She’Cholle Winmon works in additive manufacturing at RE2 Robotics in Lawrenceville. From firsthand experience, She’Cholle shares how she successfully navigates the workforce development pipeline in Pittsburgh and what she knows for sure about changing careers.
Jourdan: Childhood and childhood experiences and reflections on your childhood is something that I will never grow tired of talking about with you, ever. I can promise you that your thoughts about your memories are like little shimmers and glimmers of personality that show up in the stories that you tell us about your life, about your work, about who you are in Pittsburgh. She’Cholle Winmon lives in East Liberty with her family of three children and works at RE2 Robotics in Lawrenceville when She’Cholle was young and growing up in Donora, Pa., living with her grandmother. She would break into everything: the back of remotes, her television, anything that had a protective case over it. Anything that had something on the inside, She’Cholle was getting into with a screwdriver or anything she could find around the house to take things apart with.
She’Cholle: I was like trying to take apart my plate, like anything. I was trying to take apart my TVs, you know, like the old-school TVs we had with the VHS and I was tearing them up. I was tearing them down — all my games, everything, like alarm clocks. I learned. I just want to take some apart, but I didn’t know how to put it back together.
Jourdan: This got her into a lot of trouble with Grandma. Grandma was not happy. OK?
She’Cholle: My grandma, just like, could not understand what was going on with me and what I was doing.
Jourdan: This is pre-YouTube, y’all. She says somewhere along the way, she let it go, and her natural-born interests kind of faded away.
She’Cholle: I didn’t know what to do with it, but I’ve always loved games and I’ve always loved like coding and stuff like my MySpace page and my Blackplanet page, OK. Like, you couldn’t tell me nothing. I was just into all of that, and I never knew like how to go above that, go beyond that. I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t know like who to seek out. I just didn’t know how to hone in on these skills that I had.
Jourdan: Fast forward, she moves from Donora Pa., she moves into the city of Pittsburgh. She starts a family and somewhere around then she gives birth to her daughter, which opens her up into a season of difficulty. A really, really challenging and stressful, unpredictable, jarring moment in time that really challenged everything She’Cholle says she knew about herself and what she knew to be true for and about herself and about her future. She calls it a tower moment where everything around her was up in flames, up in the air and out of her control. But one fateful day she’s surfing the internet, and she comes across an ad for a 3-D printer and is immediately interested. She signs up for the waitlist for the printer and starts saving up her money.
She’Cholle: I saved up a couple hundred dollars. I didn’t know how much it was going to be. They didn’t even know how much it was going to be either. And whenever I got that email, I bought it. Once I bought it, I said, you know, this is something for me, not only me, but as well as my kids. I wanted to give that to them. I wanted to see, you know, I wanted to show them, like, you don’t just have to play sports. You don’t just have to, you know what I mean? All those stereotypes and everything that comes along with being a person of color. I wanted to show them something else. That’s why I got it. And you know, we were just doing little things with it and I was just making things and I tried to start a business with it and it was just like not working out. And that’s whenever Nate hit me up.
Jourdan: Nate Broadus is She’Cholle’s Facebook friend and one day saw a post that she made about her and her children tinkering around on the printer. From the average Facebook friend, this may garner a like or a heart or a cute comment, but it sparks something deeper for Nate because he’s the workforce specialist for Catalyst Connection, and he’s responsible for recruiting and finding people who he can create new employment pathways that result in trainings, programs and jobs in the manufacturing industry. So he did way more than just like or leave a heart on She’Cholle’s post. He reached out to her directly.
She’Cholle: He started talking a lot of jargon that I was just like, what? He started talking about additive manufacturing and things like that. And I was like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And he was like, you should because that’s what you’re doing right now. And I was like, oh, and we worked together for maybe like two months on, just like getting my resume together, research and different things. Not only like, OK, you have the 3D printer, you’re 3D printing. But once we talked, he was like, Yo, like, OK, like, you’re like, this is dope. Like, you’re dope. Like you. Why don’t people know about you? You know, I mean, like why? Why are you not applying for jobs? Like, why are you not? I’m like, I didn’t know I could. So really, Nate was really that person. Like, I give him a lot, a lot of credit for where I am right now in my career field.
Jourdan: At the time of She’Cholle and I’s interview, she had just crossed the one-year mark, one-year anniversary of her working at RE2. Before we dig deeper into She’Cholle’s story, I want you to hear from our media partners at the Allegheny Front.
