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Breaking Traditions Merit Award Winners Pursuing Personal Goals through Learning

PhotoAlexis Ortman

A returning sophomore from Dorr, Michigan, and an All-American football player from Ferris State University have a commonality. Alexis Ortman and Jamil Thomas have received 2022 Breaking Traditions Merit Awards for following academic pursuits in careers that are non-traditional to their gender.

Ortman completed her first year in the Heavy Equipment Technology program and is currently interning with AIS Construction Equipment in Grand Rapids. Ortman said she had learned a great deal about cars and trucks by being around the garage with her father but branched out toward the end of her high school days.

“I decided then to try a heavy equipment class,” she said. “This set me onto a path to pursue my interests, as they relate to working with large machinery.”

Ortman said she is the only woman in her class studying Heavy Equipment Technology.

“I understand what I am studying, and the industry I am pursuing is male-dominated,” Ortman said. “I also know I might not be able to ‘turn a wrench’ like some of my classmates, but all of what I am learning is an amazing experience.”

PhotoJamil Thomas

Just as he has cracked the starting lineup on the Bulldogs’ defense and supported Ferris’ run to a national championship in football, Jamil Thomas, of Tampa, Florida, has shown fortitude in Dental Hygiene. He applied the two-year program to his completion of a Bachelor of Science in the College of Health Professions.

“My original intention was to study Pre-Pharmacy, but my obligations with the football program did not mesh with my requirements in the classroom for that curriculum,” Thomas said. “I also entered the Nuclear Medicine program, but those classes were offered in Grand Rapids, through a partnership with Grand Rapids Community College.”

Considered the top returning safety in NCAA Division II Football, Thomas said a visit to his home and a long-time friend in dentistry changed his focus.

“He told me that I have everything going for me, including the ability and opportunity to succeed in dentistry and structure my learning through Dental Hygiene,” Thomas said. “I am focused on continued success as a Ferris football player and pursuing my dreams of playing in the NFL, first and foremost. I will also be completing my Dental Hygiene coursework and Bachelor of Science studies to apply to and be accepted by a dental school.”

Ortman and Thomas are among five college students recognized this month with Excellence Awards, Merit Awards or a Certificate of Recognition by the Michigan Department of Education, along with nearly 60 high school students who have studied in the various intermediate school district or career center programs. As Merit winners, Alexis and Jamil each received an award plaque, a certificate and a letter of recognition from the MDE.