxes so every kid in Michigan has an opportunity to learn. The reasons are many with a long history of benefits. If you truly want to hear the list let me know. I wonder if you apply that same logic to every soldier that grew up in Michigan and was assigned to Fort Bragg.
Wed, 01/14/2015 - 7:16pm
As someone 'assigned' to Fort Bragg (but not from Michigan at that time). 'Assigned' means (for military people) - 'go where your orders tell you to go'. That's not a choice and that's the issue here. Please tell me if I'm mistaken...
Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:16am
Rick., As best I can tell there are very very few Army assignments in Michigan, so all those Michigan residence that serve (volunteer) in the military know they will be stationed outside of Michigan. All US residence benefit from those who serve in the military. I also am glad that any kid that has all or part of their education in Michigan go where they find they can best use that education. Similarly I hope kids educated in other states come and apply their education in Michigan. I must admit that I was educated in Michigan and worked outside the state for a number of years before returning, and much of our childrens early education was recieved outside the state. Both daughters and their husbands have lived and worked outside the state and have lived and worked in Michigan after competing their educations. So we have practiced what this young lady is doing, and benefitting from our Michigan educations. I am a strong believer in equal opportunity without controls on how people use their opportunities. I strongly believe that those who learn while in Michigan schools have the freedom, even the responsibility, to use that education as they choose where they choose.
Thu, 01/15/2015 - 10:05am
Duane, There are no "Michigan soldiers", there are no "Nebraska soldiers", they are all part of the US Army. Their job is not to protect Michigan residents, nor South Carolina residents, but rather to protect residents of the United States. Plus the military trains their own. Every soldier will first go to a training school put on by the Army before being assigned to a unit that performs a function.
Thu, 01/15/2015 - 6:56pm
Rich, I thought we were talking about how you felt it was wrong for that young lady to use her Michigan education anywhere else but Michigan. "Let her pay back, or rather, let her employer pay for these types of programs." I was offering another North Carolina example of how others that have taken their Michigan education and used it well outside of Michigan. I was hoping you would consider when Michigan educated kids leave the state they are benefiting all of us whether directly or indirectly by using their education in a positive way. I can appreciate how with current wrangling over education a desire for direct return for our tax dollars is a pressing interest. AS frustrated as I am with these people that are looking for or claiming to have the educational 'silver bullet' I still focus on opportunity for kids to learn and use what they learn where ever that make take them.
Sun, 01/18/2015 - 7:42am
It's so obvious it's right in front of us. In the "good old days," vocational education was taken on by the employers not the government. Employers would train talent to meet their needs. Now, employers have transferred that responsibility to government in the desire to keep their costs low. Now, employers complain that the workforce is not prepared for the skills they need. Maybe it's time for the "job creators" to put some skin in the game by training the workforce they need and keep government out of the business of picking winners and losers. Oh wait, the "job creators" are already against that. What was I thinking?
Sun, 01/18/2015 - 10:44am
Another perspective, as a retiree on the proverbial "fixed income" I know that $250 isn't a lot but when you look at all of the taxes, fees and especially the new healthcare charges coming from my Social Security, another $250 is not that easy to fit in. More than likely I will need to downsize, cut back and do without more. No one ever identifies what we might be able to do without. They want more for roads, senior citizens, public employees, public services, education, etc. Never can we reduce or eliminate in one place to add another. Michigan has a particularly big problem in higher education. Its two biggest universities with the most students and the greatest State support end up with about 70% of their graduates working out of state. Our smaller regional universities and particularly our community colleges have a much better record in this regard. It might make sense to turn our two large universities into private schools (ala Southern California) and use that money for greater State needs. I think the two universities would do fine, maybe better without the legislature interfering and we could use the money for vo-ed.
Thu, 01/29/2015 - 10:05pm
Why are people worried about students taking jobs in other states? If Michigan's economy were stand-alone, that would make sense. However, that's not how economies work. Do we have "trade relations" with North Carolina, possibly even with her company? Does she come home on vacation & spend money at restaurants, etc? Will she inspire other people to move to Michigan, based on the opportunities she received? Education is always a long game -- Concentrating on immediate benefits shortchanges both the present & the future.