Matt Thoms, 20, of Wilson, has always been smart about finances.
While in high school, he picked up a job at an auto repair shop. After he graduated, he worked his way up at the shop to become a structural technician and then an autobody technician.
He squirreled his money away to save up for the Electrical Power Distribution program at Chippewa Valley Technical College. He worked seven days a week for years to make sure he could pay cash for school.
When he began the program in June of this year, he wasn’t resting on his financial laurels. He knew scholarships were available, so he threw his hat in the ring.
Then he learned he qualified for and received Xcel Energy’s Power of Us scholarship – a full-program scholarship that includes the cost of tuition, materials and fees associated with the nine to 12-month Electrical Power Distribution and Gas Utility programs, up to $10,000.
When he received the full-ride scholarship, Thoms was in disbelief.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “My jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘This has got to be a mess up.’”
But it was not a “mess up.”
The goal of the scholarship is to increase the number of multicultural students in the electric and natural gas industry. Thoms is part Filipino. His grandmother came to the United States from the Philippines.
A full ride
Brian Elwood, Xcel Energy’s regional vice president of Customer and Community Service in Wisconsin and Michigan, said this is the first time the energy company has offered this scholarship.
“We strongly believe that this scholarship opens new opportunities for students who may have not considered a career in the electric or natural gas industry,” he said.
Elwood added that the company wants to lead by example to foster new avenues for recruitment, hiring, advancement and development to reach a broader candidate pool for careers in the company.
Karen Kohler, CVTC vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the CVTC Foundation, said the College and Xcel Energy have a long-standing relationship.
“Xcel Energy is a long-time partner on our advisory committees, provides sponsorships opportunities for many of our events, and is a known leader in our community and region,” she said. “They show that it is vital to have a diverse workforce that reflects the communities and customers the company serves.”
BJ Rauckman, now retired from Xcel Energy, oversaw the company’s electric distribution operations and is a member of the CVTC Foundation board, said the company is known for helping foster growth within the energy industry to attract new students and workers.
“As an Xcel Energy employee and retiree, I feel proud and grateful that the company is able to offer an opportunity like this to a prospective energy industry student,” he said. “Xcel Energy has been forward-looking in its support for technical colleges and specifically CVTC by being an active member of their Foundation Board and serving with members on both their electric power distribution and gas advisory committees.”
The College is grateful for the tight-knit collaboration with Xcel Energy. Kohler said partnerships like these benefit students and the community.
“As CVTC works with local high schools and district-wide organizations that provide career exploration and training, we hope to expose students to these opportunities and encourage students to apply for all scholarships at CVTC, including the Xcel Energy Power of Us scholarship,” Kohler said.
Rauckman said Xcel Energy relies on CVTC for much of its skilled workforce. In addition, Xcel Energy takes advantage of safety training and other electrical power distribution workforce resources at the College.
Thoms is learning more about Xcel Energy now that he was awarded the scholarship, which will pay for all of his technical diploma.
“Getting this scholarship from Xcel Energy hasn’t set in,” Thoms said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to have with an employer that is dedicated to bringing people into their industry. It is one of the places I hope to get into as a new lineman.
“To have this opportunity – I’m going to take it and run with it.”