The calls started coming soon after Diane Culpepper became director in June 2010 of Lake Technical College in Lake County -- manufacturing companies that needed skilled welders and employees with computer skills to program computers directing their manufacturing machinery.
The callers were urgent about their needs. Business demand for their products was increasing even as their workforce was beginning to peal off into retirement. They worried that they would have to stop producing products unless the college started turning out skilled employees to fill their ranks.
While Lake Tech was training these employees, they weren’t turning them out fast enough. It didn’t have enough room or equipment to train more.
After three years of wrangling, Culpepper, Lake County, and local manufacturers managed to gather $4.2 million to expand the programs at Lake Tech. Soon the college will be able to train between 50 and 75 more students a year for the jobs manufacturers are calling for.
“The whole community worked very, very hard to make this happen,” Culpepper said.
Never in a million years did Culpepper think she would become a force for education.
She came of age in the 1970s, in the vortex of the feminist movement, eschewing the traditional trades for women -- nurse secretary and teacher.
“I vowed I would never be one of those,” she said.
She fortified that vow by enrolling in Florida Technical University (Now The University of Central Florida) where she became the only female graduate of the university's College of Business in 1975.
From there she went on to spend a good part of her life in education as both a teacher and leader of teachers. The irony makes her laugh and her blue eyes sparkle.
She changed her mind after having children. She figured teaching hours would mesh with her children’s schedules, so she took a job as a business and marketing teacher at Boone High School.
From there she moved into the then-new technology field, setting up the first computer labs in classrooms across Orange County, teaching the teachers how to use and teach the technology to students.
Then she moved into administration, working on technical education for Orange County Schools.
The Lake Mary resident jumped at the chance to work for Lake Technical.
“It is very rewarding,” she said. “We do change people’s lives. We give them skills to provide for their families. I always cry at graduations.”