When mushroom growers in Mexico started putting U.S. companies out of business, Paige Querry was among the casualties.
A database administrator in the quality control department of Sylvan America, a mushroom spawn producer in Armstrong County, Querry was one of the many who lost their jobs in 2010 as a result of the industry pinch.
She entered the job market but couldn't get so much as an interview in her field, despite her 20 years of experience and associate degree.
Paige Querry, pictured in a computer lab in Stright Hall, is now a systems analyst at Dollar Bank in Pittsburgh.
“I set up a network; I did all this stuff,” she said. "Not having a bachelor's degree was a hurdle I couldn't overcome. It was really frustrating; it was demoralizing, actually."
Though her husband had steady work as a carpenter and she found a part-time job while collecting unemployment, the loss led to lean times for her family of four. There were no family trips, no improvements to their Kittanning home.
"We certainly didn't do anything extra," she said. "We did a lot of bicycle rides and walks in the park."
Losing her job was more damaging for Lona Hoffman, one of about 70 people put out of work as specialty tool maker Kennametal prepared to close its Derry plant. Her family, including two young children, lost its newly built home, and she and her husband separated.
"I think it was the stress of everything," she said. "It was a difficult two years."
The economy was tough, and rather than rely solely on a job search to improve their situation, Hoffman and Querry went a different route: They made use of a federal job-training program that paid for their college education.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance program, established under the Trade Act of 1974, assists workers who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign competition. For qualifying workers, the program will cover the cost of a degree that the U.S. Department of Labor, the program's administrator, has determined can lead to a high-demand occupation. Covered expenses include tuition and fees, books, and any necessary equipment and supplies.
After earning her master's degree in business and work-force development, Lona Hoffman signed on for a yearlong alent management internship at Alcoa in Pittsburgh.
In effect for years, the assistance program got a boost in 2009 with the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which loosened the requirements to receive funding. IUP had previously accepted students receiving this assistance, but when the program was expanded with stimulus funding, the university centralized the process under its Center for Career and Technical Personnel Preparation, with additional support in billing and other services from other campus offices.
Paula Kirkpatrick Andrei coordinates IUP activities relating to the Trade Act and the Workforce Investment Act, separate legislation that also offers funding for job training. According to Andrei, a 1991 IUP graduate and 1992 master's recipient, 27 program participants have successfully completed their studies at IUP since she began overseeing the activities four years ago.
The process begins with certification by the Department of Labor that the workers have been adversely affected by foreign trade. After they're notified of the benefits available to them, they meet with case managers at their local CareerLink office to discuss their professional goals and explore high-demand occupations that might be a good fit. The displaced workers then undergo testing to help determine if they can succeed in the degree program required for the job.
According to Marie Dillon-Griffith, site administrator at Pennsylvania CareerLink of Armstrong County, participants are also required to have three failed job searches, to prove they can't get the job without the degree.
"This can be a complicated system, and there are hoops you have to jump through," said Dillon-Griffith, a 1992 graduate of IUP. "The people who have done it-they wanted it. It wasn't just handed to them."
She noted that CareerLink staff members and partners work closely with participants throughout the process to ensure their success in finding employment with family-sustaining wages.
Part of that process involves connecting Trade Act participants who select IUP with Andrei. If their desired major is not on the Department of Labor's approved list for high-demand occupations, Andrei works with the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board to attempt to have it added.
Choosing a major was easy for Querry. At Sylvan America, she had been hired as the office manager, but soon she was setting up her department's first network and rewriting the database. "At every job I've had, I always gravitated toward computers," said Querry, who started at IUP in May 2011.
Morgan Helmeid had applied to IUP's nursing program even before she knew she was eligible for Trade Act assistance. She had a bachelor's degree in biology from North Carolina State, but didn't find work with it after moving to Clymer with her husband. In the summer of 2009, Helmeid took a job processing patient accounts at a local physical therapy firm, but she lost the job nine months later when the company shipped its billing operations overseas.
To her relief, the nursing major was already approved by the Department of Labor, and she started at IUP in fall 2010.
Morgan Helmeid, pictured in a nursing simulation lab in Johnson Hall, is now working in the surgical unit of Indiana Regional Medical Center.
After the major is finalized, Andrei completes the student's training application on the Commonwealth Workforce Development System website. The application asks for information including estimated costs, training start and end dates, and a list of required courses. Once the contract is drawn, the student is locked in to the selected major, courses, and other details as stated.
One of the changes resulting from the 2009 stimulus funding was the ability to use Trade Adjustment Assistance funds toward a master's degree.
After high school, Dan Dunmeyer went to a vocational-technical school and then got a machinist job. "At the time, I didn't think I was college material," he said. But a human resources director at his company -- impressed with Dunmeyer's negotiating skills on behalf of his union -- encouraged him to go to college and get his degree.
Dunmeyer, then in his early 30s, worked evenings while taking classes at Geneva College's Johnstown campus and earned his bachelor's degree in human resource management. He moved into a human resources position at his company, but lost his job when the plant's operations were shifted to China.
When Dunmeyer learned he was eligible for Trade Act funds, he opted to use them toward a master's degree in employment and labor relations at IUP.
