“Do what you love!” Nikki Carlson heard those words from her parents repeatedly when she was growing up. They’ve become her motto while leading her into jobs and activities often dominated by men including firefighting, hunting, strongman competitions and construction. “I go into these activities knowing others may be better or stronger, but as long as I am working my hardest and learning that is all that matters.”
Carlson is a native of Liverpool who earned her GED in 2004 and ventured out into the working world. Several years later a conversation sparked her interest in higher education. She wanted to become a forest ranger. Carlson could earn the degree she wanted from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) after earning an associate degree at Onondaga Community College thanks to a 2+2 partnership agreement between the institutions. “Going to OCC first was a no brainer. I could save money, complete my core courses and get reacquainted with everything attached to going back to school.”
In 2010 Carlson enrolled in the College’s Fire Protection Technology major. She was pleased to learn she would receive college credits for training seminars she attended while serving as a volunteer firefighter. As Carlson worked her way through her first semester she challenged herself to conquer her biggest obstacles. “I was terrified of math. I knew I would have to take calculus and statistics in order to complete my degree so I lived in the Math Lab getting help.” Carlson was able to pass all of her required courses and transfer to SUNY-ESF where she would pursue a degree in Sustainable Construction Management.
Carlson was getting ready to start classes at SUNY ESF in the spring of 2013 when she saw something interesting at a firefighter trade show. “I came across a booth for Hueber-Breuer and was wondering, ‘What was a construction company doing at a firefighter convention?’” Carlson asked the question and learned Hueber-Breuer had an area that specialized in the development of fire stations. She was intrigued. The next day Carlson followed up the conversation with an email to Hueber-Breuer, then forgot about the encounter. Two years later as she was entering her final semester at SUNY-ESF Carlson received a reply. She was being asked to come in for a job interview. “I was floored! I couldn’t believe they had saved that email from two years ago.”
Carlson was hired as Project Coordinator in Hueber-Breuer’s Division of Fire Protection Services. She would start her new job while continuing to pursue her degree. “I worked three days a week and went to school two days a week until I graduated. I felt extremely fortunate. I had a job I was passionate about before I even finished school.”
Carlson has been at Hueber-Breuer for a little more than a year. She still loves to hunt and take part in strongman competitions. She is also a volunteer firefighter with the Liverpool Fire Department where she works out of Fire Station 3. She’s living the “do what you love” mantra her parents taught her. It was all made possible when she decided to go back to school. “OCC felt like home right from the start. I still talk to my professors, especially in the Math Department. I tell everyone I come in contact with if they are thinking about school to go to OCC because it’s there for everyone.”