Alumni Spotlight – Larry K.

From the Takoda Institute, to CEO and radio host, our alum Larry K is proof of a Takoda education in action.

Larry K, a proud member of the Ho-Chunk nation, graduated from Takoda Institute’s former Administrative Professional program in the nineties, and since then has taken a path straight to success.

After graduation, Larry K worked at Mystic Lake Casino as a Computer Integrator Manager and then started his own business, Two Buffalo Roofing and Siding Systems. After 10 years of successful business, Larry moved his business to Florida, where he’s now the President and CEO of Two Buffalo Construction Supplies. That’s not all Larry is up to – since 2000 he’s been the host of Indigenous in Music with Larry K, a nationally-syndicated radio show that highlights Indigenous musicians.

You can listen to Indigenous in Music with Larry K here.

Two Certificates, One Great Career

Antonitte came to American Indian OIC’s Takoda Institute in 2012. She was a single mother looking to prove to herself that any situation could be made better, so she enrolled in the vocational school’s nine-month Administrative Assistant training program. While enrolled, Antonitte learned applicable work skills like project management, keyboarding, and database management and gained hands-on field experience by completing an internship with the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency.

After her graduation, Antonitte obtained a position as a human resources assistant. She worked in that position for a year before she realized that she missed working in the healthcare environment that she was exposed to during her Takoda Institute internship. Antonitte then came back to the school to complete Takoda’s six-month Health Information training. She completed the program on a Vape/Gorney/Bellecourt scholarship, which is a newly established scholarship that allows any student of Native descent to attend the Takoda Institute at no out-of-pocket costs.

Armed with considerable classroom and on-the-job training, Antonitte was now well-prepared to make a better life for her daughter and herself. As she was wrapping up the Health Information training, she worked diligently with her Takoda Institute career counselor to obtain employment in her field. Her counselor helped her develop her cover letter and resume and helped her search for job opportunities. Just a few weeks after her graduation, Takoda’s career services team referred her to an open position at a nearby clinic. She was hired and now works full-time for Indian Health Board as a health program support technician. She assists their Diabetes Management program where she helps cook healthy meals and performs administrative work like preparing materials for patients. She appreciates the opportunity to help the community navigate the obstacles and barriers that life presents.

Antonitte speaks highly of her time at American Indian OIC’s Takoda Institute. She built long-lasting friendships, learned life skills, enjoyed the small classroom size, and especially appreciated the easy commute. She credits her instructors for her success because they were flexible and willing to help her balance her professional life as a student and her personal life as a mother. Antonitte encourages current and future students to “try your best and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make friends with your cohort, instructors, and the AIOIC staff- they are always there to help.”

Second Chance Pays off for Computer Support Student

Chris enrolled in college following his high school graduation, and – like many young people – perhaps did not value higher education as strongly as he should have. Within a few months of starting his college program, he dropped out.

For the next decade Chris struggled to find his way. He bounced from job to job and simply could not get ahead. After finding himself again unemployed in early 2014, Chris decided to make a change. He learned of the Computer Support Specialist training program offered at the American Indian OIC’s Takoda Institute of Higher Education. Its curriculum aligned with his personal interests and its tuition was fully covered by Pell grants and scholarships – meaning he would graduate free from the burden of student loan debt.

In just nine months, Chris completed the Computer Support Specialist program and obtained multiple industry recognized Information Technology credentials. While at the Takoda Institute, Chris worked with a career counselor to secure employment in his field. His counselor connected him with an internship, helped him develop a dynamic résumé, and advocated to employers on his behalf.

We are happy to report that Chris is now working full-time as an IT service agent with the City of Minneapolis. For the first time in his life he feels like he has a career and not just another job without long-term prospects. Chris wants to grow in his profession and eventually sees himself working in network security. He is appreciative of the American Indian OIC and its Takoda Institute for its career focus and for the consistent and supportive environment he experienced here.

Takoda Institute plays a key role in bolstering minority IT workers

Excerpts from the Star Tribune Article of the same name by Neal St. Anthony.

Jaquan Sloan worked in retail, home health care and building security for nearly a decade after high school.

Usually part-time and without benefits. Never more than $12 an hour.

Sloan, 28, who grew up in Harlem, the son of a security guard and transit worker, moved to the Twin Cities in 2011.

