Chippewa Falls mom reinvents herself for new career

July 29, 2013

From “Chippewa Falls mom reinvents herself for new career” — EAU CLAIRE — In her early 30s, Mandi Leos found her life in crisis. With four children under age 10 at the time, she was going through a divorce and facing the prospect of living on her own and raising her children without a good enough job to bring in the income and benefits she would need. She had long-term concerns about her health, too.

Five years later and weighing 70 pounds less, Leos crossed the stage to receive her associate degree in radiography from Chippewa Valley Technical College. She’s ready to launch a new career, has high hopes for a job interview coming up next week, and has her eyes on a bachelor’s degree and saving some money for her children for college. Her oldest is now 14.

A great example of how to take control of one’s own life, Leos was the student speaker at the CVTC summer commencement ceremony, held at Memorial High School in Eau Claire. Leos, though, says she didn’t take control on her own, but let a higher power take the lead.

“My faith is what made me strong,” she said. I couldn’t have done it without faith.“

A 1993 Chippewa Falls Senior High School graduate, Leos took some training to be a hair stylist and worked in that field in Texas, where she and her husband lived for a time, and in Wisconsin. When her marriage ended, she realized the hair care business wasn’t going to cut it.

“You really can’t support four kids on that and help them with college or anything,” she said. “I thought to myself that I should look into the medical field. My mother is a nurse.“

She also thought she needed to be strong physically to meet the challenges of her changing life. There’s a history of diabetes in her family.

“I thought, if I am going to do this, I have to take better care of myself. I started running and changed my diet,” she said.

Leos explored the radiography program at CVTC and found some decisions she made in high school came back to haunt her. She was pretty light on the math and science credits. She then started attending CVTC to get the prerequisites she needed to attend CVTC’s radiography program.

“When I started I was terrified. I could hardly send an email,” she said.

Now, five years later, she’s one of the top graduates in the program and was selected as the student speaker for the ceremony.

“Whatever your field, this journey has not been an easy one,” she told her fellow graduates. “As a single mother of four, I can attest that this path has been perilous. I have had to expand my focus to include not just my family and current employment, but also my program requirements and future career path.

“When I chose to continue my education, it wasn’t just my decision, but a decision that required the support and patience of the people around me.“

The faculty speaker also came from the radiography program. Instructor Deb Kjelstad noted that all of the graduates were more self-assured and confident after two years in the program, and she predicted that Leos two years ago never would have dreamt that she would be the speaker.

“Knowledge gives us the inner strength and power to do things we never thought we were capable of,” Kjelstad said. “I have had the privilege of watching the graduates grow and develop into the future workforce and leaders of our community. Confidence is the companion of success.“

CVTC President Bruce Barker in his remarks to the graduates referenced a quote from Albert Einstein in urging the graduates not to settle for success.

“Don’t be satisfied with success,” Barker said. “Strive to be a person of value.“



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