Morgan Taylor/Multimedia Producer
HENRYETTA, Oklahoma – The partnership between Muscogee Nation Reintegration Program and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology continues to help break generational curses after graduating the fifth class of the Fiber Optic Technician program on June 23, with the sixth class starting just a couple of weeks later on July 11.
Of the 16 participants in the most recently completed course, 15 enrolled are tribal citizens. The graduates included Robert Bailey, Micah Burgess, Payton Combs, William Fish, Dylan Froehlich, Frank Harley, Robert Harley, Brannon Murphy, Derrick Ross, Bryson Unah, Yahv Williams, Ty Whitlow, Tyler Pettit, Georgie Proctor, Asa Mitchell, and Taylor Snelson. The RIP staff mentioned Frank Harley and Georgie Proctor as outstanding participants in the group.
Tim Caudle, the instructor from OSUIT, claims that the program has graduated 57 students in a year.
According to Mark Harjo, MCN RIP Outreach Specialist, the class has done more than give jobs but has also encouraged program participants to break the stigmas that a formed against them and be examples to their children.
Harjo spoke of a story of a distant relative he saw coming through RIP after 20 years had passed since they had last seen each other. Harjo informed him of the opportunity that the relative took.
After speaking with each other, Harjo asked him what he expected to get out of this program and what he wanted out of life.
“He said, ‘I want to break that curse,” Harjo said.
The relative went home and told his young son about the opportunity, and his son replied, “Can I do that too when I get older?”
“To see that and hear that,” Harjo said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Caudle claims to be of Cherokee descent, and even though he is not an enrolled citizen, past oppression of Natives drives him to participate in the partnership and keep teaching.
“Their dad was incarcerated, their grandpa, their great grandpa, their uncles, their whole family,” Caudle said. “It’s time to break that cycle. Start now. If you are not going to be the one to change it, history will repeat itself.”
As days are spent mentoring these participants, who may be felons and come from family lineage impacted by generational trauma, Caudle develops close relationships and bonds with each of them.
Harjo mentioned how it is not uncommon that some participants coming into the Fiber Tech program lack stability and have little to no support system in place.
“Being able to create this opportunity is life-changing,” Harjo said.
The guidance that the partnership between RIP/OSUIT offers the participants even beyond the RIP program participants through this course may be something that prevents them from ever having to travel down a path of crime, Harjo claims.
“Where there is a lack of employment, people tend to sell drugs or steal.”
With the need for fiber techs across the country, some may have an opportunity to work out of state while making money they may not have had the chance to make without the program.
“If they give me just eight weeks of their life, I will change their life forever,” Caudle said.
The success of the course has risen to back-to-back eight-week courses since the first class of nine graduated last September, with more participants graduating every eight weeks with guaranteed job placement.
Initially, the course was intended for participants of the RIP but has been opened to get more enrollees, and now the classes are filling up almost as soon as applications are opened.
“We’ve done numerous training in the past, but this seems to be really taking off and changing the lives of our citizens,” Harjo said.
Caudle has developed an extensive network in the industry over 46 years. This benefits the participants as they seek opportunities after earning their certificates.
“We are batting at 100%,” Caudle said. ” By the time they graduate, they already have job placement. They graduate on Friday, and most students start working Saturday morning.”
Many former students have moved forward in their careers, starting at the ground hand and moving up to lead linemen and supervisors.
Kalil Lewis participated in the third class and now assists one of Caudle’s long-time friends in running his “aerial line” business. Lewis uses his climbing skills daily in his newly found career.
Before applying for the course, Lewis was playing college baseball when the pandemic suddenly took away the season, leaving him at a loss. With Harjo’s help using the MCN Employment and Training services to fund him, he could not be more proud of himself at 23 years old.
“I always wanted to be successful whatever God put in my way,” Lewis said. “God blessed me with this opportunity and just picking up and running with it.”
The physically demanding job is not for the weak, so the pole assessment is done beforehand as most of the course work is done climbing poles.
“I have a friend who is a drill sergeant and even three in this class with past military experience that said it was harder than boot camp,” Caudle said.
Fiber optic linemen work in the telecommunication industry to install and repair fiber optic cable. This cable supports the world’s Internet, television and phone systems. The insulated cable casing contains strands of glass fibers designed for long-distance, high-performance data networking and telecommunications.
The industry is growing and well paid, starting from around $17 an hour to $50 depending on the company. Caudle claims that the latest data shows the Nation is experiencing a shortage of 400,000 laborers in the industry.
Anyone can apply, but the RIP participants have the first available spots. Muscogee citizens, other tribal members, and then the general public may fall in after if a funding source can be verified and also pass the climbing test as a part of the interview process.
The first class graduated nine participants. For those seeking information on the Fiber Optic Tech class, please reach Mark Harjo at 918-549-2632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.