If you would have told me in 2005 that 15+ years later I would be working at a construction data and software company, I probably would have backed away slowly and found the nearest exit. And yet, here I am! You did predict the future, and I was wrong for doubting you. I’m sorry.
While I didn’t know then that I would end up falling in love with workforce development and the construction industry, my early teaching experiences and the communication skills I built as a graduate student and teaching assistant in the Kansas State University English Department had a huge part in the direction I took after graduation and my present happiness in my current role.
Photo: Anita Mihelic (then Berg), outside the K-State Student Union for a Take Back the Night March, 2005. Faculty members Greg Eiselein and Linda Brigham appear directly behind Anita.
I studied English with a focus on language, composition, and rhetoric. Every paper and project was preparing me how to research, think critically, and communicate effectively on the job. Teaching expository writing helped me hone skills in managing a group, developing individuals, creating learning plans and materials, facilitating engaging experiences, coaching, motivating, evaluating, and giving and receiving effective feedback. I also had the pleasure of working in the Writing Center for one semester. That sparked a joy for sitting down, side by side with someone, discovering their struggles and learning needs, and helping them in a hyper-personalized way.
At the time, I thought I would keep going with classroom teaching. It seemed the most likely place I could continue to teach. I moved to Chicago after graduation and landed at a company called BidClerk. I had to learn the construction industry in about a week, and start writing to and chatting up civil engineers, architects, developers, municipal planners and general contractors. It was what you might call a pivot…. While it wasn’t what I imagined I would be doing, I got a thrill out of piecing together information about construction projects for contractors and other professionals looking for jobs to bid to stay in business.
In the midst of this, I also taught part time as an adjunct instructor at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, IL. I was back in my old stomping grounds with a delightfully diverse student body – people from many countries, backgrounds, and life stages. I found myself drawn to older students and people bringing rich experiences to the classroom. While part of me loves the classroom and following the shifting needs of a large group, after three years, I decided it wasn’t ultimately the place for me. I went back full time at BidClerk. I’ll be real, for a few years I was in a bit of an existential crisis. What was I doing? What did I want? Long walks and talks were had. Then a pathway started to open up.
I decided to start putting up my hand more to train new hires at work. It brought back that Writing Center feeling – let’s dig into this, me and you, and I’ll show you the ropes, newbie. It grew on me. I liked this training at work stuff. I did it more. Eventually, with this on the job experience and past teaching experiences, I was able to get a full time gig as a team trainer. I picked up steam and explored more and more ways I could help develop and grow people at work – including myself!
Since then, I have tried to walk the walk of continuous learning and growth. I earned a training specialist graduate certificate from the University of St Francis in Joliet. I went on to obtain a Certified Professional in Training Management certification from the Training Industry. I also moved onto the HR team at my company – now called ConstructConnect – and I get to do the ridiculously awesome job of Director of Learning & Development. My whole world now is onboarding new hires, career development, leadership development, compliance training (cybersecurity is no joke!), facilitating learning sessions, building courses in our learning management system, building a mentorship program, and assisting our Employee Resource Group in building diversity and inclusion for our team members.
I also have to give a special shout out to an “Activist Rhetoric” class with Phillip Marzluf that lit a fire for volunteering for me. That class opened my eyes to how prevalent literacy issues were in our country. When I got to Chicago, I found an organization called Literacy Chicago and ended up tutoring for a couple of years with adult literacy learners. Today, I volunteer with a program called Project Care out of Cicero, practicing English conversation with language learners who are typically immigrants. It brings me a huge amount of joy and satisfaction, and I’m not sure I would have discovered it without K-State.
I feel like I’ve gone on such a winding journey to get here, but at the core of it all, I’m using the same writing, communication, teaching, and planning skills I learned at K-State. Sometimes we take a winding road to end up at a strangely familiar place.
— Anita Mihelic (MA ’07)