Birchwood, Wisconsin — In middle school, Annesa Loew thought some of her math and science classes were just not that interesting. It wasn’t until she attended a project-based charter high school that she realized how a teacher’s teaching style could affect how much she enjoyed a class.
Today, 22-year-old Loew has found the perfect learning style for her success through hands-on work. She applies this learning style everyday on the construction site as an oiler with IUOE Local 139 Wisconsin Operating Engineers.
“Lectures and memorizing were boring to me. They never made me feel excited about school or motivated in class,” Loew said. “In high school, I took project-based courses. That’s where I really got to investigate topics and ideas that I was interested in learning about. Turns out I really do like math and science. My favorite project was about how cancer cells spread.”
Loew said hands-on projects and individualized research motivated her to manage her time, ask questions if she needed help and communicate with teachers and students to find resources that would help her present her ideas.
“I wish that every student got to attend classes with different learning styles,” Loew said. “Some students end up thinking they aren’t good at school just because they don’t learn the same way as their friends.”
Weighing College or Apprenticeship Training
Loew enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Stout but after her first semester she was certain that the classes she was taking toward a degree in marketing and business education didn’t inspire her.
“I met with a counselor and was left to plot out all these classes for the next four years,” Loew said. “I just thought, ‘How do I know this is for me?’ Every semester was a lot of money, then there were loans and how did I even know what job I would get after graduation.”
Loew said she knew going into college that she would have to take out loans. She also earned scholarships to offset school costs.
“I started looking at what my friends were doing for education and what kind of jobs they were working,” Loew said. “I also talked with some family members and friends in construction trades unions. They talked about apprenticeships where you can earn money while learning a skill.”
Loew attended a 3-week technical training course for construction basics, where she practiced skills to become an oiler with Local 139.
“An oiler is someone who often goes through an apprenticeship or training with the intention of becoming an operator (operating engineer),” Loew said. “It’s like the first step in the process. Before you operate the machines you have to make sure the equipment is greased properly and inspect everything before it is used at the job site.”
So far, Loew has worked on several pipeline projects in Wisconsin and West Virginia.
“I know now I don’t want a job where I sit at a computer all day,” Loew said. “This work transfers over to all construction sites and projects and it’s a great entry into the trades.”
Compared to college, Loew does not regret her choice to work in the construction industry.
“I pay about $25 a month toward my union membership and benefits,” Loew said. “College was the worst choice I have made and I’m still shocked to think that I could be paying thousands of dollars a month if I stuck with it.”
Annesa Loew’s Biggest Supporter and Role Model: Her Mom
“My mom, Rosey Grab, works for Local 49 as an operating engineer,” Loew said. “She transitioned into the construction field after I graduated high school. I remember her working a lot of jobs and doing everything she could to support us. When she joined a union, she had education opportunities, training, retirement and benefits.”
Loew said she wants to provide those same benefits to her family.
“My mom is dedicated to her career, she’s got a great work ethic and a positive attitude,” Loew said. “I know I have that drive in me, too. I keep that focus for my family — my fiancé and my 9-month-old son.”
Loew plans to continue working for IUOE Local 139 and plans to take additional training and skills opportunities in the construction field.
“My union is so supportive of me and my family,” Loew said. “My advice: if college isn’t your passion or you know it’s too expensive – go to the trades. A college degree does not determine your worth or your life – through a construction union you are employable, you will earn a high wage and benefits in a career.”