A cornerstone of Bidwell Training Center’s (BTC) foundation is working with industry to shape our curriculum. When Dr. E. Peter Benzing approached us about helping Covestro—then Bayer—find more diverse laboratory technicians, we worked together to form the laboratory technician program. Having the input from industry ensures that our students are ready and have the exact skills and experience that employers want. There is no better testament to that than Covestro hiring their 70th BTC graduate in the 27 years that the laboratory technician program has been operating.
We corresponded with Jack Forsythe, a graduate of the first laboratory technician class who is retiring from Covestro after over 25 years of working there, and Curtis E. Terry II, who graduated from BTC in June 2018 and is Covestro’s 70th BTC hire, about their experiences at BTC and how it has changed their lives.
Can you describe how you remember your first day at Bidwell?
CT: I was super nervous. I wondered who would my teacher be? Who would my classmates be? How are they going to teach me to be a Laboratory Technician? Of course, the class started off with an ice breaker to get to know everyone and we went from there. I was ready and eager to learn.
JF: My first day of class at Bidwell was exciting because I met a diverse group of folks interested in the same thing I was—namely, finding not just a job, but a new career. Having been out of school so long, there was some fear as to whether I had it in me to learn a new world of things. However, the teachers and the school environment made me comfortable enough to believe I could learn and grow.
What made you decide to attend BTC?
CT: I was at a crossroads in my life. I made the decision to leave my job of five years because I felt like a robot. I needed something different. I needed to do something I was actually interested in and could gain a measure of happiness from. I wanted to be able to market myself better, and I heard from friends that Bidwell was a good place to gain some hands-on learning experience.
JF: When I showed up for the interview at BTC, I was given a tour of the facility and met the director of the program as well as some of the advisory board members. Right away, I could sense that this was the answer to my prayers: a path to a career in science, which I loved from the time I was in grade school, that would lead to employment, and the kind of employment that would help my family and enable me to put my kids through school. I knew this place would lead me to a job I could retire from when the time was right.
Curtis, what made you decide to major in Laboratory Technician?
CT: Chemistry has always piqued my interest, but I was never passionate about it nor could I see myself as a chemist. However, I knew that this course offered an associate degree after 13 months. I also knew it would be inherently challenging and I was looking for something to really challenge me.
How and why did you both end up working for Covestro?
CT: Funny story. I would pass by Covestro on my way to the Robinson Walmart and I would wonder, “What is behind that colorful sign? Who are these people and what do they do?.” Come to find out Covestro, the former material science division of Bayer, is one of Bidwell’s externship sites for the lab tech program. Oh, I had to go there! Fast forward to interviews and externship bids, and I was chosen to go to Covestro. I couldn’t have been happier.
The two months of the externship were almost up, and I was dismayed, but excited, but afraid, but confident all at the same time. I didn’t want to leave Covestro. I have built a wonderful network of colleagues and mentors. I was participating in diversity and inclusion groups, taking tours of other buildings and getting to know the different business units of Covestro. This corporate environment was for me. On top of all of that—or I should say the foundation—I was learning so much. I was learning laboratory etiquette by being immersed in the culture.
I mentioned this to my supervisor while I was practicing my final presentation to be delivered in front of top executives at Covestro and later at Bidwell in front of my classmates. He politely asked me, “So, how’s everything going? Are there any job prospects outside of Covestro?” I said, “No”. He said, “Well, we would like to offer you a contract position and keep you here, if you are available.” I almost cried. I had to truly hold back my tears of joy. So far it’s been almost three months working here. I still love it.
JF: Covestro played a key role in the establishment of the lab program back when the company was part of Bayer. I had the opportunity to do my externship at Covestro in the polyurethanes research group and felt right at home with the people, the job responsibilities, and the company.
Curtis, what was the transition from classroom life to professional life like?
CT: Sometimes it can be a little daunting. In the classroom you always have your teacher to cover you. Even to give you immediate feedback. However, it’s a lot tougher in class than in the real world. However, what I’ve found here is that when your work is trusted, you are left alone to complete it. Seasoned individuals are around to assist and answer questions, even offer more efficient means of completing a task. I love gaining that perspective but also being able to employ a little trial and error for myself.
How did your externship prepare you for your new career?
CT: I learned to slow down a bit. When I first got here for externship, I was trying to busy myself and I felt myself rushing around. I took note of those around me and they were taking their time. Work was getting done at a reasonable pace. So I slowed down. This offers an opportunity to truly enjoy the work and minimize mistakes.
How would you say BTC has impacted your career and life?
CT: Bidwell has offered me the opportunity to learn something new, to take that something, and make it my own. I am now working at one of the best chemical manufacturing and supply companies in the world.
JF: The easy answer as to how Bidwell has impacted my life is to say it opened the door for me, to a career in a field I loved—science—and to work at a company namely Covestro that has an unparalleled culture of community service and employee satisfaction.
But it’s not that simple. As an advisory board member at Bidwell, I was able to bear witness to so many life-changing stories from the students that came after me – amazing stories of strength and character. Oftentimes, the folks coming though BTC have been through difficult hardships and very often had fallen through the cracks of traditional education. Through sheer determination, they complete the program while overcoming these personal struggles. These compelling stories leave me with a sense of awe. So when you are blessed with an opportunity to help or participate in various ways, you are given more than you can ever give back.
Roberto Clemente once said: “Anytime you have a chance to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this earth.” Bidwell truly makes that difference.
Jack, how does it feel to be retiring as Covestro has hired its 70th BTC graduate?
JF: On my first day at Covestro, I remember thinking how grateful I was to be the first employed out of the first laboratory technician class, and that if I could help—in any way—just one person from the program per year to get paid here as a technician, that would be great.
So, I figured I’d be working for another 25 years or so, and that would mean a goal of helping—in some small way—25 people gain employment here. The program has far exceeded my goal through its excellent training and dedication to placement. Today, I’m proud to say that 70 people—not 25—earned employment opportunities at Covestro. This is a great source of pride for me, but more importantly, speaks volumes of the education Bidwell provided, as well as the students’ individual determination to succeed.
This interview has been condensed and edited.