When Ashley Colbeth came to the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) River Falls Campus a couple of years ago to take a placement test in typing, her mother, Susan, came along with her. At that point, Susan wasn’t even thinking about attending CVTC herself, but layoffs from two jobs led her to give a lot of thought to her future.
Now the future is coming into focus for both mother and daughter, as the two crossed the same stage Thursday night, accepting diplomas in the same program, from the same school.
The Colbeths were among 67 graduates in six programs honored at the commencement ceremony at River Falls High School May 9. They were among seven graduates in the Administrative Professional program, both receiving scholastic honors.
Although Susan, 52, and Ashley, 22, are at different stages in their lives, they came to CVTC for the same reason, one shared with so many CVTC graduates: A need for new direction in their careers.
Ashley took a Certified Nursing Assistant class at CVTC a few years ago, and was working in the field in River Falls before attending Carroll University in Waukesha to study physical therapy and exercise science. The university didn’t work out for her, partly because of the distance from her support network of friends and family. She moved back home.
“I got my old job back, but I wanted something more behind-the-scenes, in office work instead of patient care,” Ashely said. She enrolled in CVTC’s Administrative Professional program.
Susan, a 1979 Ellsworth High School graduate, worked at Smead Manufacturing in Hastings, Minn., for 25 years before becoming the victim of a layoff in March 2011. She found work at a solar panel firm in Prescott, but got laid off there too.
About two weeks before the Fall 2011 term started, Susan decided to enroll in CVTC, choosing the same program as her daughter.
“It was kind of awesome at first,” Ashley said. “She was a good study buddy.”
“We’re good support for one another,” Susan added. “We have a pretty good relationship.”
Ashley was particularly helpful bringing her mother up to speed on the use of today’s essential educational tool, the computer. For a while, Susan wasn’t sure if she would make it.
“It’s a big adjustment to go from factory work your whole life to school,” Susan said. “But Ashley told me to give it two or three weeks. I started feeling pretty comfortable.”
Ashley had challenges of her own, continuing to work full time while going to school.
There hasn’t been much rivalry over bragging rights to the best grades in the Colbeth household, but now the real work of finding post-college employment begins.
“I’m excited, but nervous about graduation,” Susan said. “But I really am optimistic that I’m going to find a job.”
Ashley has signed on with an employment service in Minneapolis.
“Hudson Hospital is putting a big addition on, so I am hoping to get in there,” said Susan.
“No, that’s mine,” Ashley replied with a smile.
As with any graduation, there were plenty of thanks, congratulations and best wishes expressed both during and after the ceremony.
Student speaker Paul Copeland of the Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement program thanked instructors, a number of them by name, for their selfless dedication.
“We are brothers and sisters raised in an education environment by those who have given their time to see that we are successful, that we are ready, and that we are the best. We have been given a proud torch to carry, that we can continue to keep lit with our skills earned here,” Copeland said.
Faculty speaker Kristina Novek, a math and science instructor, praised the graduates for taking risks, and challenged them to continue to do so.
“Memorize how you feel at this moment. Remember the pride and sense of accomplishment that graduation gave you. Strive for this feeling in all aspects of your life. To do this, you will have to take more risks,” Novek said.