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Daughter Ashley, left, and mother Susan Colbeth celebrate with fellow graduates after the CVTC commencement ceremony May 9. The two graduated together with associate degrees in the Administrative Professional program. Submitted photos

Mother, daughter earn tech-college degrees

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When Ashley Colbeth came to the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) River Falls Campus a couple of years ago to take a placement test in typing, her mother, Susan, came along with her.

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At that point Susan wasn't even thinking about attending CVTC herself, but layoffs from two jobs led her to give a lot of thought to her future.

Now the future has come into focus for both mother and daughter as both crossed the same stage last Thursday night and accepted diplomas in the same program, from the same school.

The Colbeths were among 67 graduates in six programs honored at the May 9 CVTC commencement ceremony at River Falls High School.

They were among seven graduates in the Administrative Professional program, both receiving scholastic honors.

Though Susan, 52, and Ashley, 22, are at different stages in their lives, they came to CVTC for the same reason, one shared by so many CVTC graduates -- a need for a new career direction.

Ashley took a Certified Nursing Assistant class at CVTC a few years ago. She was working in the field in River Falls before attending Carroll University in Waukesha to study physical therapy and exercise science.

The university didn't work out, partly because of the distance from her support network of friends and family. So Ashley moved back home.

"I got my old job back, but I wanted something more behind-the-scenes, in office work instead of patient care," said Ashley, about enrolling in CVTC's Administrative Professional program.

Susan, a 1979 Ellsworth High School graduate, worked at Smead Manufacturing in Hastings, Minn., for 25 years before becoming being laid off in March 2011. She found work at a solar panel firm in Prescott, but got laid off there, too.

About two weeks before the fall 2011 term started, Susan decided to enroll in CVTC, choosing the same program as her daughter.

"It was kind of awesome at first," Ashley said. "She was a good study buddy."

Added Susan: "We're good support for one another. We have a pretty good relationship."

Ashley was particularly helpful bringing her mother up to speed on the use of today's essential educational tool -- the computer.

For a while Susan wasn't sure if she would make it.

"It's a big adjustment to go from factory work your whole life to school," Susan said. "But Ashley told me to give it two or three weeks. I started feeling pretty comfortable."

Ashley had challenges of her own, continuing to work full time while going to school.

There hasn't been much rivalry over bragging rights to the best grades in the Colbeth household, but now the real work of finding post-college employment begins.

"I'm excited, but nervous about graduation," Susan said. "But I really am optimistic that I'm going to find a job."

Ashley has signed on with an employment service in Minneapolis.

"Hudson Hospital is putting a big addition on, so I am hoping to get in there," said Susan.

"No, that's mine," Ashley replied with a smile.

As with any graduation, there were plenty of thanks, congratulations and best wishes expressed both during and after last Thursday's CVTC ceremony.

Student speaker Paul Copeland of the Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement program thanked instructors, a number of them by name, for their selfless dedication.

"We are brothers and sisters raised in an education environment by those who have given their time to see that we are successful, that we are ready, and that we are the best," Copeland said. "We have been given a proud torch to carry, that we can continue to keep lit with our skills earned here.

Faculty speaker Kristina Novek, a math and science instructor, praised the graduates for taking risks. She challenged them to continue to do so.

"Memorize how you feel at this moment," Novek said. "Remember the pride and sense of accomplishment that graduation gave you. Strive for this feeling in all aspects of your life. To do this, you will have to take more risks,"

The Chippewa Valley Technical College system has campuses located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls.

CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin and is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS).

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