VALPARAISO — Brock Majchrzak is no stranger to hard work. He started working on his father’s 50-acre farm when he was 14. After high school, he entered a two-year vocational welding program, and his work quality was used as examples in class.

The Knox Community High School graduate earned many honors along the way and, at age 20, he has been accepted into the Pipefitters 597 apprenticeship accelerated program.

For his post-secondary accomplishments, Majchrzak received one of the Works Council of Northwest Indiana’s 21 Under 21 Awards Thursday at Ivy Tech Community College. The award recognizes young people who have excelled both in the classroom and workplace in career and technical education programs.

“These people have all excelled and found their passion in some particular area,” said Kris Emaus, chairwoman of the local Works Council.

The honorees, representing 18 high schools, have honed their skills in a variety of areas, including power machinery, cosmetology, nursing and education.

“We want to get away from the stigma that CTE (technical classes) is somehow lesser than a four-year college degree,” Emaus said.

This technical training can lead to college or the workplace, with the end result a high-demand career, she said.

Sandra Almanza, 19, owns a beauty salon and is studying business and Spanish at Purdue University Northwest. “It’s difficult with time management, but my parents are there to keep me grounded,” she said.

As a young business owner, Almanza admitted “it’s kinda hard having someone working for me. The hardest part is disciplining people.”

Guest speaker Anthony Sindone, a clinical assistant professor of finance and economic development at PNW, praised the award-winners. “Every one of you is a success. That doesn’t happen by magic,” he said. “Success is no accident. Success is a journey.”

A former avionics technician, among other jobs, Sindone encouraged the young people to change their lives, try something different, and never stop learning.

“Love of lifelong learning — that’s the key to success,” Sindone said. “Your education continues.”

Continuing education is vital, Sindone said, noting that the U.S. will need 10 million new skilled workers — those with skills and education beyond high school — by 2020. Currently, this country needs around 600,000 new skilled workers, he said.

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for,” Sindone said. “There are new opportunities every day.”

Savannah Caudillo, 20, is a junior elementary education major at Ball State University. Studying first at the Area Career Center of Hammond enabled her to “learn skills that put me on the path to what I want to do. The transition was seamless going into college.”

Earning the 21 Under 21 Award was “humbling” for Caudillo.

“I don’t feel I did anything extraordinary,” she said. “I did what I’m passionate about and what I love. I did it because it’s what I’m meant to do.

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