EAU CLAIRE — Through the cold winter winds blowing outside his Elk Mound home, Dave Noller saw a brighter future. After a truck driving career of over two decades, he envisioned a new career that would revive an old interest.
On Thursday, July 28, he graduated from Chippewa Valley Technical College in the Machine Tooling Technics program. He’s already working at Riverside Machine and Engineering in Eau Claire.
Noller was one of 131 graduates in 26 programs honored at the commencement ceremony at Eau Claire Memorial High School. In addition, ten students received general education development certificates or high school equivalency diplomas. The largest programs were Radiography and Cosmetology with 18 graduates each, followed by Diagnostic Medical Sonography with 16. Noller was one of seven graduates in Machine Tooling Technics.
“I spent all of my free time in high school in the shop,” said Noller, a 1984 Chippewa Falls Senior High School graduate who grew up in the Lake Wissota area. “I’ve always had an interest in machining, but back in the 80s there weren’t the machining jobs around here that there are today.”
Noller, 50, ended up in a truck driving career, working for a few companies, including Kell Container – now Great Northern – in Chippewa Falls. But torn bicep tendons in late 2013 put him on rehabilitation for a short time and he started thinking about what he really wanted to do. The injury wouldn’t keep him off the road and he was making good money, but he was ready to move on.
After entering the Machine Tooling Technics program at CVTC, Noller was hired at Riverside Machining. Machinists are in such high demand that Riverside, like many companies, provided tuition assistance to Noller while he worked. “They hired me because I was enrolled in the classes,” Noller said.
CVTC has a work-friendly schedule in many of its manufacturing programs for people just like Noller. With no classes on Fridays, Noller worked Friday through Sunday and went to school Monday through Thursday. It makes for a busy schedule with children ages 16 and 8 at home. “We’re heavy into Boy Scouts and baseball,” he said.
Life is about to get a lot better. After finishing at CVTC, Noller will move to the day shift at Riverside Machining. And in a few months when the snow flies again, he’ll only have a short commute on the slippery roads.
Commencement speaker Melissa Eslinger, a health and wellness coach with Marshfield Clinic, spoke of how fear is an instinct that protects us, but urged graduates not to let fear limit them.
“Fear is challenging because it makes us think we can’t do the task at hand, and as a result we give into it, missing great opportunities for growth,” Eslinger said. “Fear keeps us from making an impact on our community. Without knowing it, our fear paralyzes us from embracing our challenges and we miss new experiences.”
Student speaker Sarah Cleveland, a Radiography program graduate, recalled how she feared she would not succeed after a couple of failed tests early in her studies at CVTC. She said she persevered after a short motivational speech from her mother: “Sarah, you just have to do it.”
“I encourage all of you, when faced with uncertainty and self-doubt to get out of your own heads, change the internal dialogue, and make success your only option,” Cleveland said. “In the words of my mother and every Michael Jordan poster, just do it.”