Apprenticeship Spotlight: March 2021

A headshot of a woman with long brown hair wearing a navy shirt and a long silver necklace.


Age: 43

Hometown: Tucson, AZ

Apprenticeship: ACDS


I was born in Tucson, but my father and both grandfathers were miners at the San Manuel copper mine about 30 miles from Tucson, so my first home was a little house in the San Manuel copper mining community. It was just a two-bedroom, one-bath, nothing house. We moved to Tucson when I started school.


I went through elementary, junior high, and high school in Tucson. The school district I was in was called Flowing Wells, because they built the high school where there were these humungous water wells. Right after high school, I became a certified nurse’s assistant.


As a nurse’s assistant, I worked in a state nursing home. There were people in there who talked about their families, and I felt for them because nobody came to see them and they were stuck in this state nursing home. I came home every day knowing this wasn’t for me, even though I’d spent the money for the certification and everything. But emotionally, I couldn’t do it. I was there less than a year.


After leaving the nursing home, I went to school to be a veterinary technician.


I worked with veterinarians for quite a few years. I even did that here in Arkansas for a little while. In that job, I assisted in surgeries and did kennel meds and things like that, so it was pretty much behind the scenes. It’s not what you see in the room when the animals are being vaccinated. It’s more like back office medical work.

I did that as a main profession for a while and then it became something I did on weekends and weekend nights.


That’s because I went to work in an office, just reception and admin. I think this was when I started building the foundation for where I am now. This kind of work felt better to me.

Later I became an office manager for Northwestern Mutual, the big insurance company. Then I became an underwriter for MetLife. I really enjoyed that—it was a challenge every day. My reps would write a playbook showing how they wanted their requests for proposals written, and I would come up with a quote depending on what was requested. Using an online platform, I just generated quote after quote after quote. I did that for the whole state of Texas and Louisiana. I was in Houston at this point.

Then MetLife changed everything and I went through a layoff. I’ve been through five layoffs in my lifetime, and eventually I followed family—my mom and brother had moved to Arkansas—and started calling Arkansas home.


In Arkansas, I worked in a veterinary clinic in Conway. I worked in the PR department of Children’s Hospital. I worked as a bartender. It was a crazy time. I just did whatever kept me afloat. Eventually, I went to work for a software company, which is where I met Marie Stacks, who later joined ACDS as Director of Operations.


In December of 2019, I was laid off from the software company. They had a bunch of cutbacks, and of course I wasn’t in a revenue-generating position. I thought, Here we go again. I figured I was destined to be an administrative assistant or a sales assistant forever—it’s just what I do.

That’s when Marie said she wanted me to come to work for ACDS, and not as an administrative assistant. “No,” she told me, “you’re a project manager. You’ve done it for years. That’s what you do.” I didn’t realize how much project management I had done throughout the years until Marie pointed it out. Her saying that just opened my eyes to a whole different possibility—basically, that I could have a career.

“Just hang in there,” Marie said, as I went through the interview process at ACDS. Finally, she said to Executive Director Bill Yoder, “Bill, I want you to interview Kelsey. She’s who I want on the team.”


I’m the very first internal apprentice here at ACDS. Once I came aboard and started networking with our apprentices, I heard so many of their stories. When they become apprentices, working with their employers, they really like it. So when I started seeing that, Marie said, “Hey, let’s get you in some Project Management classes and slide you into an apprenticeship as well.”

Not only did I see that as an opportunity for more education, but I also saw it as an opportunity for me to actually become a representative for ACDS. I started my apprenticeship last July; I did it online, without an instructor. We wanted to see how that would go, so I just dove into it.

I’ve now finished my coursework, but it’ll be another year and half or so before I’ll be a certified project manager. You have to fill out a pretty rigorous, point-by-point online form in order to sit for the test, and you have to have two years of experience before you can take the test. I’m working toward that now.

I think the key to being a good project manager is organization—being organized—and I come by that naturally. In this job, I have to keep up with a lot of moving parts. Take the grants, for example. We didn’t have a system for tracking information, so Marie and I are constantly building spreadsheets and trying to find new and better ways to get the reporting done for grants.

That TITAN grant, there are 86 points of information they require on each apprentice. We can answer some of those questions because there are questions that the sponsor has to answer, but a lot of them we have to get from the apprentice, which means we have to track each of them down.

So when I say in meetings that I’m “chasing paperwork,” that’s exactly what I’m doing. It can be tedious at times, but it’s also fun, because I’ve always liked digging and finding things that we didn’t know about before. And of course the compliance piece of this work is a very big deal. It keeps us all employed.