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Starting over: retraining at community colleges July 22, 2009

Posted by Amy in Stories, The Herald.
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For a while, I wasn’t sure this project would see the light of day. It did, but it took a new job, a new topic and a new start.

And here it is.

Part one:  Middle-aged, doing homework: Life in retraining

Part two: Your next career: Where retrained workers are headed

This two-part series ran earlier this week, describing how community colleges are on the front lines of repairing the nation’s economy.  I worked for months on these stories, interviewing students, gathering statistics, spending time at colleges in Snohomish County.

But really, the project took much longer. It started with a proposal to Columbia University’s Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media in 2008. The institute has a fellowship program for journalists interested in writing about community colleges, and my proposal outlined a project looking into early-enrollment agreements between high schools and community colleges in Washington state.

I spent some time in 2008 and early 2009 at Columbia, researching community colleges and talking with experts and other journalists. That was back when I covered education for the P-I.

The paper’s closure put an end to my early-enrollment project. My new job writing about business at the Herald meant I’d need a new topic, new interviews, new notes — essentially a new story.

It’s almost ironic that the project is all about starting over.

In these stories, I tried to capture the emotion and bravery of laid-off workers starting new careers. Data is presented in interactive graphics courtesy of the IBM-sponsored project Many Eyes. And students’ stories are told in photos by the Herald’s Mark Mulligan.

Here’s how one of my favorite vignettes in the series starts:

It was Christmastime. Cherie Evans remembers her office was decorated with lights and ornaments and tinsel, just like every year.

When her boss at Tiz’s Door Sales in Everett asked her into his office and shut the door, she thought he wanted to talk about the crumbling economy and how a stunted construction industry meant fewer sales.

She was the purchasing and operations manager, after all. There wasn’t any reason to expect he wanted to say anything else.

She didn’t know where he was heading until she heard the words that came like a punch in the gut.

“So, I’m severing our ties,” she remembers he said.

So much for the mystery meeting. Still, she had to ask: “You’re letting me go?”

Just like that, lightheaded and still disbelieving, Evans was ushered out of Tiz’s and out of her industry of 26 years.

Ten of those years were at Tiz’s. It’s where she met her boyfriend, the half-brother of the man who laid her off. It’s where she’d climbed up the ranks, where she’d put in 80-hour workweeks when the company started letting employees go last fall.

She didn’t rebound from the loss immediately. But months later, she’s OK.

“It took a recession to get me out the door,” she said, not letting on if the pun was intended.

Read the rest here.

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1. One year after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer « - March 18, 2010

[...] One year later, I don’t have many answers. But I believe in journalism more than ever. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that persistence can be a powerful force. [...]


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