Our state motto, translated —"To the stars through difficulties" — could just as easily be "To the stars through education." It's a lesson I see played out daily at the Wichita Area Technical College. It is also a lesson I learned throughout my childhood.
It is our state and community's job to offer educational opportunities to citizens so they can reach their own stars. This job becomes even more important in the times we find ourselves in today.
A few short years ago, we were faced with a system of technical education that was not offering these opportunities. Matter of fact, the business community consistently gave the technical education system a failing grade. There was little accountability, dilapidated facilities and outdated programs, which resulted in an unwillingness to invest resources.
Wichita didn't give up
In a striking partnership between business and federal, state, county and city governments, we launched a bold plan to become the best in the world in providing high-quality, high-demand technical education opportunities. It has not and never is easy to become the best, but through determination, persistence and leadership we've followed this less-traveled road.
We all should be proud of the results thus far. The Wichita Area Technical College has developed and incubated more than 50 new highly technical programs. Our aviation maintenance school is the fourth-largest in the United States and growing. We are the state's largest supplier of practical nurses, surgical technicians and automotive service technicians.
A few years ago, Wichita Area Technical College enrolled fewer than 800 students. This number has grown to 4,000 and we expect as many as 5,000 in 2010. Visionary leadership, especially from Sedgwick County, ensures an even brighter future for Wichita. Next year we will consolidate into the new National Center for Aviation Training. Along with WSU's National Institute for Aviation Research, our community will enhance its stature as the Air Capital of the World. We already are receiving envious visitors from other countries and states.
The pioneers who built this country
My mother grew up in rural Nebraska as one of nine siblings of immigrant farmers. She worked in the fields and ended her education in eighth grade. She wanted to make a difference during World War II, so she left for California and became a registered nurse, learning on the job. She returned to Nebraska and became one of the first female pilots in the Midwest. She married and raised seven children and three foster children. She was the town nurse, coroner and caregiver.
At age 55, my mother went back to school, receiving her GED, then bachelor's and master's degrees. She worked as an elementary school guidance counselor. At age 72, she renewed her pilot's license. She quietly made a difference in the lives of thousands. My mother lived in constant pain, walked hunched over and endured seven back surgeries, yet she always wore a smile.
It is important to remember the pioneers who built this country. I know you have similar stories about ancestors who inspire you to reach new heights.
We have accomplished much on our journey to the stars, but we still have clouds to clear. We can get there. It will be hard.
But for us to say it's too hard, well, just try telling that to my mother.