SOWELA Technical Community College has been producing highly-skilled, work-ready individuals since 1938. The College is committed to launching the careers of men and women in Southwest Louisiana through its world-class workforce development curriculums, state-of-the art training facilities and relevant, knowledgeable instructors who provide a personal touch in each student’s education.
Justin Kowarsch, a licensed professional engineer, arrived at SOWELA not knowing exactly where he wanted his career path to lead. A transfer student, in search of something different than university life, Kowarsch decided to return to his roots and begin courses in industrial electronics technology.
Coming from a family of electricians, electronics had always been an interest of his but when he demonstrated a keen aptitude for electronics design his instructors “almost unanimously” pushed him to finish the associate's program and continue his studies in engineering at a four-year university.
“The instructors were probably my favorite aspect of going to SOWELA,” said Kowarsch. “I can still remember them by name and they made what we were learning extremely fun.”
The Industrial Electrical Technology associate’s degree program curriculum included coursework requiring students to make their own electronic circuits and Kowarsch said that’s where the “spark” for design was lit.
Students built their own circuits which were then purposely “damaged” by instructors and then students were required to troubleshoot and repair the malfunctions. “A lot of the stuff we learned was very practical knowledge and being in a program that was focused on problem solving, that really set me up for the future because all we do in engineering is solve problems.”
Providing more than only technical education, Kowarsch said SOWELA’s general education courses have served him well in the long term as well. “My English instructor changed my way of thinking because she encouraged me to keep improving.”
Now, a co-owner of an engineering firm, Kowarsch said, “If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, you can go to SOWELA and take five or six basic studies and you don’t have to take a big hit to your pocketbook. If you transfer out, you’ve already got 30 hours of basic studies to apply but if you decide to stick with it, in two-year's time you can have a degree and get started with your career.”
Katelyn Hemphill, an airframe and powerplant mechanic, is living her dream of travel and making a difference by working in remote Alaska as an aircraft mechanic. The daughter of an aerial photographer, Hemphill always felt at ease with airplanes but knew she didn’t want to be a pilot. “It’s not that it scared me but I wanted to be the problem solver.”
She began her studies at SOWELA in the Aviation Maintenance Technology program but decided to take time off to grieve the passing of her father who helped her succeed in her first year. “He was the person who inspired me to feel something for this in the first place.”
Recalling her return a year later Hemphill said, “There was a teacher who remembered me and welcomed me back with open arms.” Upon her return she noticed many changes to the program’s layout.
“Air craft has all this stuff to make it run but it’s really hard when they’re trying to explain things but not show you...Whenever I came back, they had all this new technology! You got to feel it, troubleshoot it and figure out what was going on.”
“The teacher’s efforts to get us better, more practical training and just tell us how it went—that's what saved me," she said.
As a female in a predominantly male career path, she said, “SOWELA was good about treating me like one of the guys. It was kind of a breath of fresh air. Nobody said anything about me being a female. You were just a mechanic.”
With her aircraft and powerplant maintenance certification, she now works on airplanes which transport native American villagers and cargo across hundreds of miles of Alaskan terrain. “I couldn’t believe they even called me back and now I’m helping them get their families.”
Hemphill is thankful SOWELA’s program included both aircraft and powerplant maintenance. “If I just had the “A” then I couldn’t work on the engines and that doesn’t work in a remote part of Alaska. They need it all, air frame and powerplant. If a plane breaks down in a village then they need you to fly with a pilot and get it all fixed.”
Start your success story today! For more information or to enroll at SOWELA Technical Community College, visit www.sowela.edu.