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Student Speaker Traded Job Security for Nontraditional Career Path


After nine years as an office worker at a Lycoming County manufacturing firm, Annette Kilgus sensed it was time for a change.

“It didn’t look like I was going anywhere,” said Kilgus, a single mother of two young sons who will be the student speaker at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 20. “Sitting behind a desk wasn’t what I wanted to do forever.”

Spotting an ad in a weekly newspaper, the Hughesville resident enrolled in Penn College’s New Choices/New Options life-skills/career-guidance program in October 1999. By December of that year, she made it official, trading the security of her job which included customer-service, data-entry and sales responsibilities for a bold new career path at Penn College.

One aspect of her former job that had always intrigued Kilgus visiting job sites influenced her program choice at the College. Kilgus is graduating with a Heavy Construction Equipment Technician certificate, and she plans to complete requirements for her associate’s degree in Heavy Construction Equipment Technology via distance-learning courses next year.

Kilgus recently accepted a job offer from United Rentals in State College, where she will hold the position of parts and merchandise manager. The firm rents the same types of heavy equipment that Kilgus learned to operate and repair at Penn College’s School of Natural Resources Management.

Kilgus had other offers, including ones for jobs as a heavy-equipment operator and mechanic, but she likes the idea that she will have contact with the public in her new position. Reflecting on her decision to leave her longtime employment and enroll at Penn College, Kilgus said it was difficult, but she knew it would work out in the end.

“It was easy, because it was something I wanted to do, but it was hard to leave that security,” she explained.

Kilgus said she began her studies at Penn College with an open mind and hoped for the best. Despite being in a nontraditional career field for a woman, she says she felt accepted by faculty, and her male classmates, from the outset. Kilgus said it helped that she “wasn’t afraid to get dirty” and was quick to say, “Let me try that,” or ask, “How does that work?”

“The guys have been great anything you need help with, they pitch in,” she said.

One fear she had to overcome was the welding aspect of her training, having been burned in a welding accident when she was young. Kilgus says she didn’t fear operating the heavy equipment, even though she had no experience on the machines whatsoever before beginning the program. She conceded it’s a lot more difficult than it appears to the layman.

“It’s a lot harder to get on the seat and do it,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for anybody who is really proficient at that.”

Kilgus said the bulldozer presented the most problems for her, noting, “There is a certain knack to it, and it takes a little while to catch on.”

As a Penn College student, Kilgus was called upon to work with secondary-school students for the Career Day and SMART Girls (Science, Math Applications in Real-World Technologies for Girls) initiatives. She enjoyed seeing young girls interested in a career field that’s considered unusual for their gender.

Kilgus also was given the honor of operating the backhoe that dug the first scoops of dirt at groundbreaking ceremonies for the Student and Administrative Services Center, which is being constructed at the College’s new Maynard Street main entrance.

Recently, Kilgus was pleasantly surprised to learn she had been selected to deliver the student address at the Dec. 20 commencement ceremonies, and she is eager to fulfill the obligation.

“I’m not sure why I was picked, but I’m honored that I was,” she said.

Kilgus hopes more women will consider the unconventional career field she chose, though she counsels they should not be “weak-hearted.”

“You have to have a sense of humor, because you are going to make mistakes,” she said. “You have to be able to laugh at yourself and your mistakes.”

Kilgus has no regrets about choosing a nontraditional career path at Penn College, and said she would recommend it without hesitation to others.

“Aside from having my two children, it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.

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