Students Seeking Non-traditional Career Path Find Motivation through Academic Coaching, Support, Services, Mentoring and Scholarships

03/03/2016 by Bob Keyes

PORTSMOUTH - There are 12 people in one of the Kenneth Bradstreet’s massage therapy classes. Three are men.

Thanks to his own self-confidence and a student-success mentoring program at Great Bay Community College, Bradstreet has never felt out of place or intimidated being one of the few men in classes populated mostly by women.  “It’s just like when I was younger and doing dance. I was the only guy doing dance in my dance class. It didn’t bother me at all,” said Bradstreet, 25, of Hampton Falls, N.H. “I don’t have to prove much by being better. I just have to advance my own skills and learn at my own pace, as long as I better myself.”

That attitude will serve Bradstreet well as he pursues his goals, said Jody Mancini, student success mentor at Great Bay. She works with students to achieve their academic and career goals, and part of her work involves helping students adjust to nontraditional careers.

A nontraditional career is defined as one where less than 25 percent of the workforce is your gender. This semester, Great Bay offers 13 programs that are considered nontraditional, six for men and seven for women. For male students, the nontraditional programs are massage therapy, veterinary technology, early childhood education, medical office administration, nursing and surgical technology. For female students, the programs are advanced composites manufacturing, computer technology, welding, informational systems technology, management, criminal justice and homeland security.

As of January, the largest nontraditional program for men is nursing, with nine men among 104 students. For women, it’s criminal justice, with 15 female students among the 52 enrolled in the program.

Amanda Seales is enrolled in the welding program offered by Great Bay Community College at the Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter.  After completing the program, she hopes to work at Westinghouse Electric. She chose welding because wanted a career with better financial opportunities. “The fact that welding is mostly a male-dominated field does not intimidate me,” she said.

Women can weld as well as men, she said. “You can do anything you want if you just put your mind to it.”

According to Mancini, Great Bay offers eligible students enrolled in programs nontraditional to their gender financial assistance via two federally funded programs.  To offset the cost of books, a stipend is available for eligible students each semester.  In addition, scholarship funds are available to those who qualify through the Carl D. Perkins Grant.   For the fall and spring 2015/2016 school year, students received over $20,000 in book stipends and scholarship awards

 Mancini supports students with academic coaching as well. That can mean many different things, including helping students improve their time-management skills and study habits to test preparation and goal setting

Most students come to Great Bay with a strong sense of what they want to pursue, but it’s sometimes challenging for students who are in a gender minority to feel comfortable in a classroom or lab. It’s not unusual for them to question their decisions, Mancini said.  “We add some necessary support services to help ensure they continue taking classes and graduate. I stay connected with students and support their success,” she said.

Students who enroll in non-traditional programs have the same motivations as other students: They want a career that is interesting, challenging and financially rewarding. Non-traditional students also are motivated by the opportunity for higher wages and the potential for wider and quicker career advancement. Women especially have the opportunity to improve their earnings when they choose non-traditional careers. Non-traditional jobs for women typically pay 20 percent to 30 percent more than jobs traditionally classified as “female jobs,” according to The Women’s Foundation.

Monique Graf, faculty chair of the criminal justice department at Great Bay, said women in criminal justice have more opportunities than their male counterparts. “I know that local law enforcement agencies are constantly looking for female candidates,” Graf said. Nontraditional careers often present opportunities that traditional careers do not, agreed Debra Mattson, who directs Great Bay’s Advanced Materials Manufacturing program. At Great Bay, on average there are five times as many men in the advanced materials program as women, she noted. Great Bay is working to increase the number of women “because jobs in manufacturing are exciting and offer many opportunities for women,” she said. The challenge is fighting stereotypes that suggest women are not good in math and science.  “But many women just choose to go into careers that are traditionally dominated by women, such as teaching and health care,” Mattson said.

A dramatic turn in his personal life two years ago forced Bradstreet into a period of self-reflection. He came away with a commitment to improve his life through education, and wanted to study a field that would be both interesting and lead to a professional career. He chose therapeutic massage because he likes making people feel better – and he’s good at it.

When friends tease him about his career choice, he explains the health benefits of massage, which has become integral to conventional and alternative healthcare. The field supports sports medicine and physical therapy, and massage therapists frequently work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, chiropractic offices, acupuncture clinics, spas, gyms and resorts.

Bradstreet hopes to have his certificate by the summer, and his goal is going into business for himself. “I just want to help people feel better and live their lives the way they want to,” he said.

Helping others also motivated Alana Brien to enroll in Great Bay’s criminal justice program. She will graduate in the spring with an associate’s degree in criminal justice and a certificate in homeland security. After that, she plans to enroll at Granite State College in Concord with a goal of receiving her bachelor’s in criminal justice. She interested in helping people with who are addicted to drugs. “I keep seeing so many of the kids I went to high school with go down that path of getting addicted to drugs. I want to help them get on the right path,” said Brien, 21, who lives in North Hampton.

As a female student, she has always been in the minority in her classes, and it’s never been an issue. She credits Graf for serving as a role model and sounding board.  “I do not feel in the minority, and I was never the only girl,” she said. Graf said she takes pride when her students succeed. “It’s so rewarding to see our students have access to a strong job market.  Knowing they are prepared and passionate about their career choice makes it even better,” Graf said.

For information on non-traditional programs and support, contact Jody Mancini, Non-Traditional Student Coordinator at