Carolyn Kimbrel

Next time someone says having a good career map isn’t important as early as high school, consider Carolyn Kimbrel. “I’m a walking billboard for career and technical education,” she says enthusiastically, “because without that, I wouldn’t know what I want to do.”

And when this Leesburg, Ga., senior says she knows what she wants to do, she means it. “I’m going to attend Georgia Southern University for four years,” Kimbrel explains matter-of-factly. “Then I hope to become a nurse practitioner with a family practice. I hope to work in an area that I’m really passionate about.”

That passion, that enthusiasm, has grown since her freshman year at Lee County High School, when her health care science instructor, Judy Glass, “saw something in me that I really didn’t,” Kimbrel says. “She pulled out a potential in me that I really didn’t know existed.”

Having a good career map would’ve helped Kimbrel’s father, too, who is now pursuing a similar career in nursing, but there’s been a major generation gap in the routes they’ve taken to achieve their goals.

“Looking back, I’d gladly trade my four-year business degree for a couple years of nursing at the community college any day,” Larry Kimbrel says. “I just didn’t know what all was out there.”

Inspired to further success

“[My father] was the only one from his family who’d ever gone to college,” Carolyn Kimbrel says. “It was a big deal for him to get a business degree, but once he graduated, the job market just wasn’t there.” Although he found work at a tooling equipment company, something was missing.

Glass — a SkillsUSA advisor and “an old friend of the family,” her student adds — encouraged him to reignite his interest in the medical field, a career path he’d always been interested in but never quite knew how to navigate. He’s now as passionate about it as his daughter, who calls him “my inspiration.”

“It’s one thing for parents to tell you to go to your room and study, but it’s another thing to see them working hard providing for their family and then giving up all their free time to study, too,” she explains.

The inspiration isn’t one-sided, however. “Most students go through high school and never take advantage of the opportunities available to them there,” Larry Kimbrel says.

“But Carolyn has always seemed to make the most of her high school experience. The things that I’m practicing and studying now, she’s already mastered in high school.”

Carolyn Kimbrel adds, “My dad says to me now, ‘If only I had those opportunities when I was younger, if only I had known about career and technical organizations like SkillsUSA. You’re so fortunate to have these programs.’”

Some of that good fortune was realized when Kimbrel took part in her SkillsUSA regional competition and won for her health care skills demonstration. She followed that performance by placing first in the state and then fourth in the national competition.

Proud of her performance, but disappointed that she’d missed a national medal by only one place, Kimbrel was ready to compete again. But at the following year’s state conference, she found herself face to face — unknowingly — with the next phase of her future.

For both, a confident future

Kimbrel watched as her state officers were introduced, hearing their accomplishments and admiring their composure. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, those people got it going on.’” She felt drawn to take a photo, one that’s since become very sentimental to her. “I know I took it, because it’s the worst picture,” she laughs. “It’s all shaky, but I can see the officers sitting in their chairs on stage, and I know that was the moment I thought, ‘Wow, if I could only do something like that.’”

Not only could she, she did. Voted state secretary while a sophomore, Kimbrel returned to nationals the following year, where she was elected president of the SkillsUSA’s high school division. She remembers the moment as “one of the most exciting of my life.”

As a national student leader, Kimbrel has found herself in a whirlwind of travel, training and other opportunities she’d never dreamed of. Recently, she represented SkillsUSA in a panel discussion moderated by a U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary and available live worldwide via webcast (see bottom of page for more).

From a small town in Georgia to an international stage, representing career and technical education to America’s top policy-makers? It’s a growth spurt that’s not gone unnoticed.

“I’ve seen many changes in Carolyn as a result of her involvement with SkillsUSA,” Larry Kimbrel says. “She is no longer a shy little girl but carries herself with confidence and an attitude of professionalism.”

If Carolyn Kimbrel is a “walking billboard” for career and technical education, she’s quick to point out there are thousands of other “billboards” out there, too, students whose personal and professional lives have been changed for the better. What sets them apart from many peers?

“Confidence,” she says. “I know exactly what I want to do when I get out of college. I know what I want to major in.

“I met a few of the people that I could possibly work for one day, and I have the ability to go up and talk to them and say, ‘Hi, I’m Carolyn Kimbrel, I spoke with you before.’ I know tons of seniors that are about to graduate and they have no idea what they want to do, if they’re going to go to college, what they’ll major in. They say to me, ‘You have it all figured out for yourself, don’t you?’, and I’m like, ‘Yes, I do, and I’ve known it since about my freshman year.’”

Her father couldn’t agree more. “I always say to her that ‘birds of a feather flock together,’ and I‘ve seen how her friends in SkillsUSA have influenced her and how she has influenced them, and I begin to feel good about the future of America,” he says. “I know that we are leaving it in good, skilled hands.”