"It was hard to get a job at that time," he said. "I thought if I had a master's degree, I'd be more employable. It was a good fit at the time."
Because of job cuts at Kennametal, Hoffman twice made use of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Thanks to Kennametal's tuition reimbursement benefit, she was halfway to her bachelor's degree in business at Seton Hill University in Greensburg when she lost her production job in 2005.
Hoffman continued at Seton Hill using Trade Act funding. While helping at a university-sponsored networking seminar in Pittsburgh, she connected with some Kennametal employees, and even before she graduated in 2007, she was hired back by the company, this time in human resources at headquarters in Latrobe. Nearly two years later, Kennametal experienced global downsizing that once again put her out of work.
Dan Dunmeyer was hired as a human resources manager at Omnova Solutions even before finishing his master's in employment and labor relations in 2011.
Hoffman was more prepared the second time, she said, as her children were older and she knew cuts were coming. She quickly enrolled in the Pennsylvania teaching certification program at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. "I lost my job on a Monday and started classes on Wednesday," she said.
When she found out she again qualified for the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, she decided to finish her certification program using student loans and put the Trade Act funding toward a master's degree in business and work-force development at IUP.
"You can't go wrong with education," Hoffman said. "It's like job experience. If financially you can still support your home life, you should take advantage of it."
The assistance program covers up to three years of training. Andrei said that hastens the college experience but allows participants to finish in time, as they are required to be in school year-round, and most start with some transferrable credits.
"If you're not working, this is your work," she said. "The goal is to get an education or training and get back out into the work force and off the unemployment rolls."
Before the students start classes, they meet individually with Andrei to learn what to expect. They are required to submit class attendance records, signed by their professors, every week. Other than that, they move through the college system like any other student, she said. That also means that program participants, who have ranged in age from their 20s to 40s at IUP, are immersed in the pool of traditional-aged students.
Querry remembers her first day of class during the fall semester. "As a 40-year-old mother walking into class, I was older than everyone in the room, professors included. It was a little daunting."
She said she sat in the front of the room and tried to stay focused on the professor. But over time, she and her classmates developed a mutual respect. "I helped them, they helped me. I worked with some really smart kids, and it was good to get to know them."
Support systems are crucial, Querry said, and like the other program participants, she leaned most on her family and her department.
Querry said faculty member David Smith took extra time getting her up to speed in Java since her only computer programming experience was with Fortran in 1986. And, on days when her daughter Jessica, about 10 at the time, had to accompany her to school, Jessica often stayed in the office with department secretary Yvonne Dougherty.
For Dunmeyer, that nudge from his mentor at the manufacturing company was all he needed.
"I truly would not be where I am without his guidance and support," said Dunmeyer, now a human resources manager at Omnova Solutions, a company in Jeannette that makes vinyl films and decking laminates. Dunmeyer got the job even before he finished his master's in May 2011.
According to the Bureau of Workforce Development Partnership of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the job placement rate for Trade Adjustment Assistance program participants statewide was nearly 80 percent in 2011 and through the first three quarters of 2012, the latest time period for which statistics are available.
After receiving her nursing degree last August, Helmeid landed a job at Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg and in January began work in the surgical unit of Indiana Regional Medical Center.
Hoffman began looking at jobs in May of last year, her final semester at IUP, and came across what she described as the perfect job description at Alcoa in Pittsburgh, one of the world's largest aluminum producers.
The position was a part-time internship, and she was looking for full-time work, but she decided to pursue it. "It would allow me the opportunity to grow and learn in a well-established, successful global organization," she said.
After receiving the offer, Hoffman signed on for a year. "I'm learning invaluable skills and lessons, and that's what's most important." As a talent management intern, she is revamping the training materials and internal website for Alcoa's mentoring program, which is expanding to a broader audience of employees globally.
"I truly believe that within a certain time period, there will be opportunities for full-time," she said.
After starting her internship last summer at Dollar Bank in Pittsburgh, Querry was offered a full-time position at the bank as a systems analyst. She graduated in May and started work in June.
Querry said she is grateful for IUP's participation in the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. "It shows that IUP is interested in its community. Local people can benefit."
In addition to how it benefited her, she said the experience showed her daughters why they need to go to college and the dedication it takes to succeed. Her daughter Nicolette will start at IUP's Cook Honors College in the fall.
"This program afforded me a luxury I was not able to give myself," she said. "It changed my life."
Readers who believe they or someone they know may qualify for a job-training program may contact Paula Andrei for more information at 724-357-4433 or Paula.Andrei@iup.edu.
More from the Summer 2013 Issue of IUP Magazine
Men's rugby had one of its finest seasons in program history, played out on a national stage
IUP professors visit Guatemala City to witness the prophesied end of the world
"The stories in this edition provide focus.... a snapshot of what IUP has been and what we must become next."
Ten alumni were honored with 2013 Distinguished Alumni Awards at an April gala.
Nurse Eva Jane Savel Bolents treated survivors of the most tragic naval event of World War II
IUP celebrated the start to its new chapter with the inauguration of President Michael Driscoll
The benefits of study abroad are vast, but the cost can be prohibitive. A scholarship fund was established to help.