An aunt who employed him in her home health care agency closed the business and Sloan took a part-time security job in 2013. He was at a Minnesota state employment office on E. Lake Street when he saw a flier for a nine-month training program for computer support careers at the Takoda Institute of the American Indian OIC (AIOIC), the longtime south Minneapolis nonprofit training school.

“I liked computers,” recalled Sloan, the expert with electronics and software growing up in his family’s apartment.

 Sloan enrolled, worked up to 40 hours weekly as a security guard to make rent and tuition, and graduated in late 2014.  Sloan landed a job soon after at Dell Compellent in Eden Prairie. He’s already been promoted to an analyst job, working with data-storage customers.

The job pays $27 an hour, plus “great benefits,” Sloan said. “[AIOIC] was the greatest life decision I’ve ever made. The students ranged from people with four-year degrees to some who didn’t know anything but to turn on the computer.”

Sloan, who now can afford an apartment without roommates, works three 12-hour shifts weekly at Dell, and plans to earn a degree in business.

“I have a savings account and a plan for my future,” Sloan said.

Opportunity gap

Sloan is one success story in the effort to close a troubling opportunity gap between people of color and whites. He’s also an emerging face of tomorrow’s Minnesota tech workforce captured in subtle trends emerging in state jobs data.

For example, minorities accounted for about 9 percent of the 143,000 workers in the “professional, technical and scientific” job category according to 2015 statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Their ranks are growing fast.

Minority employment grew 20 percent to 13,084 jobs from 2014 to 2015. White employment grew 11.9 percent to 129,948. Black employment year-over-year grew by 51 percent to 3,624 jobs last year. Asian employment grew 5.9 percent to 7,206 jobs. People who claimed two or more races grew employment by 31 percent to 1,515 jobs.

In another category, computer systems design jobs in Minnesota, where jobs pay up to $100,000, black employment grew 26 percent to 1,147 jobs between 2013 and 2015. Hispanic employment grew 23 percent to 1,050. Total employment in the sector grew only 9 percent to 34,264 jobs.

The Minnesota economy is growing, the unemployment rate is below 4 percent, considered full employment, and the emerging workforce, which includes proportionately more minorities, is filling job openings, including those of thousands of retiring baby boomers each year.

“Employers are struggling to find qualified applicants,” said Mitzi Hobot, who runs Takoda Group at AIOIC and who works with employers on internships, training and job placement. “Most minority candidates don’t have the technical or professional work experience of four-year college graduation rates of Caucasian counterparts. We try to equalize that.”

Nonprofit

AIOIC, funded through government grants and training contracts, tuition and private donations, is a $4.3 million-revenue school with about 550 students. The curriculum ranges from adult basic education for those who need a high school diploma to computer-related training. Nearly 200 students are trained annually at Takoda Institute, which offers several certification programs.

AIOIC’s typical student is a 43-year-old black or American Indian with a household income of $13,000. About 75 percent of graduates last year were placed in jobs with average salaries of about $34,000. The technology jobs secured by Takoda Institute pay more.

The Takoda Group was started several years ago within AIOIC to train IT students, attract employer attention and investment, and operate a fee-earning placement agency for students from area community colleges. Takoda also operates a small IT services business and creative agency that serves clients and also provides students with critical experience.

“Employers two or three years ago thought they had enough candidates from four-year colleges,” Hobot recalled. “They can use us now. Some of them move up some of their existing workers and backfill with our trainees.”

Takoda has a growing client list of 100 employers, large and small, including St. Jude Medical, Impact Group, Medtronic, U.S. Bank, the Animal Humane Society, Indian Health Board, IT Nation, Target, Toshiba and local governments.

Commitment to Success

If graduate John, has just one secret to success, it’s commitment. After completing the Takoda Institute’s nine-month Computer Support training program, he quickly landed a job as a computer support technician and in less than three years, he worked his way up to a systems administrator position and now earns about double what an entry-level IT technician earns.

Before enrolling at the Takoda Institute, John was an auto mechanic. The physical demands of the job and the stress of owning a business began to take a toll on him, so he searched for a new career. “At that time it was really hard to find anything because I had been self-employed for so long,” he said. “I was my own boss and there was no one I could really use as a reference. It was difficult finding anything you could build on, a job that you could actually grow into.”

