June 2010

For St. Louis Apprentices,
There's a Doctor in the House
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St. Louis Local 1 member Linda Little finished a daunting, decade-long doctoral degree program in curriculum development at St. Louis University—all while working full-time as an instructor at the city's NJATC electrical training center.

"Getting a Ph.D.—I think in some ways it's a lot like climbing a mountain," Little said with a laugh. "I just wanted to see if I could meet the challenge."

Little's 12 years of experience teaching IBEW apprentices helped shape her dissertation, titled "Impact of High School Math Preparation in an Electrical Trades Program." The 100-page paper draws heavily on in-depth interviews from area high school guidance counselors to examine the link between students' math education and their levels of proficiency in the electrical trade.

She hopes her work will promote awareness among counselors and high school students—especially to graduates planning to go into the trade—about the importance of getting a solid foundation in geometry and algebra.

"I want potential apprentices to know before they apply what kind of rigor is required of them when they get into my class," Little said. "And being at the top of your game can only help you in the future. Apprentices should see all the opportunities there are in the industry. I tell them, ‘Set yourself up so that someday down the line, you've got the choices—whether you want to open your own shop, move into the office or anything else.'"

Little's journey with the IBEW has been atypical.

In 1980, she worked for low wages as a bank teller when her best friend's father—a union pipefitter—suggested she should look into the electrical trade. "He told me it would be a way to make a good living and allow me to use my brain," Little said. She joined Local 1 that year as an apprentice and topped out in 1985.

Over the next few years, Little racked up degrees in math and engineering science, dividing her time between IBEW jobs and education. She spent three years teaching high school math and chemistry while working the trades during summer vacations. Between college classes, papers and studying, she logged time as an adjunct instructor with the JATC before signing on for a full-time job in 1999.

Journeyman wireman Dana Evans, one of Little's first students, said Little's background in education was a boon to apprentices learning the ropes.

"She went above and beyond to make sure nobody fell behind," Evans said. "And I think that it's really admirable that she stuck with it and got her Ph.D. It's hard to work a job, be a mom and go to school all at the same time. She's a good role model to men and women in the IBEW."

Little has also been a pioneer in another area of the trade. A nine-year member of the National Electrical Code Panel, she is the first woman from the IBEW to serve as one of the 19 principals of the group that sets the guidelines for safety and excellence in the electrical field.

She temporarily traded her hard hat for a mortar board when she accepted her diploma last month. While Little says she hasn't yet reached the summit of her education—she plans on taking more courses in solar technologies—she's happy to take time now to focus on her family and students.

"This industry has not only provided me with the skills to make a good living, but it has given me the means to pursue my dream of getting a doctorate," Little said. "I am very fortunate to be in a position to use the skills I have learned to give back by helping others in the classroom."

St Louis Local 1 member Linda Little, center, recently earned her doctorate.