It took courage for Jamie Welch ’13, G’14 to come to Kansas Wesleyan University.
She was in her mid-40s when she started trying to finish her degree in the Business program..
She had a good-paying job — for the 2010s, $18 an hour — at Target that she left to start at about $11 an hour as administrative assistant for the KWU Nursing Department.
“I just knew my job at Target wasn’t going to take my anywhere, and I just knew I was never going to amount to anything unless I took that step,” Welch said.
With the full-time job came free tuition, so it was a “no-brainer,” Welch said, known as Scheck at the time.
“So I took a huge pay cut, and I struggled,” she said. “I didn’t eat very often, but I knew a few years of struggling would make a huge difference down the road.”
The Nursing staff took care of her. They would “accidentally” bring too much lunch from home or order too much pizza, and they’d send it home with her.
It was hard to get study habits back, Welch said. Right out of high school, she enrolled at Washburn University but felt she was wasting money without a clear goal, so she left.
Her very first class was with Dr. Paul Hedlund, professor of Business and Accounting. She minored in Religion.
“I was so very nervous that I didn’t hear him (Hedlund) give an assignment, so I didn’t hand it in,” Welch said. “I got my first and only B in that class. I’m like, that will never happen again. I made sure I got everything done correctly and on time.”
She lived up to that promise to herself. Hedlund became a mentor and a friend.
“She is doing us proud,” Hedlund said. “We certainly gave her a great start.”
At the May 2013 Commencement, she was awarded the Professor Fran Jabara Leadership Award, which took her totally by surprise, and she sobbed all the way to the stage. A photo in the 2013 yearbook proves it.
She cried again in 2014 when she went to the stage for her Outstanding MBA Student award.
“I absolutely loved every minute of my time at Kansas Wesleyan,” Welch said. “I met so many amazing people, the Nursing staff was amazing. I have so many memories of Kansas Wesleyan that changed me as a person and my life.”
After Commencement, Welch took a job in Topeka, but it wasn’t a good fit for her or the company.
“For the first time in my life, I was unemployed,” Welch said. “I was in my 40s and unemployed and I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
She called Hedlund for his wisdom, and he told her to get in touch with Kris Upson, one of her adjunct professors in the MBA program. Upson was looking for a deputy director for the almost-$111 million bond project for the Salina School District.
She knew nothing about construction, she admitted to Upson.
“You have the soft skills that I can’t teach other people,” she said Upson told her. “I know how you learn things, I know your personality, I know how driven you are, I know your capacity for learning new information.”
Construction he could teach her.
So she took another brave step and moved back to Salina.
Welch oversaw renovation and construction of the elementary and middle schools, while Upson handled the high schools.
“I worked with great architects and construction companies, and everyone was willing to help me learn what I needed to learn,” she said. “I found my niche in that world. What I thought my life was going to be like was not what the good Lord had planned for me, but I followed his lead.”
She thought she would be sitting in a cubicle building spreadsheets and crunching numbers.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d end up in construction,” Welch said. “I love it.”
As that job ended, a state position for project manager opened, and she now works with the Kansas Army National Guard, as of April 2018.
“We manage the contractor,” said Welch of a project manager’s job. “A better way to think of it, I’m the owner’s representative. I am managing the interests of the National Guard.”
She meets with the architects and the contractors, makes sure the building is designed to specifications and put out to bid.
“I love what I do,” she said. “It’s a very fulfilling job for me. When you start a project and you see it all the way through to the end, it’s immensely gratifying. I never served in the military, but I like to think I get to serve the military.”
Her biggest projects have been readiness centers, where National Guard soldiers train once a month and some regular Army staff work all year round. She just finished one, and a barracks in Leavenworth.
She’s preparing to start a readiness center in Hays.
Jobs run the gamut from painting and renovation to installing geothermal systems to overseeing the construction of readiness centers, costs ranging from $25,000 to $28 million.
“There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new about the workings of the Army, about a construction project,” she said. “I always feel like if I don’t learn something new, I’ve wasted my day. Or if I don’t get to teach somebody something new. Kris Upson mentored me and taught me how to do it, so now I get to pass that skill on to others.”
Story by Jean Kozubowski