Mario Arzate is a lot like a typical high school senior. He loves spending time with his girl friend and friends, enjoys going to sporting events and cannot wait for graduation. But for 25 hours a week, he shifts from being a high school student to a Dalton Utilities employee, working as an engineering apprentice through the work-based learning program offered at Dalton High School.
The work-based learning program, led by Dr. Larry Tripp, is available to juniors and seniors. The program allows students, most of whom have completed a career pathway, to gain workforce experience through apprenticeships and internships in that particular field. In addition, the employability skill development category teaches students crucial soft-skills, such as dealing with the public and teamwork, which will benefit them as they go forward into any career.
“It’s an opportunity for kids to get out and connect with the real world,” said Tripp. “They take what they learn in school and apply it in the professional world.”
Arzate grew up in Dalton and is the youngest of three siblings. Both of his parents work at Mohawk in positions Arzate describes as “very difficult.” His brother began working at a young age and Arzate followed in his footsteps.
“The minute I turned 16, I started looking for a job,” he said. “People who start working early get a head start in life.”
Before his apprenticeship with Dalton Utilities, Arzate worked 40 hours a week at Captain D’s. The decision to leave full-time work to transition to only 25 hours a week at Dalton Utilities weighed heavy on Arzate, especially after Captain D’s offered him a management position that came with a raise.
“I was working a lot of hours and making a lot of money,” Arzate said. “I thought about becoming a manager for months and I decided I wasn’t going to take it. I knew something else was going to come up and it did.”
Arzate completed the manufacturing pathway at DHS, providing him with basic engineering knowledge that made him a perfect, yet hesitant, candidate for Dalton Utilities.
“When Dr. Tripp first contacted me about the position, I denied the offer,” he said. “I thought I was so under qualified. I thought the job wasn’t for me. But Dr. Tripp told me to be confident and that I could do it.”
Now, Arzate maps sewer and water mains and installs and tracks gas installation services, a position Charlie Morrow, director of watershed engineering, was having difficulty filling.
“It’s a very unique position with the software, engineering and mapping,” Morrow said. “I didn’t have very many takers and the people who applied weren’t qualified. Then Mario showed up. He’s probably one of the top employees we have.”
Even though he’s the youngest employee at Dalton Utilities, it doesn’t affect his camaraderie and professionalism in the workplace.
“He works with a lot of teams and different individuals in his position,” Morrow said. “Interns aren’t just making copies when you come here. This is real engineering work. He’s fitting in. I can’t find anything bad about him and other employees are saying that, too.”
In addition to being Arzate’s boss, Morrow has taken on a mentor roll and guides him through the “ropes of engineering.”
“I want him to know how important education is,” Morrow said. “I tell him what classes to take and how to get his professional license. This job requires an education and I want him to flourish.”
Arzate plans on attending Dalton State College after graduating in May. He will study pre-engineering for two years and hopes to transfer to Georgia Southern University to major in civil engineering, just like Morrow.
“I want to stay close so I can stay with the company because I feel like I belong there,” Arzate said. “I’ve only been there a month and I’ve learned so much. I can’t imagine what I will learn in two years. Ever since I was little, my parents always said college was the key to success. And I believe that.”
Balancing Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, work and being a teenager has come with many sacrifices and hardships for Arzate; limited social time, studying after work and giving up playing sports. Self-doubt creeps in from time-to-time. He wonders if he has what it takes. But with support from his family, Morrow and Tripp, he is reassured.
“Charlie shows me his engineering books and it all looks so challenging,” he said. “It’s always in the back of my head, can I do this? And then I say to myself, ‘I can.’ Anything is possible.”
Even though Arzate has only been working as an intern at Dalton Utilities for only several months, he’s already an important part of the engineering team.
“We have just scratched the surface,” Morrow said. “I keep testing him and he keeps passing. He’s teaching me a lot and hopefully I’m teaching him a lot, too. I’ve got big plans for him.”
Submitted by Kyrstin Reppond of Dalton Public Schools