Clover Park Technical College had been a part of Cathy Hamilton-Wissmer’s life long before she decided to enroll in the Environmental Sciences & Technology program in 2009. Eight years after graduating, she continues to make the college a key part of her life.
Hamilton-Wissmer was selected as one of CPTC’s 2019 Alumni of Distinction honorees for her work to provide and place student interns and serve on the program advisory board and for her involvement in the community as the Sustainability Outreach Coordinator at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“I was stunned, completely surprised,” Hamilton-Wissmer said of receiving the alumni recognition. “There are a lot of very qualified people who come out of Clover Park, so it’s an absolute honor.”
Hamilton-Wissmer’s connection to the CPTC began in the 1990s when her father Bill Hamilton served on the college’s Board of Trustees and the Hamilton family created a scholarship fund with the Foundation. She did some work with the Foundation writing grants, and one of those grants was for new hazmat suits for the Environmental Sciences & Technology program.
“I met [former CPTC instructor] Andy [Fritz] through that experience, and I was just inspired,” Hamilton-Wissmer said. “I thought, how cool is it that we have this environmental program that does all these things. It really sparked my interest.”
That interest remained in the back of Hamilton-Wissmer’s mind for 10 years while she worked for an escrow company. When the real estate market crashed, business slowed with the escrow company, and the timing was right for her to consider the possibility of going back to school.
Hamilton-Wissmer already had bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and History and considered pursuing a master’s degree, but instead decided to enroll at Clover Park in that program that had piqued her interest one decade earlier.
“Clover Park has been in our family, and it’s been a resource for us,” she said. “I thought, this has been the right place for a lot of people, why not for me?”
Sure enough, Clover Park was the right place for her. She enjoyed the program and working with the instructors and her classmates, and the opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature provided a stark contrast from her previous work.
“It was very interesting to me because there’s so much hands-on,” Hamilton-Wissmer said. “I loved that. I was very cognizant of the fact that I chose a program that was going to teach me to do a new job rather than pursuing a master’s degree that would have kept me behind a desk. I really wanted to develop hands-on skills.”
During her two years in the program, Hamilton-Wissmer participated in multiple internships. When she graduated in 2011, she went to work for KIK Custom Products at a bleach factory and also worked part-time with a start-up construction company. She jumped into as many opportunities as she could to grow her experience.
“I was doing everything I could,” she said. “I wanted to get my foot in the door, and I figured if I kept working, that would be the path forward.”
Eventually she returned to the escrow company full-time due to the need for a steady income. But her opportunity came in 2015, when she went to work at JBLM as a compost facility officer. Eighteen months later, she transitioned to her current position as sustainability outreach coordinator, where she provides environmental education for service members. Now Hamilton-Wissmer devotes her time to outreach events, presentations, tours, and more, all in an effort to educate service members and their families about the importance of sustainable practices.
But her connection to CPTC remains. Within her department, Hamilton-Wissmer works with two other graduates from the college’s Environmental Sciences & Technology program. She participates in the Andy Fritz Memorial Trek for Tech 5k and other Foundation events, and about two years ago she joined the program advisory committee. She welcomes students from the program for tours of the base facilities and helps connect students to internship opportunities.
“The advantage of a Clover Park-trained person is that they know what to do right away,” she said. “We’re a large base, with a lot of things that need to be done, and a lot of people who come from different backgrounds don’t have that hands-on experience that really prepares them for everything.”
Hamilton-Wissmer was recognized at the most recent CPTC Board of Trustees meeting on May 8. To learn more about the Environmental Sciences & Technology program at CPTC, click here.
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