Kristyn Pair was born into the “sweet spot” of the middle class that quite a few Oakdale residents fall into: her parents made just enough money to not qualify for financial aid, but also didn’t make an exorbitant amount so she could easily go to college.
Therein lies the decision that plenty of adults have to make: go into debt by going to college, or just go straight into the workforce. Pair chose the latter.
“As I got older, I did kind of flail a little bit,” she admitted. “I didn’t have a set path; I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wanted to be a teacher, a psychologist, a cop…”
However, there was never something that stuck.
“Pair was sleeping on friends’ couches and working four jobs to make ends meet,” Mandy McMillen, managing editor of Engineers News shared.
During this time, she took positions in retail, as a waitress, a dental assistant, at a bank, a “build a bear for remote cars,” but once again, there was nothing lasting in these jobs for Pair.
“It was all jobs and not careers,” she explained.
With a vast array of experience on her résumé, but a line of subjectively monotonous jobs, and with rent and bills piling up, Pair didn’t know where to go.
That is, until one of her friends suggested something along the line of an operating engineer. Basically, heavy equipment and construction central, which was way past her comfort zone at a desk job with AC. Her gut instinct resisted with the “What? No! I’m a girl!” excuse.
But soon “I couldn’t afford rent, I couldn’t afford bills, I couldn’t afford anything ... finally I just signed up and applied,” she relayed.
Pair went in for an initial test, and soon found out that she did well. In fact, so well she got called in for an interview immediately. It all fell together pretty quickly after that: she started an eight week unpaid training where her meals were provided for and she explained she didn’t have any expenses during this time.
“Every new class I started, I would get super nervous,” she revealed, largely concerned about operating equipment, saying it was crazy. “But by the time it was over, I realized it wasn’t so bad ... I ended up being one of the best in each of my classes.”
Just like that, her confidence and skills grew as she continued to pass with flying colors. She knew that she could do well with continued support.
“I ended up with a really great foreman. He was really nice, really patient,” she noted of her first job.
She also had nothing but good things to say of the three-person crew: “They gave me the space to learn and make the mistakes I needed to.”
Pair’s line of supportive teachers only continued, as she spoke highly of her next foreman, Carlos Nunez. She described him as someone who was willing to help her every day and learn what she needed to learn to soon become proficient in other areas.
“It’s really turned into a solid career instead of just another job I was doing,” she enthused, noting that she began to “really gain momentum with something.”
Pair isn’t content with just finding one thing and doing it adequately; she wants to see herself flourish. And so as the flailing feeling departed, this operating and construction job gave her a foundation and structure.
She began this track as someone who was not just nervous about doing something so different than what she’d pictured, but also someone who was intimidated not by just the job but by who she would be working with.
“One of the biggest differences” – aside from working outside constantly without climate control – “was that I went from working with primarily women to primarily men. It’s weird because you can say something and no one can really identify with what you’re talking about,” Pair laughed. But she went on to explain “the guys I work with are so cool and so nice and very supportive and very willing to help me learn.”
Her job title now is an operating engineer with the subtitle of gradesetter.
“I do all of the ground work around all of the heavy equipment. I’m on my feet, I do all the plans, the layout. I make sure all the heavy equipment is doing what it does to get the job done,” she detailed.
Her move to Oakdale would seem strange from the outside; what would a girl who lived in Southern California and briefly Missouri have anything to do with a small little cowboy town?
Initially, it was the commute, finding the Valley Springs to Merced route for work was not the easiest drive to make daily. She found an apartment in Turlock but soon found herself looking around at other rentals. Because she had been flourishing as an operating engineer, her friends encouraged to think about home ownership and a Realtor hooked her up with the USDA loan program.
“But the whole point of the loan is in a rural area ... and then I found Oakdale,” Pair shared.
Though she’d been around the town her whole life, she’d never taken the time to get to know it. Quickly, she knew it was where she was meant to be.
“It’s close to everything but it’s still got that small town feel to it,” she continued. “And the weekend I moved in was Rodeo Weekend. So we were going to Ace Hardware and people were lining the streets.”
It was then she knew she moved into the right town. While some may hide in their houses for that weekend, some may drive across the country to see the rodeos, and some have just becoming accustomed to the bustle, it was this classic town event that made Pair realize she had made a good decision. To not just move into a place, but to move into a community.
Pair said she is now growing accustomed to her new life. Not one in Southern California, behind a desk like she had expected, but here in the Central Valley, flourishing in her trade.
“Having this job has helped me so much to build my confidence,” she concluded. “I’m not avoiding eye contact and I’m just more comfortable. I’ve grown as a person.”