Tarrant County College students break barriers in many ways. For some, it’s surmounting personal challenges; for others, it’s about overcoming society’s expectations. In this month’s “What’s stopping you?” feature, TCC talks to three women finding success in career fields dominated by men.

Janet (Jo) Onim
Graduate, TCC Fire Academy
Firefighter Paramedic, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

TCC: Why did you become a firefighter?

JO: I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I believe that played a huge role. Secondly, physical activity has always been very alluring for me. I enjoy the results, the discipline, goal setting and challenges. Firefighting put those things together. I tried Corporate America for a few years and felt like a hamster in a wheel, punching in and punching out.

TCC: You were the TCC Fire Service Training Center’s first female class captain. What was that like?

JO: The fact that within about a week of interacting with my classmates, they saw leadership potential in me was a huge honor—but more importantly, it was a great responsibility and opportunity to grow.

TCC: Are there challenges you have faced as a woman? Or does that not factor into your mindset?

JO: The fact that I am female occupies, I would say, the middle part of my mind. Never the forefront—except on the very rare occasion that someone brings it up. It does take, for me, extra effort, time and dedication to hone and condition my physical strength. The other side of the coin is the general perception. It is fun to see the surprise on the faces of people, and especially children, who meet a female firefighter.

TCC: How many female colleagues do you have?

JO: Our employee population includes 17 female firefighters out of 189 certified firefighters, all ranks. That is 9 percent of the total staffing. Since I’ve been hired, more females have joined the force than were on when I was hired, so there is definite growth. Departments are trying to encourage more females to apply.

TCC: What challenges in general do you face on the job, and how do you overcome them?

JO: The job is very dynamic; I have to be agile and adaptable. It also can take a toll on us with some of the hard calls we respond to. I have to ensure I am balanced and healthy mentally, spiritually and physically, so I can come back and do it another day. My family has been my greatest support. I am humbled and honored by them all.

TCC: What advice would you have for students who want to pursue an atypical career?

JO: This is a great country—one that affords us the ability to overcome. Be the person you were created to be. Break barriers. Crack ceilings. If indeed one feels the calling—for most of these careers involve callings—then pursue it with everything you have.

Janet Onim was part of the TCC Fire Academy’s Class 65 in spring 2012. She serves with Dallas Fort Worth International Airport’s Department of Public Safety Emergency Medical Services, Station 5. Onim holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, and a master’s degree in information science from the University of Texas at Arlington.

With more than 60 career technical education programs, TCC enables you to learn more to earn more. Career and technical education. Not Just Genuine… Texas Genuine. tccd.edu/careerpathways

This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas and Marine Creek Collegiate High School students.