The closing of the Alcoa Wheel plant in Beloit during the economic slide of 2009 was just another nightmarish tale of economic woe for Rock County. Little did Michelle Lomax know at the time that it would turn into a dream come true.
Like so many other Alcoa employees, Lomax one day had a good job with 15 years there to back her up, and the next day she had no job at all. Adding to those difficulties was that Lomax was soon to find out that she didn’t have enough education to support her search for a new job.
“I had been out of school for a long time,’’ Lomax recalled, noting she had completed her junior year of high school in 1987 and had never returned to the classroom.
“I had so many doors closed on me because of that. I didn’t qualify for jobs I applied for because I hadn’t gone beyond the 11th grade. I couldn’t even get into McDonald’s. That’s what finally did it for me.’’
What Lomax did was turn adversity into an advantage when she enrolled at Blackhawk Technical College’s GED program to get a much needed high school equivalency diploma. After she passed her first test in the old GED series of examinations, she knew she had found her niche.
“I wasn’t sure I was smart enough to go back to school,’’ she remembered. “But as soon as I passed that first test, I knew I could do this.’’
Now, she’s still finding out just how much she can do. In addition to her studies in the Human Resources program at Blackhawk, Lomax is compiling an impressive resume that goes beyond the classroom.
Her most recent accolade was being named Blackhawk’s representative as a Wisconsin Technical College System Student Ambassador, an honor shared with 15 other students in the 16 school tech system.
This position is a natural outgrowth from her role as a student ambassador at Blackhawk, where she meets and greets potential BTC students and helps guide them through the orientation and admission processes.
When she isn’t busy helping sell the benefits of a tech school education to potential students, Lomax finds time to work as a Human Resources assistant at Community Action Inc. in her hometown of Beloit as part of a BTC internship program. She also works in the HR office at the Blackhawk Technical College District Office as part of a work-study program.
“Before I started the GED program, I was scared to death of coming back to school. I was afraid the young kids would run circles around me,’’ said Lomax, now 49. “But once I finished the GED, I didn’t want to stop. I have no regrets. I’m so glad I came back to school.’’
Her outreach duties as a WTCS Student Ambassador are a natural extension of what she has been doing at Blackhawk the past few years. Whether she is representing Blackhawk or the system, the message doesn’t vary.
“I get to talk to students who are coming out of high school or adults who are looking to go back to school, and it’s my opportunity to tell them a little bit about my story and give them some hope and encouragement about continuing with their education.’’