Jessica Jones needed to start over.
The Portland native had recently entered her 40s, gone through a divorce and found herself at what she now considers a personal crossroads.
So, while working to support her three daughters, and after a decade of appraising cars and another working on the repair side of the automotive industry, Jones returned to college, enrolling at Clackamas Community College.
She hadn't been to school since the '90s. She was nervous.
With her automotive background and previous experience using welding as an art form, Jones took a welding class her first term at the college, something she hoped may help assimilate her to the new atmosphere.
"I knew right away, this is where I need to be going," she said.
Since establishing the Scholars Initiative in 2019, the band Metallica's nonprofit All Within My Hands Foundation has worked alongside the American Association of Community Colleges to provide support for career and technical education programs across the U.S. including the one at CCC. The program works directly with students in need, giving them the tools necessary to pursue careers in the trades and other traditional learning programs.
"Not only do our students take extreme pride in being selected as Metallica Scholars, but we have also seen proof that this funding from All Within My Hands makes a real difference in the success of our students," CCC President Tim Cook said in a statement.
Jones, CCC's welding club president, is one of those students.
As her first weeks at CCC pushed on, she noticed fellow students wearing Metallica shirts.
"I was a super rocker chick," she said. "I love Metallica. It's one of my favorite bands, still is."
Soon after, she learned of the program behind the eye-catching shirts: the Metallica Scholars Program.
She received the scholarship in the midst of her first term at CCC during the tail end of the program's first-ever cycle in 2019. By then, Jones had decided to pursue a structural certification — which would be necessary to obtain a future job as a metal fabricator.
There was less than a week before her certification test.
"I'm thinking to myself, 'Here I am trying to do this program. Is this gonna be a good fit for me? Am I gonna be successful? I don't even really know what I'm doing yet?'" she said.
The Metallica grant provided her with a high-quality welding hood, work boots and a slew of tools to call her own. The timing couldn't have been better.
"It completely boosted my confidence," Jones said. "I passed my certification tests … I felt like I went from being a student to actually (being able to) do this for a living."
She reapplied a year later and was a recipient of the grant for a second time, which she said she wasn't expecting. This time, she had the knowledge and experience to know exactly what she needed to round out her tool set. The program handled the rest.
Jones was finally hitting her stride again. The welding school had become a second home for her as she worked on her degree. She took on a second major in education in hopes of becoming a part-time teacher.
That spring, like so many others, her stride was interrupted. COVID-19 required the welding school to shut down and disrupted much of what she had been building towards.
But Jones wasn't away from the school for more than a week when Wright Manufacturing in Portland reached out.
As countless others lost their jobs — casualties of the pandemic — Jones' work, and decision to take a step in a new direction, was validated. The company offered her a job which she said she wouldn't have received had it not been for the gear, and confidence, the Metallica grant endowed her.
"The whole process with Metallica, it just kind of got the ball rolling for me," she said. "(It provided) the confidence that I really needed being a middle-aged woman getting into an entirely new field. It's a male-dominated industry."
Jones' career has undergone a 180-degree turn since she made the choice to start over. She finished her undergrad at CCC last summer, and, to go along with the certifications she's already earned — Flux-Cored Arc Welding, Shielded Metal Arc Welding and stainless steel Tungsten Inert Gas — she is chasing her bachelor's degree in education now.
She worked for Wright Manufacturing throughout her undergrad, but is now self-employed as a custom metal builder and fabricator and is able to fully support herself and her daughters. After a stint teaching welding and fabrication at Rapid Response Bio Clean, she currently works at CCC as an assistant instructor.
"If you're a skilled trades worker, you're special," she said. "You are a part of a national movement of the infrastructure of our country and what our country is based on. If we don't have skilled trade workers, there's a lot of places where we're gonna have problems as a country."
As her time with CCC has drawn on and her role has grown, she's noticed her presence is having an impact.
"(Younger students) were kind of following me around because they were like, 'I see this woman, this adult woman, being successful in what I'm going to school for,'" she said. "I started kind of realizing I have an example to be set here."
With the addition of the 2022-2023 Metallica Scholars program, grants will reach over 2,000 students in 32 community colleges across 27 states. According to the foundation, on average, students who complete the program receive job opportunities and increased salary potential up to three times higher.
"Our goal for the Metallica Scholars Initiative is to shine a light on workforce education and support the next generation of tradespeople," Pete Delgrosso, All Within My Hands executive director, said in a statement.
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