Inspire Dayton: She struggled to balance work, family and school. Now she helps Sinclair student apprentices succeed

When her Sinclair Community College apprenticeship program students struggle to balance school and jobs, Dawn Warner knows exactly where they are coming from.

“I was an adult student. I felt kind of lost coming to college. I didn’t have a large network and I found my network at Sinclair,” said Warner, 44, of Franklin. “Going through that process made me realize (that) it was like a calling. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else but working with Sinclair students.”

The Dayton region is known for coming together in tough times to help one another. Throughout December, the Dayton Daily News will tell the stories of people who have persevered and inspired others during this challenging year.

Warner is apprenticeship project manager in Sinclair’s office of work-based learning. In that role Warner manages the apprenticeship program, which is a partnership with Dayton region companies, predominantly advanced manufacturing firms. Most of the 54 students in the program are already working at the company that selected them for the program.

“When the pandemic threatened to disrupt not only the education process, but also the hands-on work experience, Dawn wasted no time in developing a strategy to engage each student and each employer to determine needs and execute solutions,” said Chad Bridgman, director of Sinclair’s office of work-based learning. “Dawn provided guidance at all hours of the day and night … working with students, course instructors, and employers to ensure there was little to no disruption to the apprenticeship program.”

The students take coursework over two to four years to get a certificate for skills their company needs, such as electrical or mechanical maintenance, and those credits can later apply toward an Associate’s degree.

“For the younger ones, these are students that didn’t think they would go to college. They didn’t think they had it in them or didn’t think they had a reason,” Warner said. “It’s empowering them, saying, ‘You can do this.’”

For her adult students, it can be a challenge to balance work, family responsibilities and going to college.

“A lot of them see it as a privilege that their employer chose them,” Warner said. “It motivates them and gives them confidence. They don’t want to disappoint their employers.”

Warner works with the employers to fill the talent pipeline and upskill their workforce. And she provides support to the apprentices, along with Sinclair teachers and on-the-job mentors.

“I like to think of that as three layers of support for the student. They’re not going to fall through the cracks with all of that,” she said.

Warner knows how hard it can be to work, raise a family and go to college because that is what she did.

Warner began her classes at Sinclair in her 30s after her two sons were old enough to stay home while she went to school and worked. She earned her Associate’s degree in sociology while working part time at the college, and for a year full-time at another job. She then went on to get her bachelor’s degree from Park University at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“I get it. I explain to them that I know what it is like to be an adult student with a family and work,” Warner said. “And I try to get them to know we are all in this: No one is doing 100 percent right now. Their professors are struggling and their employers are struggling. I just try to get them to lean into it.”

She gives students her cell phone number and tells them to call whenever they need help.

“There were a lot of conversations of, ‘I feel like I’m failing,’ and it turns out they were just getting a B instead of an A,” Warner said.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated moving most courses online. That created new issues for some students, including lack of equipment and difficulty studying at home. Sinclair loaned out laptops and web cams.

“(Students asked) how am I supposed to be doing learning online when I have two kids climbing on me?” said Warner. “So we asked employers if they could make some work space. That led to success for these students. We all know what it is like at home with kids.”

Warner said three apprentices completed work in May and she felt very much like the “mama hen” that her students call her.

“It is a proud mom moment and you see what an impact we are having on these students with this program. It’s an honor,” said Warner. “I feel like we are not just changing the lives of the students, but we are changing the culture of the company. They are building loyalty on their shop floor.”

Warner said she draws inspiration from the apprentices.

“I draw my inspiration from seeing individuals take this opportunity that has been handed to them and make it their own, make it into something that grows into a successful career,” Warner said. “Their confidence goes into their family life, parenting, their community. With the opportunity they’re given, they blossom.”

Inspire Dayton

Throughout the month of December, the Dayton Daily News will tell the stories of people who have persevered and inspired others during this challenging year. Read all the stories at Tell us who inspired you in 2020 by emailing

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