November 2009

Bridges to the future

School to work provides job opportunities

Using a QuadJoy “adaptive mouse,” a small box with a protruding straw, Steven Donahue manipulates computer-aided design, or CAD, programs to draw plans for wire files, concrete wall systems, manhole sewer systems and other construction projects.


Steven Donahue is a certified draftsman in TVA’s School-to-Work program.

Donahue, 28, is a certified draftsman who came to TVA six years ago through CAD, a school-to-work program that offers work experience to students across the Tennessee Valley. “We have 121 students right now,” says Shane Bales, School-to-Work coordinator. “We had 165 last spring. They work in any number of jobs, but CAD offers the most opportunities, since we’re an engineering company with so many designs and plans that need to be drafted all the time.”

All the students in the program have to compete to get there, but Donahue has had to overcome additional challenges. A graduate of Fulton High School in Knoxville, Donahue worked for a construction company until a day in 2000 when he was shot in a carjacking and paralyzed from the neck down. After he got out of the hospital, he enrolled in classes at the Tennessee Technology Center. He started at TVA as a student with the School-to-Work program, got his certification as a draftsman and eventually was hired as a contractor.

“The QuadJoy works like a regular mouse,” says Donahue. “You sip and puff for the right and left click. Hold and drag is sip and move. And there’s an on-screen keypad I can click on.” Donahue, who lives with his mother, Nancy, has an 11-year-old son, Ethan. He also runs a music studio in his home, where he records hip-hop and R&B artists.

Students are recommended for the program by teachers at participating schools. “They compete for the position, so we get the best of the best,” says Bill Myers, production & quality coordinator for the School-to-Work program. “We stress the importance of their education and preparing for their future. We talk about how competitive the workplace is these days and say things like, ‘Pretend you’re being interviewed all the time.’” Over the years, some of the CAD students have gotten jobs at TVA, and four have even become drafting teachers in the program.

“School-to-work opens TVA up to the diverse populations at the participating schools,” Myers says. “For their part, students are exposed to professionals in the workplace, and you can see the positive effect it can have. One parent said her son’s experience changed his approach to education and gave him the ambition to study pre-engineering at a four-year school. The students take these good messages back to their schools and communities. That’s good for the community, and it’s good for TVA.”