Allegheny Front: Hi, this is Julie Grant of The Allegheny Front podcast produced in Pittsburgh. Each Friday, our podcast brings you the latest environmental news about our region, like how metal pipes corroded at the Clairton Coke Works, leading to a massive air pollution event. After the fire, the plant pumped thousands of pounds of harmful emissions into the air for over 100 days, and bigger picture questions like how climate change is impacting our mental health. “We can get together and do something in nature as a group of activists can be really helpful and cathartic.” If you care about the environment in Western Pennsylvania, you’ve got to subscribe to The Allegheny Front podcast at Alleghenyfront.org or wherever you get your podcasts.
Jourdan: Back in the early days of She’Cholle being at RE2, she says she really had to up her self-talk game and her worthiness game to keep herself reminded that she was where she was supposed to be. And, of course, worthy of the opportunity, no matter her educational background where she was from or the circumstances that got her to where she was. She’s still getting used to the terminology and jargon that is used in the manufacturing space. But she has a host of coworkers and leaders and friends like Nate Broadus, who remind her that she is brilliant and special and plays a meaningful role at RE2 Robotics.
Jourdan: I hope whoever is in our pool of listeners and supporters and fans of PublicSource really see where it’s applicable, the role that they could play in ushering new people into their field by overlooking what credentials they may or may not have to give people a shot to do something that they could be good at. And know there has to be someone listening who is in a position to be a mentor, to give a mentee an opportunity, to open doors for people, to welcome them into a new field or industry or job or their place of business. Who is a gatekeeper to doing things differently at their place of business, talking about things differently, looking at things differently, redoing how we’re doing diversity and recruitment, especially in spaces where marginalized folks are not represented. I wanted to hear from She’Cholle what she felt like from her experience firsthand, what she would hope people who were in those gatekeeping positions would do differently or what she would do differently to make sure that all people, no matter their background, their history have an opportunity to try something new to walk into a new space, especially if it is a space that historically people have tried to keep people out of intentionally. She also had some straight, no chaser, real encouraging words for people who are in her position, people who had been discouraged from doing something that they naturally were gifted at or interested in.
She’Cholle: RE2 is located in Lawrenceville. We’re right off of Butler Street. We basically create robots to keep humans safe. We make aviation robots, we make underwater robots. We make robots for the hospital, robots for the government. We were just in the paper for one of our underwater robots and that robot was created to help divers.
Jourdan: So now you’re an employee of RE2. Tell me how you seen you breaking into the manufacturing, tech training, workforce development space and what things did you need to be there, like credentials training? I want you to take me from the time that you gave Nate the greenlight to the time that you got your I.D. badge, up until the time that you were working with H.R. to fill all your paperwork, like what was that process?
She’Cholle: So whenever he first said, Hey, I have a job for you, I said, OK, cool. You know what I mean? But Covid-19 was actively going on at this time. So he said, you know, it kept getting pushed back. So in the meantime, in between time, Nate had shared with me like some different apps that his company had made. It was like, you know, just if you want to, cool. It’ll give you some extra, you know, like training in different things, in additive manufacturing. That’s what the apps are for. So I said, yeah. I’m like, whatever, whatever you want to throw at me, throw it at me. I’ll see what’s up with it, you know, I mean, that’s just the type of person I am because I do so many different things like, I love using my hands. I’m like, my hands are this big for a reason. Seriously. I like, I love doing things with my hands and I was like, You know, whatever. Throw it at me. He threw like a couple of apps at me. Then, he also threw educational opportunities at me as well. So I said, OK, cool. But again, Covid-19 was in the way of that. So, once I guess things started to calm down, that’s whenever he reached out to me. And that’s whenever somebody from the company reached out to me from RE2 for an interview. So I went through the interview process. They were like, cool. We want to bring you on. I’m like, cool. So I started and I didn’t have to go through any training or anything. I was being hired as, I don’t know if I would call it like a temp position or not? but it was definitely like, let’s get her in here, see what she can do. If she fits, cool. If she doesn’t, cool, you know what I mean? No hard feelings, but they basically just wanted to get me in there and see what I could do. They knew I had the 3D printer. I put all this cute stuff on my resumé, you know, I mean, so they were like, let’s give her a shot. So when I got in there, I was super