Sowela grad finds community in a nontraditional field

Published 11:47 am Monday, June 5, 2023

By Emily Burleigh

While attending Sowela Technical Community College, Markell Jolivette, 23, was the only man in his classes. In this female-dominated space, he found community.

Last week he graduated from Sowela with a certificate of technical studies in sterile processing, the cleaning and sterilization of tools and devices used during medical procedures.

Jolivette happened across the degree path while exploring Sowela’s homepage on his computer, but was ultimately led to the career by an innate desire to help others.

He said that he was seeking a supportive healthcare career that limited interaction with the public.

“I am kinda shy, so I didn’t want to be in the spotlight,” he recalled. “I had never heard of sterile processing. So, I looked on YouTube to see what it was all about and after seeing what they do… I was like ‘I think I can do that’… I just really like helping out people.”

When he announced his plans to his family, they were surprised, not because he isn’t capable of the helping type. He is just a bit squeamish. He had also considered surgical technology at the time, but decided against it. “At the time, I was not physically able to put myself in a surgical tech position because of what they have to see.”

“When I told them what I was doing, and that it was all behind the scenes, they said ‘Oh, I can see you in that field.’ ”

His shock came when he entered his classroom on the first day of school, when he realized all of his peers (and his instructor) were women.

Sterile processing is a female-dominated field, as are many other medical professions – nursing, practical nursing, surgical technology.

Career paths are considered nontraditional if one gender comprises less than 25 percent of individuals employed in that field, said Darlene Hoffpauir, Sowela marketing and communications manager.

At Sowela, women entering male dominated fields, such as criminal justice, culinary arts and process technology, is more common, at 8.79 percent. The percentage of men in nontraditional career paths at Sowela is 4.71 percent.

Jolivette was completely unaware that this career path was nontraditional. During his first days, he feared he would face ostracization from his female peers.  “I’m going to be by myself, that’s what I was thinking.”

Those fears were quickly eased, however. “Once we all got comfortable with each other and we all became friends, that’s when I realized that it’s not just male or female, it’s friends and classmates.”

His personal walls began to break down. “I realized that just because I’m a man and they’re all women doesn’t mean we can’t all be working together.”

They are friends now, and the support that he received from his peers enhanced his learning experience.

Female support was prevalent outside the classroom as well. He was led and supported by his mother and grandmother. “They made sure I kept my head on straight… made sure I had the good grades, and to make sure I had fun ,too.”

It took him one year to complete the program, spending one semester in the classroom and one out in the field. This streamlined process helps students enter the workforce faster.

Jolivette said his clinicals at St. Patrick’s and Memorial hospitals brought him comfort. He encountered male peers.

“When I worked the evening shifts, I saw that there were men in there too.” He said they were excited to see him, and offered him plenty of advice. “They said it was an easy way to translate into the medical field… They told me to not feel discouraged… It is a good environment to be in.”

“I would push for more men to be in the medical field… I just really fell in love with it.”

He overcame another fear during clinicals: observing surgeries.

While hesitant at first, he has observed a handful of operations, including a below-the-knee leg amputation. “I think it really helped me better myself and strengthen my stomach too.” This progress has encouraged Jolivette to pursue a surgical technician degree in the future.

His job might take place behind the curtain, but it isn’t easy. “Being behind the scenes is a lot more difficult to do… You really have to make sure that everything is clean and sterile to help the doctors and nurses while operating surgery.”

Jolivette starts his first job as a sterile processor at St. Patrick’s on Tuesday, June 20. While his female peers got jobs at different hospitals, they are still very much in touch.