AHS Graduate’s Diverse Skills, Interests Chart Path to Bright Future

AHS Graduate’s Diverse Skills, Interests Chart Path to Bright Future
Posted on 06/17/2024

Alleghany High School graduate Grayson Siers is part of the management team at Cato Fashions in Covington. The management team includes (from left) Stephanie Harpine, Siers, Margie Villegas, and Vera Cobbs. Siers is also an accomplished welder, and she plans to study mechanical engineering at Liberty University. 

Grayson Siers and Kole Caldwell received WestRock STEM Scholarships on April 15 during Alleghany High School’s Senior Awards Night. The scholarships are awarded to two seniors who are going into a Science, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) field at a college or university. Grayson will study mechanical engineering at Liberty University. Kole will study engineering at Virginia Tech. The scholarships were presented by Don Wilkinson, general manager of WestRock’s Covington mill operations.

Grayson Siers (right) is shown with her mother, Cynthia Morgan, in December 2022. Morgan visited the welding department at Jackson River Technical Center to practice her welding skills under the tutelage of her daughter. Grayson’s interest in welding led to several female students enrolling in welding classes at JRTC. 

AHS Graduate’s Diverse Skills, Interests Chart Path to Bright Future

Grayson Siers graduated from Alleghany High School on June 1, and her education and strong interpersonal skills are already paying off. Siers is an accomplished welder, a successful  assistant retail store manager, and a future mechanical engineer.

Known for her keen attention to detail, natural leadership skills, and ability to communicate well, Siers completed the welding program at Jackson River Technical Center. What’s more, her strong interpersonal skills are already paying dividends. She has quickly climbed the ranks to become an assistant store manager at Cato Fashions in Covington. 

How did a retail store manager become interested in welding? Siers’ interest in welding came after she explored program options at Jackson River Technical Center, which is part of the Alleghany Highlands Public Schools Division. JRTC is celebrating its 50th year of serving the Highlands community.  

Early in high school, Siers had an interest in the automotive technology course at JRTC, but she wound up with a schedule change that resulted in her enrolling in the welding class.  She quickly “fell in love” with welding. By her junior year, she was thinking about future career options in the field.  

At first, Siers was the only female student in her welding class. But at the urging of the staff at JRTC, she became involved in leading tours for students who were considering enrolling in a program there. By the next year, JRTC boasted six female students in a single entry-level welding class.  

“That’s very important to me – that it is known that girls can be in trades, too,” Siers said.

Trades such as welding offer graduates with good career opportunities right out of high school. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction and manufacturing industries are seeing a significant demand for skilled welders. The median pay for a welder is $48,940, but specialized welders can earn more than $100,000 a year. 

Siers quickly credits welding instructor Jamie Huffman for keeping her motivated as she progressed through the program at JRTC.  She admits to becoming frustrated when her welds are less than perfect. But she has learned to channel that energy into a passion for excellence. She enjoys practicing for “weld tests” that are necessary for employment. Successful welds must hold up to considerable examination and pressure, including pressure from a machine that can fold metal.  

Huffman encouraged Siers to become his intern, assisting in the instruction of Welding I students.  She worked closely with Huffman to emphasize safety and transition the students to confidently welding in their own booths.  During the first part of her senior year, Siers spent half of her days welding – and this secured several decisions about her future.  Welding could keep her mind engaged for sustained periods of time.

Siers is inspired by family members who engage in leadership in fields as diverse as education and steel work, and she hopes to manage her own work crew one day.  In the field of welding, she notes that supervisors often succeed by working with their team, and she looks forward to working with others as she provides leadership. She’s energized by her interest in tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding on aluminum – a set of welding skills that is notoriously difficult.

Meanwhile at Cato, Siers has already climbed the ladder from being a sales associate to an assistant manager.  Management was impressed with Siers’ desire to work more hours at the store, and that led to her being given more responsibilities, including opening and closing the store. Through her work at Cato, she has learned about managing inventory, shipments, handling more complex transactions such as returns, and customer service. Siers says she  enjoys providing a high level of attention to customers and helping people who visit the store with specific needs like finding clothing for special events.  

“One of the neat aspects of working in a small town retail store is helping customers and learning their stories,” Siers said.

She appreciates that Cato carries a wide variety of inventory that offers customers many sizes and styles of clothing. The retail chain has more than 900 stores in 30 states. Cato says it “prides itself on giving the customer the quality and attention they deserve.” 

That same focus on quality and attention helped Siers become a “completer” in the JRTC welding program. Third-year welding students are required to pass a rigorous battery of tests before they complete the program. The entire third-year welding class at JRTC passed at least one of the tests this year. That’s impressive, and Siers gives “100 percent credit to Mr. Huffman.” She said he constantly encourages his students to be safe, practice welds, and think about their future in college and other training. Huffman uses feedback from students to customize their welding assignments in their third-year course.  

“He really set us up for success,” said Siers.

She’s been accepted to Liberty University and plans to pursue mechanical engineering.  One of the things she is most looking forward to?  Additional depth in blueprint reading. She believes both education and experience are important for achievement in the trades.  She will be doing part of her education online and looks forward to continuing on with Cato, a place where she has also made friends among her colleagues.

Siers is very organized and she has a penchant for wanting to see things function smoothly. She has a keen understanding of the connections between jobs in the field of engineering and the communities they support. 

“I am happiest when I can work on something where I know I can produce something bigger,” she said.

Jackson River Technical Center became part of AHPS in July 2022. JRTC was included in the merger of Alleghany Highlands Public Schools and Covington City Public Schools. That merger created AHPS.  JRTC is currently celebrating its fiftieth year of supporting students in the Alleghany Highlands.  

The school division serves approximately 2,700 students and it is jointly funded by Alleghany County and the City of Covington. AHPS news and events are regularly updated on Facebook at AHPublicSchools, and Instagram at ahpublicschools. Information is also available at www.ahps.k12.va.us.


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