Nurturing lessons: WCTC assists men who tackle female-dominated fields of study
Similar program for women has existed for more than 20 years
Last Updated: Oct. 6, 2002
If women can celebrate Rosie the Riveter as a role model for tackling tough jobs, maybe it is time for men to embrace Norman the Nurse.

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For more information about the WCTC Center for Non-Traditional Students, go to this Web site.

In a move for equality between the sexes, Waukesha County Technical College has started a program to nurture men who are pursuing such non-traditional careers as nursing and child care.

College officials believe their Men's Development Center is one of the first such programs in the nation.

More than 20 years after launching a similar program encouraging women to break down barriers in construction trades, auto mechanics and other male-dominated fields, the Waukesha County school is turning the tables.

Jeff Schultz, 37, a nursing student, said the program helps him cope with sometimes being the only man in class. The Johnson Creek husband and father is about to earn his associate's degree en route to becoming a registered nurse.

"We're breaking some new ground," he said.

At the Men's Development Center, students can get special counseling, join support groups and enroll in non-credit courses on such topics as managing stress, dealing with divorce and building self-esteem.

A helping hand
It is all intended to help male students cope with personal problems that might make it tough to stay in school - including problems that stem from breaking the mold in a non-traditional career. In addition to nursing and child care, men at WCTC can learn cosmetology, dental assistance, food service and other fields occupied predominantly by women.

"There are a lot of men who want to do something that's just a little different," program director Jacki Van Dyke said. "And maybe we give them the courage to do that."

When a similar program started in 1996 at Lakeland Community College in suburban Cleveland, the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for Women voiced concerns that women would be given short shrift.

Chapter President Diane Dodge said NOW officials have since come to realize that Lakeland is not neglecting women in its efforts to retain men in non-traditional programs.

No such concerns have surfaced in Waukesha County.

YWCA of Waukesha Executive Director Beverly Siligmueller applauded the program.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," she said. "I'm all for everyone having equal employment opportunities."

The issue touches on a problem that colleges across the nation have confronted: a student population with a noticeable preponderance of females.

Since Lakeland Community College began its Men's Resource Center, enrollment of male students has increased from 37% to 41% of the campus population.

At Waukesha County's college - where men make up 41% of the student body - a program available since the 1970s provides special services to women in electronics, plumbing or other male-dominated fields.

When administrators last year decided to offer a similar program for men, they modeled it after Lakeland Community College.

Program is rare
Nationally, there are perhaps no more than a handful of colleges with such programs, officials said.

Although counselors at Milwaukee Area Technical College are available to work with students in non-traditional programs, those efforts are not structured the way they are in Waukesha County.

"I've heard they're really doing some good things," MATC outreach specialist Michael Peppers said.

With a staff of six mostly part-time employees and a budget that includes $51,000 in college funds, plus outside grants, WCTC's Center for Non-Traditional Students now includes both the Men's Development Center and Women's Development Center.

WCTC now has about 300 women and 84 men enrolled in non-traditional fields.

An advisory committee oversees the new men's program to make sure it is meeting the needs of male students - without bruising any egos.

"It might be more difficult for men to ask for help," committee chairman Tom Riese said. "When help is offered, you almost need to make it easier to ask."

Among the specific scenarios that counselor Miki Martin-Erschnig has encountered are students confronting financial problems, family woes, mental health issues and classroom difficulties.

Add to that the pressure of being a man in a woman's world - or vice versa - and suddenly going to college becomes a psychological and emotional minefield.

"Sometimes they feel that they need to be the flag-bearer for their gender," Martin-Erschnig said. "It becomes extremely complex and very overwhelming for some people."

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Oct. 7, 2002.

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