Starting over after 30 years with one company poses the question: “Where do I go from here?”
For 48-year-old Paul Eilbes of Cedarburg the answer was, “Get a technical college degree.”
Right out of high school, Eilbes went to work for the sales service department at Pioneer Container in Cedarburg, which was later purchased by Wabash Fibre Box and then by International Paper. Having worked his way up to lead customer service representative, Eilbes found himself among 121 employees laid off in 2009 when International Paper permanently closed the Cedarburg facility.
“Given the state of the economy, and the lack of employment opportunities out there in late summer 2009, it became obvious that I needed to do something to enhance my chances,” said Eilbes, who has a wife and two daughters. “Basically, for a person with only a high school diploma, regardless of the fact that I had been an honors graduate, the opportunities were very limited and not at all at the level that I had been at.”
After viewing Workforce Development Center presentations as part of International Paper’s outplacement assistance and seeing the educational opportunities for adult learners, Eilbes realized he’d had a limited view of technical colleges. “Up to this time, my concept of a technical college was that it was a place where you became a welder or a metal worker or a tool and die maker. I truly had no idea what was available through technical college education,” he explained. “Once I found what I could do, it made my decision fairly easy.”
Armed with good math skills, some basic accounting experience through volunteer work, and a favorable outlook for the profession, Eilbes enrolled in the Accounting associate of applied science degree program at Moraine Park’s West Bend campus. Accounting instructor Carrie Schmidt was impressed by his positive attitude and involvement in class and community.
“[Paul] always demonstrates integrity and treats others with respect,” said Schmidt in her nomination of Eilbes for the 2010-11 Moraine Park District Student Ambassador role. “He is always willing to help answer any question or provide his perspective. He is very active in his classes as well as volunteers his time outside of school in the community.” Eilbes is a peer tutor at Moraine Park and serves as treasurer and membership chairman for the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee, a nonprofit educational organization.
Eilbes was selected as the Student Ambassador and will begin his term with the start of the 2010-11 academic year in late August. He and the other 15 new District Student Ambassadors in the Wisconsin Technical College System were honored at a banquet in Madison April 7-8 and participated in workshops on leadership training, time management, communication skills and marketing strategies. The Student Ambassador program identifies outstanding students in the technical college system, with nominations solicited from faculty and staff each year. A committee of college administrators and community leaders select the ambassador based on core abilities – work productively, learn effectively, communicate clearly, work cooperatively, act responsibly, value self positively, and think critically and creatively. The Student Ambassador represents the College at numerous events and serves on the College Planning and Leadership Team as the student representative.
Eilbes summed up his selection in one word: surprised. “I was surprised when I received the letter advising me of my nomination, and surprised when I was selected by the committee,” he said. “My impression of myself up to this time is that I am a good student, but I didn’t consider myself to be anything out of the ordinary. I am humbled by the selection and will do my best to represent the Moraine Park District, and encourage those thinking about school to consider the technical college model as a way to learn a vocation through gaining competencies in a setting where real-life experience can be shared, both by the instructors and by classmates.”
In addition to Eilbes, finalists for the 2010-11 Student Ambassador were runner-up Mike Gray, a student in the Instructional Assistant program, and JoAnn Cleveland, Administrative Assistant program. All three will be honored during Moraine Park’s Student Awards Banquet at the Golf Club at Camelot on April 30. The current District Student Ambassador for 2009-10 is Diane Schacht of Kewaskum, Leadership Development program.
For more information about Moraine Park programs, visit morainepark.edu/programs.