For Sacha Weis, enrolling in Colorado Northwestern Community College's power plant technology program was a career move, as well as a personal one.
"I've been a housewife for 12 years and I was bored," Weis said. "My children are older, and it's time to become a two-income family so we can retire someday."
The power plant program is now in its second semester at the Craig campus. The program, which partners with Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Xcel Energy, began in August.
The five-semester program includes a job shadowing experience in the summer. Students start the program each fall, and graduate two years later with an associate of applied science degree.
Ed Winters, power plant technology director, said program graduates will understand steam turbines, generators and power generation at coal-powered plants.
"Ultimately, (the goal is) to give them the background skills so when they graduate they're employable as an operator," Winters said.
Many theories learned in the class can be applied at gas and nuclear power plants, as well.
Sixteen students started the program in August, and 13 remain.
"I have a pretty wide demographic," Winters said of the age of his students, who range from recent high school grads to those in their 40s.
When Karina Weiman started the program she wasn't sure what to expect. But she knew the pay and benefits at local plants are worth the challenge.
"I'm a single mom, and I wanted a way to support my son," Weiman said. "I wanted to stay in Craig, and there's people retiring (from Craig Station power plant), so I think there's going to be room."
And the program is designed to make those who graduate better prepared, said Marv Weible, operation superintendent for Tri-State.
"We're hoping these students are a little more ready to go to work than somebody we would hire off the street who doesn't have any knowledge of the plant," he said.
Tri-State operates Craig Station, where students learn theory in a classroom setting, and then apply their knowledge to actual operations in the plant.
"I'm going to know more than the average person who starts here now," Weis said.
But keeping up with all the material is sometimes challenging.
"You pretty much have to stay on top of everything as you go," student Bryn Van Tassel said. "There are a lot of different areas to learn."
Weis said the challenge is worth it. When she graduates, she's not guaranteed a job, but she will get an interview with area plants where she's interested in working.
"I think when we graduate, the power plant will be very lucky to have us," Weis said. "I think it's a great program for us and I think it's a great program for the power plant."
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.