It seemed almost too good to be true when John found a flyer advertising the Takoda Institute’s Computer Support training program. “I’ve always been interested in computers. I started at a very expensive school some years back and it never really got me anywhere.” Once he began classes at the Takoda Institute, John found that the friendly environment and supportive staff made all the difference. “The instructors were amazing. They took time to sit down after class and walk me through things. It was probably the most fun I’ve had taking any kind of class or course.”

Changing careers from an auto mechanic to a job in information technology wasn’t a radically difficult switch for John. “The thought process is the same with the two. If you bring me your car and say, ‘my steering wheel shakes,’ I have to ask certain questions to troubleshoot what is wrong. From those answers, I ask more questions which eventually leads me to a solution. The same process is true for computers. It’s the same methodology.”

After getting his first job as a computer support technician, John developed a five-year plan for himself. His plan included skills he wanted to learn and the income he wished to attain. “I’m about 80% there,” said John. While working in his first position, he took every opportunity to further his education. His employer had training credits available that allowed him to take additional classes and become an expert at his company. This gave John enough skills to be offered a systems administrator position, where he has been ever since.

John is one of many graduates of the Takoda Institute who has successfully changed their career path. He offers this piece of advice to others considering a change, “you have to take the initiative. It’s your life.”

A Fresh Start

In June of 2016, Cory, a proud member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, graduated after successfully completing the Computer Support Program at Takoda Institute of Higher Education.

Prior to Takoda Institute, Cory had been taking care of his elderly mother while working at his previous job, which was physically straining and starting to take a toll on his body. He wanted to find a job that could provide advancement and financial security. Cory knew he needed a change and, with help from a caseworker at the Minnesota Workforce Center, decided that a post-secondary education was the solution.

While at Takoda, Cory remained focused on his education and learning exactly what he needed to know to excel. He found that the atmosphere at Takoda to be serious about education but also careful to avoid creating unnecessary stress for the students. Cory strived for excellence while at Takoda, determined to stand out to prospective employers.

When the opportunity for employment presented itself, Cory was eager and ready.  Kelly IT resources came to Takoda looking for individuals who were near graduation to fill open positions and Takoda Employees Chris Taguinod and David Zemler referred Cory for employment. Cory found this transition into employment seamless thanks in part to the internship he had during school.

Cory attributes to gaining employment with the help of David Zemler, from American Indian OIC Employment Services. David’s exemplary skills and dedication to his job and the students he works with contributed to Cory gaining employment.

“With his help, during my time at Takoda, is a major reason I got hired so quickly after I completed the program, and the things David taught me, will continue to serve me well into the future.”

Cory is now working as a Technical Support Technician offering product-specific software support through a publishing company. Cory’s position assists in the daily workflow; moving things along efficiently as possible in a fast-growing technical support department.

Cory’s advice to incoming students:

“Be efficient, productive, and constant in your awareness of what you set out to achieve.”

 

Josh’s Success Story

Josh completed the Takoda Institute of Higher Education’s accredited Health Information and Patient Services Specialist occupational training program. Grants and scholarships fully covered his tuition, books, and fees. He was also provided with free job search support as he worked to enter his field of study. Here Josh shares an update on his life since graduation.

Before enrolling at Takoda Institute, I was jumping between food service and retail jobs, rarely earning above minimum wage. I was frustrated at the fact that I could never get ahead and felt stuck. I had heard of Takoda years before and even got to the point of attending the informational session but it took the strong encouragement of a friend to go back and check it out. Attending the classes at Takoda was challenging but what I found was a huge support system from faculty, Takoda employees and my fellow cohorts.

I now work at the Native American Community Clinic as a Front Desk Registration Coordinator as well as a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist, earning my certification at the Mayo Clinic. In May, I will be going to the University of Minnesota to learn Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language).

Since graduating from Takoda Institute, I’ve more than doubled my income with my new job. The experience I gained from Takoda Institute bridged the gap from a volunteer position to a paid position.

I love working with the Community and being at a place where I have so much opportunity for advancement. I never would have gotten where I am today without the encouragement and support I received at Takoda Institute. If there’s anything I can say to current or future Takoda students, it would be to just push through the work and don’t give up! Getting that certificate was so much more than a piece of paper; it was an opportunity to cross the barrier from a job to a fulfilling career.