In Wyoming, hard work isn’t just a value, it’s part of the Cowboy Way.
Work ethic, taking personal responsibility and keeping a positive perspective are all qualities employers want but report across the board are becoming more difficult to find.
It's what's motivated "Dirty Jobs" TV host Mike Rowe through his mikeroweWORKS Foundation to award millions of dollars in scholarships.
But it's not for a "university experience," Rowe said in announcing the recipients. "It's for apprenticeship programs and trade schools."
That's because Rowe believes today's culture has glorified the "corner office job" while denigrating the jobs that build the corner office.
"We’re redefining the definition of a good education and a good job, because we don’t think a four-year degree is the best path for the most people," Rowe says on his website.
For the foundations’ latest round of awards, 13 Wyoming students were recognized, including Cuauhtemoc Montoya.
“All those things on that list all contribute 100% to having a hard work ethic,” said Montoya, a 27-year-old electrician from Denver who’s moving to Gillette to attend the Wyoming Welding Academy. “It’s about being able to speak up when needed and not be afraid.
“It’s about taking responsibility when you make a mistake. It’s about being reliable and it’s about knowing you don’t know it all and that you can always learn from someone else.”
While those are values that drive Montoya’s pride in working hard and well every day, they’re also the backbone of Wyoming’s legacy industries.
Take A Risk
Montoya’s change of careers is an example of being willing to take on extra work to improve his situation, which attracted the notice of the foundation, which has a mission to push the value of work and work ethic as being undervalued.
“Having the ability to take a risk and not be afraid that maybe you’ll make a mistake and being willing to learn is what made me decide to take the leap and change careers,” Montoya said.
Ian Dalton, 20, is another of the Wyoming scholarship winners who also follows these principles.
Growing up in Jackson, the epicenter of Teton County, the nation’s wealthiest, Dalton witnessed the contrasting lifestyles of his schoolmates from affluent families, many of whom never had to work for anything.
In contrast, Dalton said his parents taught him the importance of earning what he gets.
“I had friends who were driving cars worth $100,000 that their parents bought them,” Dalton said. “My parents would never do that. I honestly have really great parents who taught how to work hard and gave a hard work ethic.”
Lead By Example
That starts at home, Dalton said. He has a strong work ethic because his parents do and modeled that for him at home everyday.
“My parents are hard workers,” he said. “They have always supported me, but I had to earn what I wanted. They weren’t just going to give it to me. But I’m really grateful for that.”
A few years removed from high school, Dalton recently decided to attend WyoTech in Laramie to study auto collision and refinishing. He wants to someday run his own company.
“I’ve been working the past three years and just decided those jobs wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “But I’m glad I got an opportunity to be able to work for a few years and build my skills and learn how to work hard before going to school, because now I can apply the things I’ve learned to school and hopefully keep my head down and finish my education.”
Like her fellow scholarship recipients, Laramie high school senior Leah Perry, 18, is no stranger to hard work. Raised on a hog farm, Perry learned how to roll up her sleeves and complete the day’s tasks without complaint.
She also has something in common with Rowe, who made his name with his popular TV show “Dirty Jobs,” where he would get down and dirty doing the hard, thankless jobs most wouldn’t do.
“Working on a farm is hard work and it’s dirty work, but you learn how to show up every day,” Perry said. “People depend on you to be there. So, having a hard work ethic has always been really important to me. I’ve always worked.
“Even when I was little, before I was old enough to really go out on the farm, I helped my mom around the house and I had chores I was responsible for.”
Perry has dedicated two years to working for a company in Wayne, Nebraska, where she gained valuable experience in auto restoration. Following her graduation, she plans to attend WyoTech starting this summer to further pursue her passion in the same industry.
While the 13 Wyoming students come from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of life goals, they unite in a shared commitment to hard work, a testament to Wyoming’s gritty, down-to-earth values. And each student contributes a unique story that speaks to their Cowboy State character.
The 13 Wyoming students earning scholarships in December are:
Blake Buatte, Laramie
Dalton Bullinger, Cheyenne
Ethan Copenhaver, Laramie
Ian Dalton, Laramie
Jeremiah Duran, Laramie
Preston Green, Gillette
Gavin Guthrie, Laramie
Cuauhtemoc Montoya, Gillette
Julieanne Newman, Laramie
Leah Perry, Laramie
Gabriel Suarez, Laramie
Emily Suddarth, Laramie
Hunter Taylor, Laramie