After several false starts, Kolang Vang and Sirena Dubiel both feel they have finally landed in the right program to help them achieve educational success and put them on a promising path towards a viable career and economic stability — Dunwoody College of Technology’s Women in Technical Careers (WITC) Program.

On her third college in three years, Vang, 20, understands that achieving success in post- secondary education isn’t always an easy road.

“At both of my previous colleges, I felt alone and isolated. However, at Dunwoody, with the help of the WITC cohort and the support of teachers and staff, I feel the amount of care that everyone has for me. Their support and belief in me has given me the confidence to succeed,” said Vang, a first-year Architectural Program student from Minneapolis.

“At my last school, I felt so lost and disconnected. At Dunwoody, I’m getting more involved, my grade-point average is much better, and I’m passionate about my program. Having a mentor at school in my field and a group of other women to turn to is awesome,” said Dubiel, 20, also a first-year student in the Architectural Program, who came to Dunwoody from a small, rural community in Wisconsin.

Low-income women, women of color, and women from greater Minnesota face unique challenges to future economic success. In response in 2015, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota launched the Pathways to Prosperity (P2P) Fund to increase access to post-secondary education and high-paying employment. Through P2P, the Foundation invests in innovative programs with best practices, including targeted program recruitment, mentoring and case management, cohort model, community partnerships, multi-generational approach, and customized wrap-around services.

At the recommendation of one of its donor-partners, the Women’s Foundation made a $100,000 grant to fund Dunwoody’s WITC Program in 2015. The program provides need-based scholarships to low-income women to enroll in one of four program areas traditionally dominated by men: Construction Sciences & Building Technology, Computer Technology, Automotive Technology, or Robotics & Manufacturing Technology.

The WITC program is modeled after best practices for supporting women in non-traditional academic programs. In addition to critical financial support, the program provides mentoring, intentional advising, and a peer-to-peer cohort experience. Presently, 39 women are in the program: 44 percent are women of color, 27 percent are single mothers, and 100 percent have high financial need.

“We learned that financial assistance alone does not help women complete a non-traditional program. Connecting with female role models in the industry, building relationships with other students on campus, securing a well-paying internship, and having a single point of contact and advocate on campus are also very important for student success.”
Maggie Whitman, Dunwoody’s Women’s Enrollment Coordinator

While affording the high and rising costs of college is a struggle for many households, the financial hurdles are simply too high for many Minnesota women and their families.

“The WITC scholarship pays for nearly half of my tuition at Dunwoody,” said Vang. “In truth, without this financial help, I likely would not be here at all — let alone be able to stay and pursue a career in architecture.”

Dunwoody has an impressive 99 percent employment placement rate for students. In addition, students participate in paid internships, and employers compete to be a part of Dunwoody’s highly sought-after career fairs.

“We are responding to industry and community needs by providing more highly-skilled individuals and creating opportunities for underrepresented people to have access to quality careers,” said Whitman, who says the demand for the program is higher than the college can serve. “WITC has also helped Dunwoody become more diverse and has brought students to our campus who may never have considered a technical degree otherwise.”

The Women’s Foundation believes that economic opportunity is a critical underpinning of gender equity — increasing women’s safety, improving health outcomes, and impacting leadership. For 33 years, the Foundation has funded innovative programs, research, and policy to build path-ways to prosperity for women to succeed, families to do better, and communities to thrive.

“Ultimately, my dream is to achieve financial stability and have a thriving career,” said Dubiel. “I love how through architecture, I first create something in my mind, and then can see —sometimes through chaos at first — my drawing become a beautiful structure. One day, I hope to hold a top position, or own a firm of my own.”

“I know I made the right choice in choosing Dunwoody,” said Vang. “The college isn’t just a college; it’s more of a close-knit community. The WITC program is like a second family to me. At every monthly meeting, we laugh, share stories, and talk about how each of us can better our futures.”

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