Groton — Ella T. Grasso Technical High School Senior Ramon Morales told Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., during a roundtable on Tuesday that the school gave him the opportunity to further his career.
Morales, who is in the electrical trade at the school, said that after graduation he plans to continue to be an apprentice and then apply the skills he's learned to the U.S. Navy, likely as a technician on a submarine.
Murphy told Morales that his "future will be limitless" if he combines a technical background with military service, particularly serving on a submarine.
Murphy toured the new 226,000-square-foot Grasso Tech building Tuesday afternoon and then held a roundtable with 11 students to hear about why they chose the school and what they have planned for their future careers, from the culinary arts to engineering.
"I’m convinced that the skills and the career-based education is the future for our state," Murphy said at the end of his visit. "Traditional high schools are wonderful, but we need more opportunities like this for kids to either go straight into the workforce or get career skills before they graduate high school."
Murphy also pointed out that plenty of the students will go to college and have a head-start on their peers who didn't get job skills.
During the tour of the new building, including its new welding program and new digital media program, Murphy talked to students, instructors, Principal Patricia Feeney and Assistant Principal Don Concascia. He visited shops and saw students busy working, from discussing a senior project to improve water quality or styling hair to working on computers and practicing the plumbing trade.
The new building also will feature a Three Rivers Community College Manufacturing Apprenticeship Center, where college students can train for careers in manufacturing.
During Murphy's roundtable with students, senior Ana DaSilva, in the bioscience environmental technology trade, told the senator that she had always wanted to be on a submarine but had never really explored the idea, because women on submarines "is not a big thing." But her shop teacher at Grasso encouraged her to look into the Naval Academy, and she now plans to apply there for nuclear engineering.
Jared LaCross, a senior in the information systems technology trade who has had an interest in computers since an early age, said he decided to go to Grasso Tech after hearing a presentation at his middle school. In his chosen trade, he said he has become more proficient than he ever would have been without attending Grasso and hopes to attend the University of Connecticut and become a network engineer.
When Murphy asked him if the new facility makes a big difference, LaCross said the building has all new equipment that runs faster and works better and enables students to do more things than they could in the old building.
Leslie Melendez, a junior, told Murphy that transferring into the information systems technology trade was the "best decision ever." She said she has learned so much, and it has given her confidence for the future.
Angeelina Ildefonso, a senior in the culinary arts and guest services trade who wants to go to Johnson & Wales University, said she initially wanted to do cosmetology but found she wasn't that interested in that field, so she chose the culinary trade. She said she likes it because she had never cooked before so the program brought out new skills and she said she thinks she's pretty good at it.
"That’s awesome," Murphy said. "I'm sure you are."
After hearing how some students are taking college courses at Three Rivers, Murphy said Connecticut needs to provide more opportunities for high schoolers to take more college classes and get more credits.
He thanked the students at the end of the discussion.
"It’s really inspiring to hear how much thought you’ve put into this and hear how committed you are to the path you’ve chosen," Murphy said, "and, you know what? You think you’ve chosen your path, but it’s going to choose itself for you about six different times, between now and when your adult life is done."
"You’re going to think you know what you’re going to do and then you’re going to find something else that inspires you," he added, "but the fact that you’re this motivated this young, it speaks very well for you, and I’m really excited to support the work that you do here and to learn more about it first-hand."