scared. I never before this job, I’ve never had like a typical office job where I have to be in office with coworkers – full-time position. I’ve never done that before. So that was very scary for me. And it’s still, I’m still getting used to being in that type of environment. Still, it’s still something that I’m learning, you know what I mean? I’m still learning how to deal and how to be in this work environment. But I just felt like with me having this opportunity, I don’t have any experience. I don’t have any college experience at all. And everybody does. And then being one of the only people of color in the building, there’s definitely a few of us, but there’s not too many others. There is not a lot. Yeah, it’s mainly white men. The person who started the company, he’s really about inclusion and helping people from like low-income communities or people who may not have, you know, access to certain resources like he’s all for that. Like he, he makes sure that diversity is included, even though there’s only a few of us. But there’s a lot of diverse things that go on at RE2, and I appreciate that, but I have a boss that thinks like that. But yeah, my supervisor at the time, he was basically like, We’re just gonna throw stuff at you. And if it works, it works. If we don’t, we’re going to find you something else. And my mind frame was like, I have to get this. Like, what they throw at me, I have to do it like, or what else am I going to do? What else am I going to do, sweeping and cleaning up and doing, you know, doing little odd stuff? You know what I mean? Like, come on. So he ended up, I think, maybe my first week being there. He was like, I got a job for you. Electrical. I’m like, OK, cool. And he’s like, I need you to crimp these wires for me. He sat me down one time and he showed me how to strip the wire. He showed me how to measure it. He showed me, you know, where the materials are, and he showed me the crimp tool and how to insert all that, and he showed it to me once and he left. I spent all day working on these crimps and I messed up, but I was getting it. He was like, good, he’s like, you’re pretty good at this. Like, you’ve never done this before? And I was like, no, I’ve never done it before. He was like, yeah, like, we want to keep you. He was like, this is the hardest crimp that we have in the building, and it took you a day or two to get it. There’s people that went to school for this for years that still, that’s why you’re doing it because they’re struggling with it. That definitely gave me a lot of self-confidence that I needed at that time to be like, OK, I can do this, I can come in here, I can do this job. You know what I mean? I don’t have to feel so small whenever I have people who you know around me. My colleagues went to school for this and they’re asking me to come do it for them. And I’ve never, I’ve just picked this up and I can do it.
Jourdan: You don’t hear that too often these days. You need certification. You need to come with credentials. You need to come with a certain amount of experiences, so many years and references. I feel like that’s very important to say and to say to people who are going to hear this. It’s OK to give somebody an opportunity who’s never been in this arena before, who’s never had this experience before, who don’t, who doesn’t know what additive manufacturing is, but has an interest in it on their own?
She’Cholle: Through Nate and Catalyst, I’m in their manufacturers program, but I also am in their program where they go in and they talk to children in schools about additive manufacturing. So I try to tell the kids, like, find a mentor, find somebody that’s doing what you want to do and try to get as much information from them as possible because you never know. Yes, you’re young, you’re 10, but in 10 more years, that person can have a job for you.
Jourdan: You’re never too old to learn something new, to do something different, to turn a hobby or interest into a passion or opportunity or a job or anything like that. And that’s what I’m hoping people will get from your story when they listen to it. It was a lot of you just like kind of following your heart and following your interest and your passions. Like, although that wasn’t what you were doing full time for employment, it’s something that you wanted to do in your spare time. It’s something that you wanted to pass along to your children; give them something different to do.
She’Cholle: I think what it is like with me, because we’re born with so many skills and natural, beautiful gifts from the start. But a lot of those gifts get stifled. A lot of those gifts get trampled on, you know, by people who are supposed to be helping us open those gifts. You know what I mean? If my grandmother would have put me in a space where that was acceptable, then I would have thrived from a child. So I think we all have these abilities and we all have these skills. We’re all amazing people and we’re born with it. But I feel like because of circumstances and because of whoever is raising whoever is the adult. When you’re a child and you’re trying to go through all of these things, that adult holds a lot of weight.
Jourdan: That adult, that person sets the limits, right?
Jourdan: They create the environment.
She’Cholle: Put you in that box.
She’Cholle: You know what I mean, I had to be this little Black girl and I had to be in this box and I wasn’t allowed to leave that box.
