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Napa mom's machine tool training leads to internship at Shell

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Liz McPherson, NVC student, got a machinist internship with Shell Oil

NVC student Liz McPherson was one of two NVC students chosen for a machinist internship with Shell Oil.

Liz McPherson didn’t set out to use her Napa Valley College education to get a machinist job with Shell Oil, but that’s how things are working out for the 27-year-old Napa mom.

The Napa native, educated at Snow School, Yountville Elementary and Redwood Middle School, graduated from Vintage High School in 2007.

“My parents told me I should go to college, but it wasn’t working for me as an art major at NVC,” she recalled.

“I kept choosing work over school, got married, got pregnant and moved to Georgia. A year later I came back to Napa as a divorced, stay-at-home mom. Two years later I went back to school at Napa Valley College.”

First, McPherson intended to get a child development certificate to work in a daycare center, where she could watch her daughter Autumn at the same time. But, by the end of the semester, she had to switch her class schedule to accommodate parenting.

“I ended up taking Machine Tool Technology by accident – I didn’t know what it was. When Professor (Dean) Ehlen started by talking about the danger of getting scalped by machines, I thought ‘What am I getting myself into?’ But once we got started working I fell in love with the trade and knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

Ehlen was very encouraging, she said.

“He always told me that ‘girls are genetically better at the job’ because they have better eyes for detail. I started out as an artist, hoping school would help me become one. Machine Tool Technology is so different from art, but I feel it is still an art.”

Last year, McPherson applied for an internship at the Shell Oil plant in Martinez and got an interview.

“They seemed interested, but told me to finish school, and I got a scholarship through them, for $750 per semester.”

Although McPherson credits Ehlen for jump-starting her career, he retired last year, and the job was picked up by Stan Hitchcock.

“When the time came, at the beginning of this year, Mr. Hitchcock got me to apply to Shell again,” she said. “They noticed I hadn’t applied yet and they called and said I should apply. Her friend Christopher Lemley, a part-time machine tool technician, also pushed her to follow up with Shell.

“They were coming at me from all angles,” she recalled.

Of 50 applicants for two Shell internships, three were selected, including two from Napa Valley College – graduates Shawn Webber and McPherson. They started June 12.

What will happen after nine weeks?

“Shell will realize they fell in love with me and they will give me a job,” said McPherson.

Hitchcock tends to agree.

“There aren’t many females in the Machine Tool Technology trade, and I think that Liz’s knowledge, skills and abilities, thanks to the MTT classes at NVC, along with her positive outlook, help position her as a viable candidate.”

McPherson and her 5-year-old daughter live in Napa with Liz’s fiancé and his 15 year-old daughter, a Vintage High School sophomore.

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