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The Gift of a Technical Education

By Erica Gay – SouthernTech Marketing Coordinator

L-R: Michael Apala, Amber Dove, Cindy Crane

A gift.  We all have a different idea of the perfect gift.  From year to year, the gift list changes just as our lives inevitably do.  Sometimes the gift is in a pristinely wrapped box sealed closed with a colorful bow.  Other times the gift is a handmade card crafted with dry noodles glued onto glittered construction paper.  But most people would agree that the best gifts are unique and long-lasting.  They best gifts can provide a lifetime of satisfaction and personal fulfillment.  They are enduring and improve our quality of life.  What follows is the story of three individuals who have done just that – given themselves the gift of a technical education that provides time with their families, flexibility of schedule, and quality of life. 

Since the pandemic has impacted our economy and jobs, the option of a technical education may be fresh on the minds of many.  I caught up with three alumni and asked them to share their story about the technical education they received from SouthernTech.  Cindy Crane, Operating Room Nurse at Mercy; Amber Dove, owner and stylist at The Tease Salon; Michael Apala, owner and heat & air technician of Ninja Company. 

Crane’s career path was unique.  Crane was a 38-year-old non-traditional student at SouthernTech in 2013.  After leaving her career as a biological researcher, she returned to something she always wanted to do, and that was to help people.  SouthernTech was an obvious choice because of “the amazing opportunity to get a skill in a short 22-month period.”  Today, Crane credits SouthernTech with throwing her a “life-line” as she was able to learn the nursing profession from the ground-up and eventually get her Registered Nursing license by “bridging over to Murray State College.” 

Recalling her nursing path, Crane expressed how much she enjoys her job.  Nursing school helped her to give back and make a difference like she was unable to do in her previous career. She feels fortunate to have her job and gets personal fulfillment from it.  “I get to help people in good and bad times. I get to be there for people when babies are being born and when people are dying.  And everything in between.”    

Enjoying her direct care role as a nurse in the Operating Room, Crane relays how SouthernTech prepared her for the diverse and changing nursing workforce.  She was the oldest student but appreciated the diversity of classmates and instructors. Each instructor prepared her for the professional skills needed to work at Mercy.

Crane explained the reasons she chose SouthernTech when she was changing careers: “You can start out with a short-term program, and take additional steps depending on your life circumstances. I knew that there would always be a need for the specialized skills I was learning.  I don’t know if people know about it, but SouthernTech offers so many options, that you can go at your own-pace and start making money pretty quickly.”

Amber Dove, former cosmetology student, would agree with Crane on making money quickly.  Dove has styled hair for hundreds of people in Southern Oklahoma over the past five years and started working as a hair stylist at a young age, immediately following high school graduation and cosmetology licensing.  Since owning her own salon, she has mentored at least three fellow SouthernTech alumni and received recognition for the Best of the Best Salons in 2018 and 2019.  When asked why she chose SouthernTech, she said she remembered her dad guiding her through the decision.

Dove explained that the cosmetology program was a good option because she could immediately start her career after high school, make good money, and have no student loans.  Like many gifts, it almost “seemed too good to be true.”  She took the opportunity as a junior and senior in high school and during her two years of training at SouthernTech, she “loved the teachers and worked hard”. 

Like Crane, Dove expressed how much she enjoys her career now and how much personal satisfaction she receives from it.  “I love the relationships I’ve developed with my clients.”  I’ve really made it a priority to build trust, comfort and to help clients feel at home.  I’ve tried to create a unique atmosphere.”  She also relayed the constant need for cosmetology professionals.  “Hair is important.  It can give you confidence.  It is a canvas.” 

She appreciates how her career affords her a balance between her mom role and Operator role at H2TeO.  Dove’s aspirations of balancing career with family life mirror Michael Apala’s ambitions.  Apala admits that his career path was born out of the desire to be a pastor, good father of five, and a husband that was present for his wife.  Additionally, he realized that a career change was a financial necessity as his family outgrew his ability to support them.  Apala attended and completed the HVAC program at SouthernTech in one year, all while working in the evenings at Allied Services.  He became a licensed technician six months after completing the program.  He then became licensed in HVAC as a contractor and later passed the journeyman test.  He continues to give back to SouthernTech by serving on the HVAC Advisory Committee. 

Even though he was on the fast-track towards a lucrative career, he had a family to support while attending school.  He went to SouthernTech during the day and worked at night to provide for his family of seven.  Highly motivated and driven, Apala had an A average and achieved Platinum academic levels. 

In a quest for more flexibility, Apala now owns and operates the Ninja heating and air conditioning business.  His company is ‘guided by the golden rule and he continues to be bound by the honor of implementing it.’ We “make it a point to treat everyone like they’re our mother. When I help someone, I get to be the hero, multiple times a day. In this career, you have ‘wins’ every day.  By pricing our services honestly, and being reasonable, word-of-mouth has allowed us to launch and maintain business during Covid-19 .  It’s me and two part-time technicians.” The part-time technicians are Apala’s sons and they are SouthernTech students. 

A gift isn’t always wrapped.  It isn’t always given by someone else.  Sometimes a gift is what we give ourselves.  A technical education can provide overall life fulfillment through job satisfaction, personal well-being, scheduling flexibility, and financial gain.  And when time is of utmost importance, the gift of a technical education is ever present in its benefits.  SouthernTech alumni can attest to that.