How GTCC set Ursula Bethea on her journey to becoming the first female HVACR technician at North Carolina A&T State University
By Jana Carver
When Ursula Bethea became a Guilford Technical Community College student in 2014, she had no idea that it would lead her to pursue a career in Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR). In fact, her original plan looked very different.
“When I started, I decided to go to school for cosmetology,” Bethea said. “But I have a really bad cough, and the fumes of the products got to me.”
After leaving cosmetology, she decided to try GTCC’s Pharmacy Technology Program but found the number of medications she had to memorize to be overwhelming.
After leaving this program, Bethea began to think about what she really enjoyed doing and how she might be able to turn what she enjoyed into a career.
“I like working with my hands, so I considered carpentry,” she said.
But carpentry would have required taking more math classes. Bethea was reluctant and felt another program might possibly fit her needs better and use the credits from classes she had already completed.
It was during her search for that better fit that Bethea found the HVACR Technology program.
“It seemed like the right choice,” she said. “I didn’t have to take any extra classes – plus, now I can fix my own unit!”
Bethea said life skills were not the only thing she gained from her time at GTCC; the relationships she established while in the program were just as important.
The rapport she formed with people such as Diane Hankins, an Adult Education Specialist on GTCC’s Greensboro campus, and Program Coordinator Anthony Banks helped keep her motivated and directed her to opportunities she would not have known of otherwise.
Bethea said that the belief people at GTCC instilled in her was a major confidence boost and helped her know she could succeed.
“The time they put into me, it said a lot about what they thought of me,” she said.
According to Bethea, the support system she found at GTCC led her to her current job as the first female HVACR technician at North Carolina A&T State University, which makes her proud.
“I love my job,” she said. “I’m learning so much here and getting so much hands-on knowledge. I work with really great people – mainly men, but they’re good men. They’re good to me.”
Bethea did not realize she was the first woman to fill an HVACR technician position at N.C. A&T State University until a few weeks into the job. Yet being the first just made her feel even more accomplished.
Now that she has her career, Bethea has set her eyes on a new goal.
“I’m working on full retirement,” she said. “I want to retire here. It feels like home.”
Bethea said that going for her degree was a challenge unlike any other.
“It was difficult. I’m a single mother of three, and working a job while trying to go to school; it was a lot,” she said. “My kids, they are my motivation for success. That, and working with great people, having great people in my corner.”
Now, having earned her degree, Bethea is putting her skills to use in the field. For women considering a career in a male-dominated profession, she has some advice.
“If it’s your passion, or even if you just want to try it, don’t let fear or stereotypes get it your way,” she said. “Go for it and don’t let anything hold you back.”
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