Last summer, Lizzy Warner was lying in bed, suffering from a then-undiagnosed thyroid condition and wondering, when her medical issues were finally resolved, what she was going to do with her life.
Exhausted and bedridden, she didn’t leave her house as she continued to battle hormonal imbalances coupled with a metabolism that burned three times as many calories as she consumed.
Her health issues surfaced last summer when she began to drop weight quickly and with no reason. “It came out of nowhere,” she said of her weight loss and the depletion of her energy level. She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and later had surgery to remove her thyroid and some of her lymph nodes that were swollen.
During the months of recuperation, she wasn’t able to work and the single mother of a six-year-old daughter didn’t have family to rely on.
“What I did have was a lot of time to think and reflect – and make a plan,” said Warner. At the forefront of her thoughts was her desire to have a better life. She knew that started with education.
A high school dropout not by choice, but by her mother’s direction/decision, she spent the last decade working minimum wage jobs in manufacturing and the food service industry.
Every time thoughts of pursuing her education entered her mind, Warner, who dropped out in the 11th grade, knew the chances were slim to none that she would ever be in college. She needed to earn her GED first but didn’t know where to start.
She spent the summer and fall recuperating and by mid-November she made the decision to pursue her GED.
In January, she contacted Anderson 1 and 2 Adult Education who helped her make that dream a reality.
Warner was 28 years old and she had been out of school for 11 years.
She began studying for her GED December 4, 2019. She aced three out of four tests and one month and eight days later, Warner passed her GED.
“Mrs. Wilson (at Adult Education) said I was an anomaly. I was so proud of myself,” said Warner. That success and her interest in working in manufacturing made her a prime candidate for the I-BEST program at Tri-County Technical College. “She knew about my interest in working in manufacturing so she presented the I-BEST program as an option for me. The program opened so many doors. I had a goal of working in manufacturing but no way to get there. This presented the opportunity.”
The I-BEST program is designed to increase the College’s focus on unemployed and underemployed populations. It is a one-semester program that allows students to explore careers in manufacturing, health care or a stand-alone course for college and career exploration opportunities. The tuition-free program offers opportunities to earn college credit and national (industry recognized) skill certifications. There is no cost for the I-BEST program which is funded by state workforce development funds.
With support from their instructors, as well as College staff, students learn how to advance their careers with additional education and understand the type of job performance employers value – and reward.
She began classes January 7 – enrolling in three I-BEST classes – College 120 and Management 101 that both met twice a week and Manufacturing 102 which met on Fridays.
She also had been juggling working at Taco Bell until she mid-April when she secured a job at a small business that is a supplier for Reliable Sprinkler. The business is located just down the road from BorgWarner, which was devastated by a tornado that ravaged the Seneca area. She reported to work on a Friday and was scheduled to go in the following Monday, the day the tornado landed early that morning. The small business’s building also was damaged so that job ended and she was back at Taco Bell.
“Through it all I haven’t missed a single day of class,” Warner proudly states, adding that during the COVID-19 crisis, she attended class with her smart phone via the Blackboard Collaborate app.
The COVID-19 pandemic required college officials to shift the classroom-based spring course offerings to an online format. Tri-County transitioned to online instructional delivery with the goal being for all students to have the opportunity to complete the spring semester. Course content was moved to an e-learning format and that included labs.
Also prior to the e-learning format, I-BEST students participated in hands-on, on-site learning experiences in four area industries so when they graduate they have a better understanding of key processes in manufacturing and where they might be interested in working.
Warner learned skills that will complement licenses in forklift driving and heavy equipment which she earned at previous manufacturing jobs — all beneficial for her resume and the skill set she is building.
“Now I have a lot to add to my resume. I-BEST made it so much easier. These skills are tailored to my interests and industry needs. I had the motivation – now I have the skills,” said Warner, who is now employed as a shipping clerk manager for Drew Foam.
The courses are taught by Tri-County I-BEST instructor Melinda Hoover, who has experience in manufacturing management and passes this along to students.
“This has been a challenging semester for both the students and the faculty,” said Hoover. During a reflection, Lizzy shared a saying she uses to motivate herself. Her words were, ‘master the day.’ Lizzy has mastered every day in class, whether in person or online and regardless of the challenges in front of her. She has stayed focused on her personal goals and has been an inspiration to many who thought about giving up. It is students like Lizzy who remind me that learning life lessons from my students is part of the reward of being in the classroom. We can all learn and be inspired by her example.”
Warner received a manufacturing production I certificate at Tri-County’s spring/summer graduation, which was held virtually July 31.
“Six months ago I didn’t think I had a chance at college. Now I am the first in my family to go to college,” she said.