Southwest Tech Spotlight: Callie Palan
Callie grew up in rural Highland, Wisconsin with her three older brothers and younger sister.
“We were always hunting, fishing, and building tree forts. We had horses, dogs, and a ton of animals.”
Callie’s dad was in construction and she loved to go to work with him and pick up scrap around the building site.
“I grew up around hard work, but I didn’t ever think about what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
She also looked up to her brother, Luke, who had a passion for art.
As a senior, Callie came to Southwest Tech and received her Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA). When she graduated high school in 2007, she wasn’t ready to make big decisions about her future.
“I partied a lot and didn’t have it together. I thought my CNA would get me through, but I jumped from CNA job to CNA job.”
Callie found a CNA homecare job that she enjoyed and hoped to keep long-term.
“They offered me a job as a manager and I moved to LaCrosse. I loved it. I had a set schedule and every weekend off. It was perfect.”
In 2011 while working in the homecare residential facility, Callie was severely burned from a fire set by one of the residents.
“I was sent to Madison and put in the burn unit for weeks. It was a sad and crazy experience.”
When Callie was discharged from the hospital, she began painting as a form of rehab for her hand. The experience also gave her some time to think.
“One of my friends from work was looking at going back to school. I thought it sounded cool, so I applied for Welding school in LaCrosse but I couldn’t get in because of their waiting list.”
At the same time all of these things were happening to Callie, Luke had built a reputation as a tattoo artist in Las Vegas.
“I just didn’t know what to do next, so I moved to Vegas to work with Luke. That experience changed me.”
Callie realized it was time to start doing more for herself.
“I was always doing things for other people and I realized that I needed to do something for me. Luke encouraged me to continue to look for welding schools.”
After a year and a half in Vegas, Callie moved back to Highland.
“I was working random jobs, sometimes five at a time. I moved again, this time to Madison. I started bartending and applied to Madison College’s welding program. I couldn’t get in because they had a wait list too.”
While at home celebrating Thanksgiving with family, Callie’s aunt Amy convinced her to check out Southwest Tech.
“I was hesitant. I had a steady job at the bar and was finally stable. I was doing well for myself. I actually cried thinking about leaving and starting something new.”
Callie attended a Fast Track event and completed the entire admission process to begin the Welding program in January.
“It turns out attending Southwest Tech was the best thing I could have done for myself. It has helped keep my focus and drive.”
Callie picked up the trade fast and within the first month was in the top of her class.
“It has totally opened up my eyes and encouraged me to continue.”
Callie has been fortunate enough to have the support of many people in her journey.
“My family has been so supportive. I wouldn’t be here without them and I have never seen my parents so proud. My instructor, Ed Anderson, has also been phenomenal. He answers any question you have, but he also makes you think and tests your ability to answer the question for yourself.”
Callie has had some rough patches in her life and now feels like she is headed in the right direction.
“I have had a long, weird road, but I can only see it going up from here. After I was burned, I didn’t care anymore. Coming to Southwest Tech and finding this passion for welding and knowing that I can do it is an amazing feeling. Everything you need is at your fingertips. I can only hope other people have the same encouragement that I have had.”
Callie would really like to get into stainless and aluminum tig welding. She plans on applying all over the place and is willing to go wherever it takes her.
“If you do something that you’re really into and set your heart into it, the world is yours. Life isn’t going to hand itself to you, you have to strive for what you want. I am so excited for where this new opportunity is going to take me.”
As a woman in a non-traditional occupation, Callie’s male friends who work in the field feel that she will run circles around others in the industry. She shares this piece of advice to other females looking for a career in welding.
“Don’t be intimidated. You can do just as much as the average man. Do what you want to do. Set your mind to something and anything is possible.”