Jourdan: This is the nail. This is you just hitting it on the head. Just really hitting it on the head. That’s really important to say. And it’s like, well, who do we hold accountable for these circumstances? Is it the parents, the grandparents and the community that raised us who only have foresight to see so for based on how they were raised, opportunities they had ,the environments that they were raised in? You know, if you’re lucky, you see someone who sees the gift. Right now, there is a grandparent yelling at their grandkid for taking the remote control apart, but it’s like, no, that’s an interest. Like, they’re interested in this or they’re curious and we need to follow that curiosity inside of me. Like, put, the damn remote back.
She’Cholle: Them breadcrumbs, man. The little breadcrumbs go so far, so far, you know what I mean, who knows where I would be right now? You know what I mean? If I would have continued to hone on those skills and do that throughout my young life and teenage years… I could have had scholarships. I could have been somewhere on the Moon. I think the main thing — me and Nate talked about this, too — I think the main thing is not just, you know, we want to be more inclusive. We want to start, you know, reaching out to X, Y and Z to see where we can get these people from. Cool. That’s amazing. That’s awesome. But what you also need to do once you get these people and you bring them into this workspace, you need to make sure that that workspace, I don’t know the right word to use right now, but that workspace needs to be safe. I’ll sum it up as that. That needs to be a safe workplace for that person to come into and feel accepted and feel like they can thrive, and not feel, you know, microaggressions and those little things that can really affect somebody, and make somebody walk out the door. Because I know before me, I’m gone, I’m what? It’s too much? You know what I mean? You want to say little smart stuff, a little slick stuff because you don’t feel like I should be here. OK, well, bye, I won’t stay here then. You know what I mean now, it’s no. I’m going to be here because I deserve to be here, and I should feel that reciprocated. I should feel that in my workspace, my work environment shouldn’t be hostile.
Jourdan: Prepare the table for the guests.
Jourdan: You wouldn’t invite somebody to your house for the first time, and you’re trying to make a good impression on them. You’re trying to get them to join your family or be your friends or integrate into your life. A date, whatever. You ain’t just about to invite them over to the house and the table’s looking all crazy, the house is looking all crazy. You know you never want people coming over when it’s tense in the house. It’s like, naw, we going through something right now. We got to reschedule.
She’Cholle: When you walk in, you can smell it. You can feel it. OK? I don’t care what nobody says, you can feel tension.
She’Cholle: Absolutely. And I think that’s the point. That’s also really, really important. If you want to bring people in, you need to be doing the work internally already before they get there to make sure that there aren’t any bad seeds in here.
She’Cholle: True, there’s a lot of older people, you know what I mean in a lot of these jobs, they’re older, they’re hitting retirement age and all they want to do is come do their jobs so they can leave, so they can retire, you know, I mean, that’s all they really worried about. They ain’t worried about too much. They ain’t worry about conversation. And, you know, I mean, being polite and all that stuff. No, you know, I mean, there’s a lot of people like that at my job? No. We don’t have anybody like that, but I’ve worked at a lot of places where that was the case.
Jourdan: I’m so happy that you were able to persevere. So what encouraging words would you have for someone who may have a little voice in the back of their head, that’s like, you know, you interested in making wigs, you know you’re interested in “jerry-rigging”, well kind of jerry-rigging. As my father would call it Jack legging something together. Tools or whatever. If you do eyebrows [and] you know you like to make your own tools. What would you say to encourage them to follow through on that? What tips would you give them to seek out opportunities?
She’Cholle: I would say, No. 1, sit with yourself, figure out where that little voice is coming from and shut it up. Start finding people that are like-minded. You never want to be the smartest person in the room. You always want to be learning from the people that you are around. You want to be learning from them, learning with them, growing with them. Networking. Networking is key. You never know. You know what I mean? You may know this person, and they may know this other person who has an amazing opportunity for you, just what you want. But you never know if you don’t silence that little voice that’s in the back telling you can’t do this because of this. You don’t know how to do this. You’re a single mom. You’re in school. You’re struggling. No. Get connected with people, get that self-love together and don’t let nothing stop you. It took me years. It took me years, years, like literally years to really get on path. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, like, I wholeheartedly, genuinely, I know I’m on the right path because I’ve been steadily going up. I’ve been steadily seeing my manifestations in front of me. Things that I never thought that I would be doing or people I never thought I would be talking to. I’ve done it, so I know I’m doing something right. You know what I mean? And a lot of people, that’s scary for a lot of people when you don’t know. But I think I don’t know what this quote is from or where I think it’s a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, but it’s like you have to jump in order to fly. If you keep staying where you are, you’re never going to do anything different, but stay where you are. You have to take that leap of faith and know that you’re going to fly, you’re going to make it. And it don’t matter if you stumble, bumble, you might get a couple bumps and bruises. It’s OK. That’s what they made Band-Aids and all that good stuff for. We’re human. We’re very resilient.
