Manager, CADNet School-to-Work Program | Chattanooga, Tenn.
Most of us who aren’t professional educators don’t have the time, patience or sanity to deal with more than two or three teenagers at a time—even one can be a challenge. Imagine dealing with more than 100!
That’s just what Janice Horn does every day. She’s not exactly an educator, though she goes into high schools and colleges around the Knoxville and Chattanooga areas and into the upper reaches of Georgia and Alabama every day. She’s more like a cheerleader, motivator, listening ear, guiding hand, career coach and problem solver—all on behalf of TVA.
Horn runs TVA’s CADNet School-to-Work Program, offering high school and college students the chance to get class credit, on-the-job training and a paycheck all at the same time. “We have partnerships with 47 schools,” she explains. “We have CADNet labs onsite at several schools, and each is a designated TVA work area. To participate, the student must already know computer-aided design. We are looking for students with a 3.0 or better G.P.A. and with a desire to move into a STEM career.”
That’s important, because they are doing real work for TVA. “The work produced by CADNet students is both billable and supports capital projects for TVA Transmission Engineering & Construction,” Horn says. “An example would be if during the course of a project to add a new breaker, changes are approved by engineering but they’re not significant enough to require a new drawing issuance. The change is documented or ‘red lined’ by field engineers on their work prints, which are then sent to us to update the drawing.”
The emphasis then is on quality: “With my team, we are aiming for 100 percent accuracy, supporting configuration control and obtaining customer satisfaction. Our students provide TVA a low-cost, high-quality product.”
The benefit to the student is even higher. “They are enhancing their drafting skills, learning workplace etiquette, being mentored and coached, getting job experience and school credit,” Horn says. “It’s a win for the student and a way for TVA to give back to the community.”
There are, of course, quality checks at each point in the process—and many TVA retirees are involved in the process providing oversight and mentorship. “If a student makes an error, we coach them so they don’t make that error again,” she says. “But we find that we get high-performing students, and they take pride in their work because it is valued.”
And that makes all the difference. “You would not believe the confidence and self-esteem the students get from the program. They think, ‘I am a TVA contributor, this is real work and real world.’”
To stay in the program, students must be enrolled in school full time, and commit to working in the CADNet program between 10 and 20 hours a week. “For some students, that’s an incentive to stay in school,” Horn says. “We are there to motivate them, and help them find their focus. Some are just not sure what they want to do.”
When Horn is able to help guide them toward a satisfying STEM field, that’s satisfying for her—especially if the student goes on to find a career at TVA. “One of our success stories was Kellie Keith,” she says. “She was one of the high performers we bridged over—she was exposed to engineering, and having a mentor helped her decide to pursue a path of electrical engineering.”
Horn says each success story has a ripple effect. “We impact the student, which impacts the family, which impacts the community,” she says. “The rural and urban communities are where we provide real opportunities. For us to be in those areas means a lot.”
Being in so many places exposes her to a lot of different student situations, Horn says. “I have learned so much about how family dynamics have changed. I have a student who comes in a half hour early, so I asked her about it. She said she was there because she wanted to make sure she gets breakfast. Those are things I’ve learned not to make assumptions about.”
And then there are pressures working against CADNet success. “Peer pressure is our number one challenge to recruiting for our program. I want the best for every student but often peers have greater influence on student choices and decisions than teachers, counselors or mentors.”
Horn herself is a chemical engineer who had a robust career at TVA working in several environmental compliance and policy positions before she came to her current role in 2014. “All along I had been working with students privately on a volunteer basis,” she says. “I’ve been working with students since my own kids were little. I did Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Being a person of color and female, I was often asked to encourage others that they can follow this engineering path. I served on several boards and committees in schools.”
Likewise, her husband Vernon also is and has been a volunteer. Her two children are in helping careers. Her son, Vernon Jr., is a lieutenant with the Chattanooga Fire Dept. and an EMT who enjoys volunteering at the yearly Camp Hope for pediatric burn victims. Her daughter, Arlyn, is a pharmacist who is also a committed volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
“A unique thing about our family is that you see a need, and if you can meet the need, you meet the need,” she says.
For pleasure, she shops—mostly for purses, of which she has over 100. “I am a shopping-driven person,” she says. “It’s relaxing and I get a thrill when I find a bargain. I’m really good at it.”
She reads, too—oftentimes about things that affect the kids she works with. “I realize I’m not totally in touch with the lives my students are living,” she says. “I try to stay abreast of things that affect schools and students.”
Overall verdict? Blessed. “The opportunity that TVA has given me to use my technical knowledge and to help students has been something I’m deeply grateful for,” she says. “I don’t know how many people can say they’re passionate about their jobs, but I feel passion every day I come in. Some days I am drained, but tomorrow is a new day.”
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