In our Storyteller profile series, we highlight the dreams, journeys and achievements of Doyon Foundation students, alumni and supporters. Profiles are available to read, watch and listen.

In this Storyteller supporter profile, we speak with Cathy LeCompte, director of the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward.

You can watch or listen to Cathy’s full interview below, or read a transcript, with minor edits for clarity.

DOYON FOUNDATION: Good morning. Today in this episode of Storyteller, we’re here with the director of the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, Cathy LeCompte. Thank you so much, Cathy, for joining us. To start, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, and who your family is.

CATHY LECOMPTE: Thank you for inviting me for this conversation. I grew up in Washington state, my parents were self-employed. They did accounting and tax preparation in an office over the garage. So I learned how to be responsible for my own dinners while my parents worked.

I also learned from my father about service; he was very keen on serving people. He was a servant leader, and he would barter with people instead of charging them for his services, so I always got my car worked on for free or plumbing was always done for free. We got free crab and fish from a local charter boat company that he worked for. So it was an interesting upbringing and I learned a lot from my parents.

DOYON FOUNDATION: That’s really interesting, thank you for sharing that. Can you tell us a little bit about AVTEC and what is offered?

CATHY LECOMPTE: AVTEC is a training school; it is a division of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It has been in business for the last 50 years, training Alaskans for work in Alaska. It started in response to the pipeline, and individuals from 49 different communities came to AVTEC and they learned welding, diesel mechanics and culinary arts. We still offer that 50 years later.

In addition to that, we have information technology, business and office administration, and technology. We have construction, plumbing, heating, refrigeration, and the major construction trades as well. It’s a clock-hours school, and so students come here and they go to school for a certain number of hours for 180 days and they get trained and go to work.

DOYON FOUNDATION: Can you tell us about student life at AVTEC and what resources students have available to them?

CATHY LECOMPTE: We have a full gymnasium; we have a student services center that has a living room area with a big fireplace and big windows that look out over the mountains here in Seward, and sofas and tables for studying and just hanging out and playing games. In the rest of the facility are fitness areas; there’s the gym, racquetball courts, saunas, a fitness room. We also have a student recreation staff person who organizes trips to the fair or Fur Rondy or other events, up to Girdwood for skiing. She also runs a rental facility where the students can rent bikes and snowshoes and cross country skis. We also have a ceramics room, and students spend some time in there making things; ceramics is making a comeback so that room has become very popular lately. We do all that we can to help our students. They’re in school every day, all day, Monday through Friday, but on the weekends we try and keep them busy with activities.

DOYON FOUNDATION: That’s awesome. When I got to visit, it was really exciting to see what’s offered to students; it almost made me want to go to AVTEC. Can you tell us about your student success rate and how many students are currently enrolled?

CATHY LECOMPTE: We have a student success rate of over 90% for the last five years. Students come here and they know they want to be a welder, or they know they want to work culinary arts, or they know they want to be a construction worker or work in woodworking. They know what they want to do, so the completion rate is high because they’re determined; they know what they want to do. It’s like come here, be a welder, go get a job.

We range anywhere from 100 to 150 students at any given time. Right now our demographic is 18 to 29 years old; that’s the bulk of the student population that we have this year.

About our placement rate, we don’t really place them; we connect them with employers, and that’s also over 90%. So we train students for work, and get them connected to jobs, they interview, get hired, go on with their life.

DOYON FOUNDATION: That’s incredible. What would you say to a student considering attending AVTEC?

CATHY LECOMPTE: I just said this to them on Monday, because that was our first day of school. I said to the students, “If you’ve come to AVTEC to get trained to get a job, 180 days from now, that is exactly where you will land, but you need to meet us halfway. We are here to support you, we are here to help you with whatever issues may arise and to support your learning, but you have to meet us halfway. You have to get up, go to school, let us know if you’re having some challenges that we can help you with, and together, we will get you to that goal of getting trained and getting employed.”

DOYON FOUNDATION: That’s great advice, thank you, Cathy. Is there anything else you’d like to share today?

CATHY LECOMPTE: A lot of our students get told, “You got to go to college, you got to go to college.” Well, it’s not an either/or thing, you can come to AVTEC 180 days, get a job as a welder, and then if you want to go to college and get other education or further your education, you could do that. And because you’re a welder making a good salary, you can support yourself while you’re going to college. We have a lot of students that come here either after college or they come here before they go to college, because what we teach is hands-on technical training. I’ll give an example in our IT program: In our information technology program, we teach how to hook up computers, we teach how to build networks, we teach cyber security, we teach cloud computing, and it’s all very technical. But if a person wanted to be a computer scientist or a computer engineer or setup systems, they need an advanced degree, but they can come here, get the technical skills, start working in the industry, and then oftentimes, employers will help pay for college education to advance somebody. Then they can get that advanced education and move up their career ladder. So at AVTEC, we like to say, get a start on your career in less than a year.

DOYON FOUNDATION: Thank you so much for your time today, Cathy. I really appreciate you being able to provide this information, and sharing your story with us. It’ll be really exciting to see how this impacts our students.


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