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At Western Technical College in Tomah, the education you need is never far away. If you are a high school student looking to get started on your college education, an adult looking to update your workplace skills, or a community member interested in lifelong learning, we have what you need.
"Education is key in getting to the next step in your career," says Don Byrum. "It helps set you apart from everyone else." As a soon-to-be-retired Army sergeant first class, Don, of Warrens, Wis., will be starting the next phase of his career and joining the class of 2011 in the job hunt. With 20 years in the military, he brings a wealth of training and experience to the table. But he wanted to complement his years of military and supervision experience with an education that fit his skill set. He found what he needed in the Supervisory Management program at Western in Tomah.
When Don began investigating his options and talking to others at Fort McCoy who had taken classes, he found many were taking online classes through an online university. "I'm not a big online guy," he says. "I actually like to have more involvement." So, he looked at some of the larger universities in La Crosse, but didn't want to make the commute. By chance, he drove by Western's Tomah location. He went inside, talked to some of the staff, including Brandee Ortery, Supervisory Management instructor, and decided to enroll.
He hasn't been disappointed. "Most of the classes are face-to-face or through interactive television," says Don. "You get a lot of interaction with students and that's really what I was looking for." He finds that he learns from both his instructors and his fellow students. "When you have a discussion, you might pick up something from another that helps you think about something a little differently," he says. "It helps you put a different spin on things and that's really important."
Thinking differently is important to Don, especially as he transitions from the military to the civilian world. One of the reasons he chose that program was because of the similarities to what he was currently doing. Throughout his military career, he has led soldiers, whether he's on the firing range, teaching combatives, or managing the ammunition accounts. It's a world he's comfortable working in.
But he recognized that the way he leads soldiers is different than how he would lead civilians. "I have been doing the same kind of things throughout my career as a supervisor," he says. "I might deal with soldiers a little harder than civilians." But in the civilian world, he notes, the rules are a little different.
It's a world Brandee helped him navigate. With previous credits he'd earned, coupled with his military experience, Don took about half of the program's required courses. She helped Don create his schedule so that he took his classes in the order that made most sense. A computer course he took early on came in handy in later classes. Everything he has taken, he says, builds on what he has taken previously. Additionally, inside the classroom, "she does a good job explaining things you might have a hard time understanding," he says. "She puts it into easier terms or terms that you might be more accustomed to."
And while he has had to take an online class or two, he says, having the convenience of the Tomah location and avoiding a commute outweighs his reservations about online learning. In fact, he took all of his classes in Tomah and never set foot on the La Crosse Campus until he turned in his paperwork for graduation.
Now, Don is ready to make the next step. He'll graduate in May, and retire this summer. After that? He's ready to transition to a life outside the military and get a job that maximizes his skills. "Having my associate's degree will help me get a job either at the post or in the community," he says. "It will really help."