Courtney Ryan was a young girl when her grandmother, Diane Evangeline Weckler, taught her to solder so they could make leaded-glass hummingbirds and angels together.
“I feel like her work ethic, interests and skills were passed on to me,” says Courtney, maintenance supervisor at our oriented strand board (OSB) plant in Grayling, Michigan. “And soldering sparked my interest in skilled trades.”
In high school, she was the only young woman in her building and trades class, where students built a house from the ground up. She liked the experience so much that she studied construction management and building construction technology management in college.
Today, Courtney is one of just a few women in her field — something she’s working to change. At Grayling, she created an inclusion board to foster diversity, equity and inclusion across the site, and she’s actively involved in our companywide Inclusion Council. Now she’s looking to expand her impact by creating a scholarship at the local community college to open doors for more women interested in learning skilled trades such as welding and maintenance.
“I realize I’m both a role model and advocate,” Courtney says. “I’d like to hire more women in maintenance and other nontraditional roles, but there just aren’t many candidates coming forward and applying.”
As part of Courtney’s Volunteer of the Year Award recognition, Kirtland Community College received a $5,000 WAVES (Weyerhaeuser Active Volunteer Employees) grant to establish the Diversity and Equality in the Workplace — or DEW —scholarship for women pursuing a degree in the skilled trades and leadership.
Tell us a bit about your day job.
I supervise the day-to-day activities of the maintenance department, overseeing about 20 people. Our tasks include scheduling, maintaining standard operating procedures, budgeting, training, preventive maintenance planning and responding to outages. The goal is to ensure reliable operations of the mill to meet our production targets without risking our own safety or the safety of our colleagues.
What motivates you to volunteer?
I believe in being the change you want to see in the world. I have two young kids at home, and one of my priorities is to instill in them a sense of community, build an appreciation for where we live and the people who live here, and foster kindness and inclusiveness. I want the world they grow up in to be a better place. It’s just that important to me, and that’s all the motivation I need.
What made you choose the Kirtland Community College?
I wanted to support women interested in pursuing careers in skilled trades like maintenance and welding. Women are so underrepresented in these fields, but they’re good-paying, stable jobs. One barrier for many is the money to complete training. I’ve met potential candidates who are single moms and they need a little extra help for school while still covering daycare and family expenses, and my hope is that providing extra support will help close this gap.
How long have you been working with Kirtland Community College?
We have a strong relationship with the college at Grayling. We recruit summer workers there, and in the past we worked with the college to develop a maintenance apprenticeship program. We’re fortunate to have it so close.
What are the challenges you see that you’re trying to address with this work?
Part of my motivation is to encourage women to pursue nontraditional careers. I’m working with the college and our human resources team at Grayling to develop a plan that might include some radio advertising or newspaper ads, as well as developing a mentorship program for any high school student interested in leadership or trades. It’ll mostly come down to advocacy, going out in the community and showing young women that they’re welcome in these fields and that there is financial support available.
The new scholarship at Kirtland College is called the Diversity and Equality in the Workplace — or DEW —scholarship. DEW are also my grandmother’s initials, and I’m so thrilled of this way to honor her legacy while creating opportunities for the next generation of women in the workforce.
What’s your favorite part of the work?
Seeing things come to fruition. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone take the first step toward one day becoming a role model and leader.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to give back but doesn’t know how/where?
A useful starting point is recognizing a need in someone else’s life and finding a way to assist. Or examine what you’re passionate about and step up. Volunteering comes in many forms, and even small gestures make a big difference. Match your skills, interests and strengths to an organization’s need. But mostly, remember that giving back can be almost anything you want it to be as long as you’re making a difference.
What’ve you learned by volunteering? How have you benefitted or been changed?
Being an active member of my community has been eye-opening. I’ve realized how limited the world can be if you’re just living your own experience. But once you step up and step out, there’s a vastness of ideas and people everywhere, even in your own hometown. Volunteering has made me more empathetic and more understanding. So many people need help, and there are so many different ways to help. Most of all, I’m a better person all the way around.