Jourdan: And the years is going to pass anyway. The years is going to come anyway.
She’Cholle: It’s going to pass anyway. And they fly. I’m telling you. Flying by.
Jourdan: What do you think makes you perfect for the work that you do? What about you, yourself?
She’Cholle: You know, I think because I’m a Jane of all trades I love, I love to learn things. I love working with my hands. I just, I don’t know what it is. People like, Oh my God, you got your nails done. Tweezers, I make it work. I find a way and I don’t get my nails to the point where I can’t do, I can’t work with them. You know what I mean? But I love a challenge. If I can’t do something, we’re going to figure that out.
Jourdan: She said it’s temporary. It’s temporary.
She’Cholle: I don’t care how much research I got to do. I don’t care how many people I got to talk to. I don’t care how dumb I sound. We’re gonna get it. If I really, truly in my heart, I want to do it. We’re going to get it done. Period.
Jourdan: What were you doing before you started working at RE2?
She’Cholle: I did everything from aid work to CNA, I got my phlebotomist license, never worked a day as a phlebotomist. I was working at Amazon, the factory warehouse — whatever you want to call it. I have my bachelor’s in human services. I’m getting my master’s for sports psych. I love to learn new things and I just happened to be good at a lot of those new things I’m learning.
Jourdan: So what do you think your kids are taking away from this like, mommy did this. Now she’s doing this, we got the printer. We make keychains.
She’Cholle: My kids tell me all the time, like how cool I am. I love my kids and I just want to make sure that whatever they want to do, I’m going to find a way to make sure that you can do it. I just don’t want my children to ever feel like I can’t do this because of X, Y and Z. I can’t do this because of this or that, or I don’t want them. That’s lack. That really did something to me. I don’t want to put that on. Nobody else. Another thing for me. I had to get out of the environment that I was in. I have a lot of people, places, things will hold you back if you let it. It doesn’t have no problem holding you back like none.
Jourdan: And that applies to everybody that just don’t apply to Black single mothers. That applies to anybody and everybody. Look at who’s around you.
She’Cholle: Yeah, that’s what I said about them being the smartest in the room. I always felt like I was the smartest in the room, because of the people, places and things that I was around. That was another thing that just helped me back in. I was like, you know what? We got to break out of this. Like, There’s nothing here. Like, I literally have to drive an hour to go to the mall. I have to drive an hour to go, you know, I mean, if I want to go out to the club, I don’t want to be involved in the drama that’s going on where I am, like, there’s just so much. I’m like, let’s just take that barrier away. Let’s just take that. Even a good paying job, a high paying job. I was driving out here an hour, hour and a half to get a decent paying job as a CNA. And I say we’re going to take this barrier out and we’re just going dive in. You know, we’re going to stop letting fear hold us back because we don’t know what’s on the other side of that door. We don’t know what’s going to happen when we jump. I said, F it. I’m jumping.
Jourdan: So the central question that we’ve been asking people in all of our episodes is what do you know to be true for sure? What do you know to be true for sure about self-talk and trying something new and doing something for the first time?
She’Cholle: So what I know to be true for doing something for the first time is, just do it, just do it. There’s so much. You psych yourself out. You can literally sit there and psych yourself out of doing something in your own head. You know what I mean? And you didn’t even try. You didn’t even put, you know, put any effort into it. I definitely know that for sure to be true. Just do it and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Jourdan: Season three of the From the Source podcast is produced by Jourdan Hicks and Andy Kubis and edited by Halle Stockton. If you’re curious to learn how you can share your story with us or appear in an episode or From the Source, you can get in touch with me by sending me an email to Jourdan@ PublicSource.org PublicSource is an independent nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh. You can find all of our reporting and storytelling at PublicSource.Org. Jourdan Hicks. Stay safe and be well.
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