Apprentice finds her calling

Savanna Pottorff, sophomore at Colorado Mesa University, is the community outreach and education apprentice at the Grand Junction Fire Department. She has been an apprentice there since 2017.

Without the CareerWise apprenticeship program, Colorado Mesa University sophomore Savanna Pottorff likely would never have known what she really wanted in a career.

Pottorff became a Grand Junction Fire Department apprentice in 2017 during her senior year of high school and as a part of the program's first cohort of students.

Initially, Pottorff said, she thought she was interested in business and started working in the community outreach office to learn more about marketing. But after she went on a few building inspections with fire prevention specialists, Pottorff discovered a niche passion — the procedures and protocols of building inspections.

"Not a lot of people enjoy code enforcement, but I have a knack for it," she said, laughing. "It's a lot of learning the how and why behind things. I really like helping people, and I think helping people be safe in whatever building or situation they're in is a good way to do that."

Pottorff is now pursuing a degree in construction management at CMU and wants to be a fire prevention specialist when she graduates.

She attributes her new career path to CareerWise, particularly because it's not often that fire prevention specialist is a person's first career move — many had previous jobs in firefighting or urban planning and design.

Pottorff said she's also gained skills to thrive in a professional environment, like etiquette, how to work as part of a team, being dependable and what it's like to make mistakes.

In the first few weeks of the program, Pottorff was organizing an event and started calling on fire chiefs by their first names instead of their titles. "Everybody looked at me like I had kicked a child," Pottorff said. "I was so embarrassed, but I just didn't know."

She was gently corrected, and the faux pas didn't slow her down. In her final apprenticeship year, Pottorff will start learning the ins and outs of building inspection so that one day, she can do it on her own.

"I've learned I'm a lot more capable than I thought," she said. "Through trial and error, I've kept progressing, and I've realized that even when I fail, I can still do well."

CareerWise is now recruiting business partners for the fall 2020 cohort, said program manager Jammie McCloud. The Mesa County program currently has 20 students enrolled in three cohorts, with 10 students and eight businesses in the 2019 cohort alone.

"Our businesses are starting to see a return on investment on these students," she said.

The program also has a new recruiting strategy for students, McCloud said, and is working with an in-school recruiter to match students to the right businesses for them.

"I think businesses are excited about the program and support it," she said. "We're starting to grow and refine this program, and it's already grown since I've been here."

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