TACOMA – First wife Jill Biden wearing safety glasses as she walked into Rob Renfro’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration classroom at Bates Technical College on Friday afternoon and greeted students stationed behind electrical panels.
“I love that there are women doing this!” Biden exclaimed when she stopped to chat two students, both women, who told her they could earn a minimum of $30 an hour in the workforce as HVAC technicians.
Renfro explained how the basic training boards are used to teach students to read wiring diagrams, get comfortable with their tools and troubleshoot electrical problems. Biden, who has taught English at a community college in Virginia for nearly 40 years, said her teaching job isn’t quite as complicated.
“Not all students like visual learning – they like hands-on stuff, so this is perfect. Everyone learns differently,” she said. saidwish the students luck in their chosen careers.
Biden landed at Boeing Field in Seattle earlier in the afternoon on a two-day visit to the Seattle area. Her visit to the technical college coincided with National Manufacturing Day and was intended to highlight workforce development programs that connect high school and postsecondary students with technical careers.
On Saturday, she is scheduled to attend a campaign fundraiser for US Senator Patty Murray. Biden will then join Murray and Denis McDonough, the secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, at an event at the Pacific Science Center celebrating the children of military families.
For the past two weeks, staff at the 80-year-old Tacoma college’s south campus have been preparing for Biden’s visit, and on Friday, Secret Service agents and officers — along with members of the Washington State Patrol — swept through buildings with police dogs. before Biden arrived for an hour-long tour.
Lexine Torres, the college’s high school counselor, gathered a group of 15 to 20 students in a small auditorium. As they awaited Biden’s appearance, Torres explained that current high school students earn their high school diplomas and associate degrees, concurrently and free of charge. The high school students learn alongside adult students in a series of trade programs that often lead to apprenticeships, she said.
The college, which then second lady Tipper Gore and sen. Maria Cantwell in 1999, also offers a firefighter training program and firefighter academy, Torres said.
Biden, who was exuberant and warm as she asked various students about their studies, was then asked what it was like to be first lady. She replied that she was honored to visit more than 40 states in just over two years and that she met people from all walks of life.
“It’s just an incredible job because you really feel like you can make changes in people’s lives,” Biden said. “I hope you feel the president and I really tried to make your life better. That’s why he ran for office.”
She encouraged the students to “get involved in your community in some way, because that’s what it’s all about” — to show kindness to their fellow Americans.
Her third stop was at the college’s welding shop, where her red skirt suit and heels looked out of place among the machinery and pieces of metal. One 16-year-old welding student told Biden he already makes $25 an hour and recently worked on a generator at Joint Base Lewis McCord.
The boy presented Biden with a metal nameplate, with “Dr. Biden” written across the face, and told her the gift was a collaborative project he made with his classmates.
“How thoughtful,” she remarked.
Instructor Liberty Olson told Biden that Bates students are in high demand and often offered job opportunities before they complete their studies.
“I think it’s so wonderful. Two-year technical colleges are doing this more and more,” Biden said.
Noting that not everyone wants to earn a four-year college degree, Biden said the students at Bates Technical College seem to be “more focused on what they want to do in life.”
Surround by students and instructors, Biden – still wearing the nameplate she donated – posed for one last photo before waving goodbye and being ushered out the door.