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Mike Rowe of ‘Dirty Jobs’ unveils scholarship program at local high school

“Dirty Jobs” television series host Mike Rowe visited Western High School in Las Vegas on Monday to announce a new program with the goal of providing graduating students with full-ride scholarships to pursue trade careers.

The four-year “Warrior Pathway Program” aims to provide approximately $4.5 million in scholarships — funded by the Engelstad Foundation — to graduating students who finish the program.

After visiting a freshman studies class Monday, Rowe told reporters in the school’s library that there’s a challenge in the country right now — “the idea of a cookie-cutter approach to education.”

It’s the idea that “one path is the best path for the most people” — a four-year college degree, he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s awfully expensive.”

One form of education has been elevated over another, he said, and now there’s a skills gap with millions of open positions that don’t require a four-year degree but require training.

Rowe said it’s not about denigrating a four-year education, but to say a one-size-fits-all approach to educating children is “not only shortsighted, it’s doomed.”

He said he’d like to see initiatives like the new one at Western in every ZIP code in every state.

At Western, current freshmen who complete the four-year program will be able to use a full-ride scholarship for a trade-focused program of their choice that takes two years or less to complete.

The nonprofit Jobs 4 Nevada’s Graduates will oversee the program’s day-to-day implementation and will have a career pathway specialist at Western.

Of Western’s 700-plus freshmen this year, organizers hope to have an initial group of 150 students participate in the new program and that 50 will finish.

Western Principal Antonio Rael said the goal is for the program to continue after this school year.

The new program is inspired by the mikeroweWORKS Foundation’s S.W.E.A.T. Pledge. S.W.E.A.T. stands for “Skill and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.”

The school anticipates having an application and onboarding process, which would involve the families of students selected.

The program would likely be offered as part of the school’s Wednesday schedule, which is for enrichment opportunities.

Through the new program, students will learn what they need to be successful in high-paying trade jobs. They’ll also have access to internships and jobs.

All freshmen at Western are required to take the foundation’s Work Ethic Certification program as part of their freshman studies class.

Visiting students

Rowe visited with students in Liz Dringoli’s freshman studies class. Students were learning about debt and delayed gratification.

Rowe knelt down on the floor next to students’ desks and chatted with them in groups. He also signed autographs.

After signing an autograph for a student, he commented: “Penmanship’s important, don’t you think?”

Lyric Rojas, 16, noted a desire to go into the entertainment business and the need to improve penmanship in case someone wants an autograph.

Rowe staged a rehearsal, saying: “Lyric Rojas, I’m Mike Rowe. I’m such a big fan of your work. Can I have your autograph, please? Would that be OK?”

Another freshman told Rowe that she wants to own a restaurant. Rowe asked her: “What do you think it takes to own a restaurant?”

He also asked if it requires a college degree and what type. And he provided encouragement when she wasn’t sure.

Yalitzi Muro, 14, told Rowe that she wants to go into interior design.

“What do you think of the interior design of this classroom?” Rowe asked her. “What would you change, if anything, to make it your own?”

‘Endless potential to be successful’

Later in the school library, Rael told reporters that he’s excited for the new program and that students have “endless potential to be successful in the vocational world.”

Kris Engelstad, CEO of the Engelstad Foundation, said the foundation provides scholarships for about 200 students each year to colleges and medical schools, “but we recognize that’s not the only pathway.”

There are students who aren’t going to go to four-year colleges, and that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, she said.

Over the years, trade schools have been dismissed and not valued, Engelstad said, but students can have a profession where they can change the trajectory of their entire family.

Rowe said it’s important, for example, to show students what a welder looks like in 2024 earning a six-figure salary.

He said something that he hears often about “Dirty Jobs” is that the people who were featured are so happy.

Part of the reason is pride, Rowe said. “They could see the fruits of their work.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X. Review-Journal photographer Kevin Cannon contributed to this report.

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