One teacher can make all the difference in the career path a young person chooses to follow. At Gainesville’s Lanier College and Career Academy, HVAC instructor Horace Kilgore is one such influencer, and as a result, Melany Rodriguez has found her life’s work in the electrical industry.
“He played a really big part in my life” says Melany, a 2023 graduate of LCCA. “Not just as a teacher, but as a great role model. He builds a relationship and a bond with all his students. He made it really fun. I saw his passion for electrical and I got it. It’s contagious.”
Melany also was influenced by her father, an electrician himself, but she didn’t envision an electrical career when she transferred to LCCA at the beginning of her junior year. Instead she enrolled in the culinary program. However, she soon realized that wasn’t the right fit.
“I told them, ‘It’s just not what I want. Is there any way I could take construction?’” Melany recalls. “And they were like, ‘Yes, if that’s what you want to do, then we’ll put you in there.’
Right away, Kilgore (second photo, pictured with LCCA colleague Kim Guy) was an encouragement to her: “He talked to me about the classes and said ‘Some of the students in here are probably ahead of you, because they started their freshman year, but it’s okay. You’ll catch on.”
She certainly did, picking up concepts quickly and working diligently in her spare time to perfect her craft. She was particularly drawn to a dedicated electrical work area in Kilgore’s classroom.
“I would spend hours and hours in there,” Melany remembers. “I would practice a three-way where I would connect wires through a switch to a light bulb and to an outlet. Just practice and practice, do it again and again until I got it right.”
Competing and Connecting
Despite being a newcomer, Melany entered the SkillsUSA competition for her district and placed second. She then placed first in the regional, which qualified her for the SkillsUSA State Championships hosted by Construction Ready in Atlanta. She didn’t place at the state level, but she was happy just to be there: “I made it that far and it was just awesome to be a part of,” she says.
SkillsUSA also helped foster connections with electrical contractors, including one, Titan Electric, that ultimately hired her. Here Kilgore also was a key influence: Thanks to his many relationships with industry professionals, he’s able to direct students to the ones he thinks would be a good match. He does this at events such as SkillsUSA competitions and the Construction Ready CareerExpo, and he also brings northeast Georgia industry professionals to the LCCA Tool Expo, an annual demo event he launched to help students connect with potential employers.
“My biggest goal is getting the kids a job,” Kilgore says. “They might know what they want to do, but they don’t know the companies, and I just try to [steer them to where] I feel like they would be a good fit for a company. I’m not saying I know everything – by far I don’t – but I know these kids and I know a lot of these companies, because I did construction for 31 years before I started teaching.”
With Melany, he says, it was about halfway through her senior year when he “started really working with her on where she should go. We spent a lot of time digging into careers and talking to different companies.”
Several were vying for Melany’s attention, but as she researched each one, she felt herself drawn to Titan, which offered Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) membership and training.
“The more I chatted with them, the more I was hooked,” she remembers. “It was where I felt comfortable, like, ‘OK, I want to go work with them.’”
Still, Melany knew it wouldn’t be easy, an expectation Kilgore was careful to set.
“One of the biggest impacts was how straightforward Mr. Kilgore was towards me,” she says. “He was very honest. He let me know, ‘There’s going to be challenges, especially because you’re a female in the field.’”
Melany began her electrical apprenticeship with Titan in the company’s pre-fabrication shop. In January 2024, she began twice-weekly IEC classes that are part of journeyman electrician training.
Melany looks up to the female leaders in her industry – including her own superintendent, Lorie Jud, and Wendy Cunningham, the marketing director who recruited and hired her – and she aspires to be a similar influence on young women.
“When I overcome a challenge that 15-year-old Melany would assume she could never overcome, I feel stronger,” she says. “I feel like I’m Wonder Woman. I see myself in the future as my own CEO, and I see myself talking to younger females and inspiring them.”
She’s already had opportunities to do just that through Be Pro Be Proud Georgia, which introduces Georgia high school students to technical careers through campus visits and interactive experiences. She spoke to students as part of a Be Pro Be Proud tour that included a stop at LCCA, where she offered advice to two former classmates who were considering electrical careers.
Melany’s dream is to ultimately own an electrical business and give bilingual laborers greater employment opportunities and training.
“We used to pass by this local supermarket here in my town,” she explains. “Every day I would see all these hard-working men, laborers, waiting for someone to pick them up, and I would think, ‘This was my dad 18 years ago. When I get older and I’m a CEO one day, I’m going to train them and give them an opportunity just like my dad got.’”
With a vision like that, Melany is headed for great things. An attitude of selflessness helps her see the needs of people around her, and a heart full of gratitude ensures she won’t forget who helped her get started.
“I’m beyond thankful for the experience and the opportunities Mr. Kilgore gave me,” she says. “I enjoy challenges and learning new things. Every day I’m learning something new. I really love my job in electrical work. I do have a passion for it.”