March 3, 2024

The School to Work Pipeline at NMC

Three college students share their education and career paths
By Alexandra Dailey | Sept. 9, 2023

College grads—whether they get a two-year or four-year degree—tend to have an employment rate ranging from 70 to 80 percent. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “of the 391,000 20- to 29-year-olds who completed an associate degree between January and October 2022, 72.6 percent were employed in October 2022.”

We connected with a few students from Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) to hear about their school-to-work experience. Two recent graduates—Cassidy Gray and Brian Farnsworth—and still-enrolled Logan Madden share their stories below.

Cassidy Gray, Applied Science Graduate

Having earned her associate degree in Applied Science with a certificate in dental assisting, Cassidy Gray currently works as a dental assistant at Third Coast Dental Group in Frankfort, Michigan.

For as long as she can remember, Gray was interested in working in the medical field, but she wasn’t sure what role would suit her best until she tried working in different medical sectors and discovered that dentistry was perfect for her. When it came to selecting a college with a dental program, Gray didn’t have to think twice.

“I chose NMC because I didn’t feel a university would be a good fit for me. I came from a small high school, so coming to NMC felt familiar,” says Gray. “I also liked being close to home and not having big university student loans.”

Aside from being cost-effective, NMC offers smaller class sizes and more one-on-one opportunities for students to engage with their professors, which was a huge plus and selling point for Gray.

“Between all the bookwork, lectures, clinical labs, and the internship, NMC’s program really prepares you for being a great dental assistant,” Gray says. “Anyone considering NMC and the dental assisting program, I highly recommend enrolling. My experience was fantastic. Everyone is friendly and kind, and you make so many new lifelong friends.”

Looking back, Gray says some of her favorite learning moments were when she visited local schools and taught children about oral hygiene. And she commends the wonderful instructors of the dental assisting program: “They are always there to help you succeed and prepare for the workforce.”

And, when it comes to her career of choice, Gray had this to share: “I love being a registered dental assistant! I work in general dentistry, so no day is the same, and it always makes me feel good when we can help patients regain their smile.”

Brian Farnsworth, Culinary Graduate

For most of his life, Brian Farnsworth wanted to become an engineer. When an opportunity arose for him to attend a career tech program, he leapt at the chance. But instead of falling in love with machines or computers, he fell in love with the culinary arts and ultimately changed his career trajectory.

Attending NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute enabled Farnsworth to develop his passion for food.

“I first heard of NMC when a recruiter came to Bau Arenac—a career tech school I attended for two years. It was amazing to hear about the many opportunities the culinary program offered, and with the college also being in Traverse City, I knew NMC was the college I wanted to attend. Every teacher was absolutely amazing, and I will always want to learn more from any of them any time.”

Unable to select a favorite class because he loved them all, Farnsworth did call out two experiences and two chefs who helped shape his skillset. 

“I liked working with the butchery section of Garde Manger with Chef Morse. He is a very knowledgeable and talented chef. In his class, we got to [butcher] a whole pig, and it was cool learning about each section of the animal. And I was never a good baker, but when I met Chef Mike Skarupinski for Advanced Baking, my eyes were opened and I enjoyed everything about baking because of Chef.”

Farnsworth currently works in a fast-paced lunch and dinner restaurant, Poppycocks, in downtown Traverse City under the guidance of Chef Chris Mushall. And thanks to the tips and tricks both NMC and the Great Lakes Culinary Institute imparted, rather than panicking, Farnsworth can maintain a cool and level head when working on the line.

“This industry is fun and adventurous,” says Farnsworth. “I love all the people I get to meet and soak up the knowledge they have to share. Food is an art that can take many different forms, so this career keeps me thinking of what to do next and allows my creativity to take over, putting my creation on the plate. That’s why I love this industry.”

Farnsworth has one bit of advice for those considering NMC or the Great Lakes Culinary Institute: “Follow your dreams, take adventures, and always take the opportunity that is presented to you. That’s what I did, and I love taking the next step of adventure.”

Logan Madden, Engineering Student

Originally a student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Logan Madden moved to the Midwest to attend NMC after the spring semester of 2021. Madden started taking classes immediately, staying at his family’s cottage in Thompsonville to gain residency.

While attending NMC, Madden decided to take a variety of engineering classes, leading him to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at Michigan Technological University (MTU) through the 2+2 Program between the two schools. Students like Madden who complete the 2+2 Program earn their associate degree in science and arts from NMC and their bachelor of science in engineering from MTU. Madden’s estimated MTU graduation date is fall 2024. 

With a big move and lots of change occurring early on in Madden’s college career, there were some tumultuous moments to overcome. 

“I owe a large debt of gratitude to NMC and many who work there for helping me stay relatively on track,” shares Madden. “I recommend people put aside their preconceptions about what a community college is, and focus instead on how the smaller student population could be helpful for learning entry-level material.”

They may not be entry-level courses for everyone, but some of Madden’s favorite classes and learning experiences occurred in Dynamics with Jay Smith and Calculus 3 and 4 with Deb Pharo at NMC. These courses created a strong foundation for him as he progressed through the mechanical engineering program and began planning for his future.

“When I graduate, I would love to work for a bike company like Trek or Specialized designing components of the future,” says Madden. “I would also be interested in working for GM on one of their practically infinite projects. In the meantime, I am joining an enterprise called Velovations that focuses on new and innovative bicycle technology. The professors at NMC have prepared me well for this next chapter, and I have nothing but hope for it.”


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