By Linda Schmid

When Kristen Suhan applied for the mikeroweWORKS scholarship, she was required to sign the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge. This is a series of statements that promotes the ideals of work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a positive attitude. She was also asked to create a statement of her own to tack onto the pledge. This is what she wrote: “Be original. Be yourself. Most of the population wants to fit in and be like others. That’s not necessarily a problem, however being original, and being yourself, is what makes a person unique. Everyone has their own unique strength or skill that they are really good at … that is one of the best things someone can do is just be themselves.”

That’s good advice. It’s hard to excel in a career if it is not a fit for who you are.

Suhan didn’t always know exactly who she was or what she wanted. As a kid she was a good student, but she would rather be outside playing softball with her sister, or helping her dad with the yard work. At one point she thought she might work in meteorology; she loved watching the clouds move across the sky, the excitement of a summer storm, and she always wanted to see a tornado. However, chemistry class persuaded her that meteorology wasn’t for her.

She says that her high school teachers kept pushing the idea that all students should have a plan, should know what they wanted to do when they graduated. For the most part, an acceptable plan seemed to require a four-year degree. Suhan said that the option of going into the trades was never even mentioned.

When she graduated, she started working for her grandfather’s and mother’s online store but Suhan didn’t want to make it her career. Luckily her dad, who worked in commercial plumbing, suggested that she check out a trade school. She followed his advice and found the HVAC program.

At first, Suhan found classes a bit intimidating because practically all of her fellow students were male; she felt everyone was watching everything she did. Eventually, the students got to know each other a bit and they began working together. For the most part, she says, they worked well together, pushing each other to do better.

Suhan’s mother and her friend found out about the mikeroweWORKS scholarship on Facebook and encouraged her to apply. She hesitated; she didn’t think she was good enough to be awarded something like that, but she applied and received it. While she is unsure to this day why she got it, she says it did give her some courage. When others supported her and took her seriously, it made her want it even more; it made her work even harder.

She graduated with an associates degree with a 4.0 grade point average in 2020 and immediately found a job at Mullen Refrigeration Services in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Best of all, she loves it! New challenges, new equipment, new problems to solve, not to mention contortionists’ positions to reach the equipment she is working on … what’s not to love?

Suhan says that there are few women in her chosen field and she encourages other women to try it. She says that there is teasing but it is usually good hearted, and if you don’t take it personally and you challenge yourself, you could have a great career! In fact, she believes that there is plenty of opportunity  for women  in the field because women think differently than men and they complement each other on the job. For instance, she says that the guys are very focused on one thing at a time and she reminds them of other things that need to be attended to, resulting in great teamwork.

“Some people think this work is low on the totem pole, but we are providing warm homes; everyone needs a warm home,” Suhan said. “It’s very rewarding work,” she added, “so more girls should go for it!” RB