Education and Skills Training

A Meaningful Stepping Stone

Kalysta Sormunen exudes enthusiasm when she talks about her work as an Industrial Precision Mechanic in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Whether she’s working at a mine, paper mill or installing a turbine, Kalysta feels like she’s always learning something new. To help prepare her for such a dynamic work environment, she credits her experience with her time at Marquette Alger Technical Middle College.  

In partnership with Lundin Mining’s Eagle Mine, Middle College is a tuition-free early college program that enables students from Marquette and Alger Counties to earn a high school diploma and up to 44 college credits toward an associate degree or a technical certificate at no cost to students or their families. It also provides a gradual, structured and supported transition from high school to college, resulting in greater college success and more residents with high-quality degrees and credentials.     

When I was in high school, I had not really known what I wanted to do, and I just thought welding was a little interesting,” explains Kalysta.   

“When I went through the Middle College program, they’re the ones that introduced me that there were different degrees to go in. And one that kind of interests me is industrial maintenance, which essentially correlates directly to millwrighting. So that really helped because I got my associate degree, and that’s one of the reasons I got credited when I joined the apprenticeship was because I already had this background because of the Middle College.”

Middle College has a 95% graduation rate with a 100% enrollment rate for two- or four-year college diploma programs. In 2023, 30 applicants were accepted into the program, a vital steppingstone into careers in trades, health care and cyber defense which provide family-sustaining wages and encourage young people to stay in the Upper Peninsula. Kalysta just bought her first home and is excited to be living in her community while growing her career. She credits Middle College not just with the educational support, but also the encouragement she received to reach her life goals. 

“While I love my work, one of the big things I really brought away from the program was the support system. I could reach out to them for anything, whether it be school, work related, or family related, and that was a big thing that I enjoyed,” explains Kalysta.

“They teach you how to be the best person to go into an interview and how to speak properly, how to write emails so that you sound professional, and that’s above and beyond getting you that college degree. I feel like they really did change my life for the better.”

The Middle College exists for all students, from the 4.0 student who needs a challenge to those students who have traditionally been underserved, especially those who are unengaged and at risk of dropping out of high school, economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students.