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Rowe rewards two SMC students

Two Southwestern Michigan College students won Work Ethic Scholarships from Mike Rowe’s foundation. Elkhart’s Carlyn McClelland, awarded $7,000, and Niles’ Victoria Knight, $2,000, are starting their second year studying construction trades green technology with Larry Wilson, including finishing SMC’s small house interior.

“We are so excited about the possibilities that could come from earning these scholarships,” McClelland said. “Mr. Rowe picked people he thought would change the perception of jobs in the skilled trades. This is something Victoria and I take very seriously after our incredible year in the field. We want to help put SMC on the map and make it the premier program in the area for training people for the trades. These good-paying jobs are an affordable alternative to debt you don’t understand as an 18-year-old limits your options at 25.

“We want to spend the next year reaching out to Michiana schools, talking to kids about the trades,” said McClelland, who blogs at Carlyn Learns Construction: “Four and a half years ago, I was like many other young mothers, unhappy with my body, lacking energy and looking for something I could call my own outside of caring for my family. After the devastating stillbirth of my third child in the summer of 2012, I made a decision that changed my mind, body and heart. I would get healthy for my family and live the life I was intended by moving my body and doing hard work. I’ve lost 150 pounds.”

Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s 2005-12 “Dirty Jobs” series, posted on Facebook Aug. 4, “mikeroweWORKS is not a scholarship fund — it’s a PR initiative whose prime directive is to shine a light on several million jobs that don’t get a lot of attention. Our Work Ethic Scholarship program has proven to be an effective means of doing that very thing. So while I’m thrilled for this year’s recipients — and encouraged by our own growth — I want to stress the importance of the larger objective — changing overall perceptions around the skilled trades.”

“The skills gap is wide,” Rowe wrote announcing 259 scholarships totaling more than $900,000, “and getting wider. Six million jobs exist — most of which don’t require a four-year degree. Two years ago, that number was 5.4 million. Back in 2008, when I started mikeroweWORKS, the number was 2.3 million.”

McClelland May 8 started work with St. Joseph home builder Greg Powell, Southwestern Michigan Home Builders Association past president.

“I learned a lot of trim carpentry putting in baseboards and shoe molding,” McClelland summarized summer.

A Barton Malow internship put Knight, a 2013 Brandywine graduate, on the largest construction project in the University of Notre Dame’s 175-year history.

Campus Crossroads surrounds the stadium with nine-story Duncan Student Center and Corbett and O’Neill halls.

She started college to study nursing. Now she hopes to help build SMC’s nursing expansion.

Knight started her own business, Resfeber Restorations, in March and is rebuilding her great-grandmother’s house with her father.

“I want to blog and do YouTube videos. This stuff needs to be done. So many houses around the area are falling apart,” said Knight, who aspires to host an HGTV or DIY Network show “to inspire and encourage people.”

“I’m trying to pay off school debt before I graduate,” said Knight, who this fall adds Ferris State University business administration courses.

“I’m so thankful for what SMC offers with Ferris. Paying SMC tuition for Ferris classes is so helpful.”

Last spring “we established a student chapter of the National Association of Home Builders,” McClelland said. “Having access to NAHB programming improves our resumes at discounted cost. We very much look forward to putting together a team to represent SMC at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show in Orlando in January.”

Both volunteered for Elkhart County Habitat for Humanity’s May Women Build Week.

In a thank-you letter to Rowe, “I said life threw me adversity to strengthen my character and magnify my voice. People are interested in the trades, they just haven’t been given permission to pursue them as a viable career option. It’s empowering! I never operated a drill until Larry’s class. As a girl, nobody came to me in eighth grade to talk about going into construction.”

McClelland gave such a talk at SMC’s Girls Can Day April 21.

McClelland “graduated at the top of my (1998) high school class (in Clio, north of Flint). Going into the trades wasn’t an option. I was expected to go to college for a four-year degree.”

She left Michigan State University in 2002 with a criminal justice bachelor’s degree and worked as a probation officer.

She and her teacher husband, Paul, are raising sons Sam, 9, and Eli, 7.

“In Elkhart County 20,000 jobs can’t be filled because people don’t know skilled trades. The area’s wide open for a female-run remodeling business” she would call Proverbs 31.

“I was just a lady who wanted to learn to fix her house, but that’s not why I’m here anymore. At what point did I turn into my mother?” wonders the daughter of the first female Genesee County deputy sheriff.

“Victoria and I love construction and our time at SMC,” McClelland said. “We intend to give back more than we’ve been awarded.”