At Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC), we celebrate our female instructors all year long for all they do to educate our students and serve as role models for other women in the field; but especially so in October, which is National Manufacturing Month.  

Seven of EICC’s manufacturing and skilled trades instructors are women, and they are teaching the next generation of welders, CNC machinists, auto and diesel mechanics, CDL drivers, and HVAC, health and safety, and supply chain and logistics professionals 

Today, jobs in modern manufacturing and the trades are high-skilled, high-tech, and high wage positions. And those who have the training are in high demand. While such jobs were once typecast as ‘male professions,’ that isn’t the case today. “We are seeing more women enroll in programs at the Blong Technology Center as whole,” said Matt Schmit, PhD., EICC’s dean of manufacturing and skilled trades. 

And they have excellent role models. 

Shannon Ross standing with EICC Training Semi Trucks
Shannon Ross, EICC Lead CDL Trainer
Shannon Ross worked in the busing industry for 15 years, then chose to upgrade her Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to a Class A to give her more career options. After graduating from our CDL program, she drove for a company for five years before moving into an office at the Blong Technology Center in Davenport. Ross is now our lead CDL trainer.   

“This is an industry that didn’t have women in it for many years. There were no women in semi-trucks, no women in delivery trucks. No women driving period. So now the door is open for us, and it’s a good opportunity for women to get into the industry and see it’s a great place to work,” Ross said. 

Her short-term certificate program prepares future truck drivers for the CDL exam, and new sessions begin every eight weeks. Ross said there is at least one, if not two or more, women in each session. It is common for students to feel overwhelmed when they get into a semi the first time, but for most, the feeling dissipates quickly. “It can be scary for people, but once they get going, they realize it isn’t as bad or as hard to handle as they thought it would be,” Ross said.  

“I like the idea that I’m helping someone, not necessarily to become better or do better, but to do something they’ve always dreamed of doing or maybe just trying a new career, and I can tell them that I also came from there,” she said.  

“I came to EICC to take that full circle, to teach people, give them some encouragement when they are having a bad driving day or bad backing day. Then, to see them complete the program and get their CDL is fulfilling for me,” Ross said.  

Taylor Reth standing by CNC Equipment
Taylor Reth, Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Machining Instructor
Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Machining Instructor Taylor Reth, PhD, fell in love with her field while an undergraduate at Iowa State University. She took a class, caught on fast and continues to spread her enthusiasm for the craft by teaching the precision skills and methods needed to shape metal. 

“It is really creating a work of art,” Reth said. “And while you may only see and create this little, tiny part, when you go visit a major manufacturer and see that you are making parts that go into a giant tractor, you realize you are playing an important role in the field of agriculture and construction. That makes me happy.” 

As an undergraduate, Reth was one of six women enrolled in the industrial technology program -- out of a class of about 500 students. “And I think there was a thought that we couldn’t do it, but then we did. I want to show women they can do anything,” she said.  

“Many people say women are better machinists because they have steady hands and great attention to detail. But no person would have trouble landing a job before they graduate from this program. Everyone is looking for skilled machinists right now, and companies are excited when females apply because there are very few in the field,” Reth added.  

Danni Krogstad standing next to furnaces in HVAC lab
Danni Krogstad, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Instructor
Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) instructor Danni Krogstad always knew this is what she wanted to do. As a child, she tagged along with her dad as he did some HVAC work on the side. She picked up some skills and realized how much people appreciated the work he did. It is a rewarding career field, she said, “and I knew in HVAC I would always have a job no matter what, because everyone needs their comfort.” 

Krogstad would love to see more women in the skilled trades. “We are perfectly capable of doing everything men are and doing it just as well,” she said, adding as a student she conquered some feelings of intimidation. “For me, it was showing my classmates that I could do the same things they were doing. And it was a little bit of a shock factor for some of them, but I earned the respect of the entire class.” 

Krogstad loves teaching, “just seeing students interested in learning everything: the process, recovery vacuuming, recharging. Just watching them get their hands on and work with copper, gas pipe, and sheet metal. I can tell they are truly learning and enjoying what they are doing,” she said.  

Kim Miller standing in Auto Tech lab
Kim Miller, Automotive Technology Instructor
Kim Miller, automotive technology instructor, is a graduate of our diesel technology program, and easily relates to students who want a job where they’ll be active and working with their hands. “Believe it or not, it is artistic, too. It is a great career for someone who isn’t worried about getting dirty sometimes,” she said.  

When Miller began her career training, it was with some trepidation. “I lacked the self-confidence that I needed to do the job,” she said, adding everyone was supportive. “The instructors are great at boosting your self-confidence, and believe it or not, your fellow students are, too. They want you to succeed. Everyone wants you to succeed.” 

Miller also supports and encourages her students, and they make her proud. “Our graduates have a 100% placement rate, which is amazing.” And they have choice. “There are so many dealerships, small shops, oil change businesses, parts shops. There is a dire need for technicians,” she said, “and it is lucrative. You can make good money at it.”  

According to the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, over the next decade, four million U.S. manufacturing jobs will need to be filled. In the past year the manufacturing industry averaged 783,000 job openings each month. 

EICC’s certificate, diploma, and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree programs in manufacturing and the skilled trades allow women and men of all ages to step into those great manufacturing and trades jobs in two years or less. 

Matt Schmit and Brandy Poston standing in the Blong Technology Center
Matt Schmit, Dean of Manufacturing & Trades, and Brandy Poston, Advanced Manufacturing Program Manager
“These are high paying careers right out of the classroom,” said Brandy Poston, EICC’s advanced manufacturing program manager. “It is different from a traditional college career where you graduate, get a job, and then work your way up the ladder. It is possible to walk out of here earning upwards of $70,000,” she said. 

Our students attend classes and build hands-on experience in classrooms and labs at the Blong Technology Center; on the Clinton, Muscatine, and Scott Community College campuses; and inside the new DeWitt Career Advancement Center. They are taught by expert instructors with experience in their fields.  

“We’ve had some great success stories, and a lot of it goes back to our students seeing an instructor who looks like them, is accomplished in the field, and has the reputation as one of the best in their trade. It gives them confidence that they can do it, too,” Schmit said. “Approximately one-third of our instructors in EICC’s programs in manufacturing and skilled trades are female. That is not typical in these fields and we are proud of that. 

“Our mission is to provide an education to all students in all the areas we serve and to provide qualified workforce to our employers,” he added. “We are doing all we can to meet the need, and we have space available in our classrooms and employers who are just waiting to hire our graduates.”