For Milliechel "Millie" Ramirez the fact that she was a teen-aged, single parent pushed her to return to community college and pursue a manufacturing career.
“I’ll be honest with you, many people think a child is a reason to quit. For me it is totally the opposite. For me a child is the best reason why you should keep going. It’s not your future now, it is about her or him. Everything you do in life, it will actually help your kid’s future. When it comes to going to college or anything,” Ramirez said during an interview at the 2017 High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) in Salt Lake City.
Her excellent performance during an internship at Carey Manufacturing Inc., led to the company hiring her full time in 2015 when she completed a one-year manufacturing certificate from Asnuntuck Community College. Now 23 years old and a production supervisor at Carey, Ramirez was featured on the cover of The Fabricator magazine in July as an example of young women choosing manufacturing careers.
“She’s very smart, very determined. She does not get intimidated. She knows what she wants and she goes and gets that. You don’t find a lot of people like that,” said Peter Egan, human resources director for Carey and Floyd Manufacturing Co., Inc. The two companies have 78 employees under one roof in Cromwell, Connecticut.
Thanks to Egan's efforts to cultivate a young, diverse workforce there are more women than men working on Carey's production floor. To find skilled machinists Egan works with Asnuntuck and other community colleges, and various workforce development programs.
"My job here is to get the best people to bring our company forward," he said.
When she Ramirez arrived at Carey as an intern, Egan said he and others could see that she was talented. She had a solid foundation in manufacturing and workplace skills, and as an employee has absorbed the company's on-the-job training.
Her fluency in Spanish and English—she immigrated from Puerto Rico at age 12—is another reason she stands out among U.S. natives and foreign-born colleagues who know just their native languages. In addition to Hispanic immigrants, the companies' employees include immigrants from Thailand, Laos, and Poland. Egan has noticed that Ramirez converses as an equal with the older male technicians, and that she gets along with everyone.
Her current duties in the sheet metal fabrication department include programming set-ups for the equipment that makes catches, latches, and handles, and supervising 10 people.
Encouragement from Multiple Sources
The manufacturing programs that Ramirez participated in during high school and college are led by key members of the College of Technology and partners of the Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing, an ATE Center based at Tunxis Community College. The College of Technology is a statewide initiative that facilitates articulation among all 12 Connecticut community colleges, four-year public and private university partners, the Connecticut Technical High School System, and business and industry partners.
Ramirez credits her godfather, whose company in Puerto Rico made surgical knives, with instigating her interest in manufacturing.
As a ninth grader in the automotive manufacturing program at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford, Connecticut, Ramirez participated in the Engineering Challenge for the 21st Century. This ATE project took urban high school students to community colleges on four Saturdays. The students learned about team work and STEM careers through hands-on activities designed to improve their math and science knowledge, technical writing, and personal accountability.
"The whole purpose of that program was to give confidence to the kids to learn to even think about the possibilities in technical fields. Our focus was technical and engineering fields," said Mehrdad Faezi, a professor of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science at Manchester Community College and a co-principal investigator of the project.
When Ramirez was in it, she was very shy and hardly spoke English, Faezi said. He next encountered her in 2012 when she took his CAD course at Manchester Community College immediately after graduating from high school.
She completed the course, but health complications following the birth of her daughter in November 2012 led to her taking a break from college.
Plans to Add to Stackable Certificate
With assistance from Our Piece of the Pie, a non-profit organization that provided her with tuition, transportation and childcare assistance, Ramirez enrolled in Asnuntuck Community College. With the stackable certificate she earned there, Ramirez plans to complete an associate degree in manufacturing and, eventually, would like to earn a bachelor's degree.
As the oldest of seven children and the first in her extended family to go to college, Ramirez purposefully encourages the people she knows to go to college and work hard to succeed. So far she has persuaded her brother, sister, and two cousins to pursue manufacturing careers. She also talks to groups on behalf of Our Piece of the Pie, and, as she did at HI-TEC, on behalf of the ATE projects she attended.
“My life wasn’t so great. My parents were not that wealthy, and there were times when we had a little bit of trouble. That is the reason I do my best. I don’t want my daughter to go through any of the stuff I went through. I want her to have everything that she needs. I want her to be healthy, and I want her to actually follow my steps at one point. That’s my goal,” Ramirez said.