Tonya Fisher always has the wheels spinning.
Whether it’s at work at the Goodyear tire plant in Topeka, Kansas or in her brilliant mind as an inventor.
The wheels are constantly moving.
Fisher, a 29-year tire builder for Goodyear at USW Local 307, has used her ICD benefit to do a lot of things, including earning her bachelor’s degree at Washburn University.
It wasn’t easy, but one of her dreams became reality.
“It took me 12 years, a class here and a class there, but I’ve got it,” Fisher said. “They can’t take it away. I think for me, even though it wasn’t my money, once I start something, I’m finishing it. Even as a young child, I have to see things to completion. That’s just always been my mantra – you start something you finish it.”
Fisher has continued chasing her educational dreams. She’s using her tuition assistance through the ICD program and is currently working on a certification specializing in patents, copyrights, and trademarks online through the University of California-San Diego.
Fisher recently won an $8,000 award – earning first-place honors – during the “pitch competition” through Washburn University. She has designed seven hair-styling combs for dread-locking and the retightening process.
“I looked around the room and there were 50-some college kids and I’m a Steelworker here hanging around,” Fisher recalled. “I started winning a couple rounds and then starting thinking, ‘I can win this thing.’ I ended up taking the top prize.”
The success didn’t end there. Two weeks later, Fisher jumped into a local competition through the Greater Topeka Partnership.
Chalk up another victory.
“The funny thing is I wasn’t selected (initially),” Fisher said. “They announced eight finalists and then I got a call. They said, ‘Hey Tonya, will you make a pitch?’ I ended up winning another $8,000.”
Additionally, Fisher has another invention – a plastic prototype “jar cap” – that she’s teamed up with Kansas State to produce prototypes for her designs through the school’s Technology Development Institute. Fisher designed a cap for a jar which allows the user to customize how the container is used. The next step is for a corporation to take it on.
Fisher worked on the management side at Goodyear before she joined the union.
“It was 1994, I was 23 years old and just starting college,” Fisher said. “They said, ‘We’ll work with your schedule.’ I started working 12, 16-hour days and that became really depressing as a young worker.”
Fisher kept a family tradition going when she joined the hourly ranks.
Fisher said she got her drive from her mother and father. Her dad, Joseph Fisher, worked and retired from the Goodyear plant, and her brother, Joseph Jr., and sister, Lisa Cohen, are current union members at the plant.
“I heard about ICD and how they covered tuition reimbursement. I said, ‘Sign me up,’” she recalled. “Without the ICD training, the resources, the possibilities, none of this would have happened like it happened.”
That’s why Fisher hasn’t stopped in her educational journey.
She’s also working on a carpentry certification with her brother, Joseph, at Washburn Tech.
“I have experience in carpentry and framing. At one time when I was out of work at Goodyear I framed my entire basement by myself in three weeks,” Fisher said. “I really wanted to use the ICD funds to continue this because I’m close to retirement and I wanted to lock some stuff down and get some training.
“One day I want to mentor young kids to help them identify what it is that they LOVE, at an early age, instead of waiting until retirement to tap into that,” she said. “I’ve noticed an absence of minority youth in some of these technical programs and want to bring about awareness. When a corporation closes its doors, it’s really these hands-on, technical skills that are going to allow you to support yourself financially.”
This is one reason why Fisher, during the strike in 2006, enrolled in barber school and completed the 15-month program in nine months due to her determination.
“I want to pass on some of my knowledge – it’s just not right to keep it to myself,” she said.
Fisher has her eye on retirement, but thanks to ICD she’s not going to stop chasing her dreams.
“ICD has led up to where I am now, and I’m ready to do some big-boy stuff,” she said. “You get financial assistance, you find out you can further your career -- it's incredible.
“None of this would be possible without that ICD jumpstart.”