Mission Wisconsin helped veteran Melissa Sprague and her family find their mission in Wisconsin
When it comes time to start planning your transition out of the military, it helps to have a guide at your side — which is precisely what Mission Wisconsin provided for Air Force veteran Melissa Sprague.
With assistance and guidance from Mission Wisconsin founder Steve Janke, Melissa, a helicopter pilot turned project manager landed a job at SHINE Technologies in Fitchburg, Wis.
Melisa grew up outside Chicago; she joined ROTC in college, then went straight to active duty and spent 20 years in the Air Force. Her husband, who is from North Dakota, was also in the military. So when looking at retirement, the couple wanted to land somewhere between their home states, which left Wisconsin and Minnesota for consideration.
“Right before 20 years, I started looking around. I knew I wanted to come back to the Midwest, and I found Steve’s contact through Hiring Our Heroes. So, I thought, ‘I’ll give this guy a shot, see what he has to say.’” When Melissa made that contact in August 2021, the couple hadn’t settled on a state, “…but Steve sold us on Wisconsin and all the benefits it has to offer.”
Sprague’s initial plan for transition was to work as a SkillBridge intern through Google, but because the company didn’t have a direct-hire program, she would still need to secure a job at the end of the internship.
“Steve was one of the first calls I made … he said after Google, let’s find you a job in Wisconsin, and that’s what happened. I completed the internship in November 2021 and a few months later, reached out to Steve in March 2022. He said, ‘I’ll have you a job in 30 days.’ I thought, no way, but in 28 days, I had one.”
Melissa says that the assistance Mission Wisconsin offers was invaluable to her transition. She notes that it was overwhelming when she and her husband decided to move to Wisconsin; with no ties to the state, they didn’t know where to start. But Steve helped narrow it down to cities that fit their lifestyles and needs.
“As we got closer and closer, Steve was able to tell me about certain features of the cities and help to focus even further, especially with interviews and offers,” says Melissa. “It helped just to bounce things off him. That voice of reason, not connected to my family, was incredibly helpful to get an outside perspective.”
Melissa landed a few offers and ultimately chose SHINE Technologies, which deploys its safe, cost-effective and environmentally friendly fusion technology in a stepwise approach to fusion-driven medical isotopes.
The best thing about Wisconsin, says Melissa, is the people.
“This is the first time we’ve felt I had a community of people. We already lived off base when in the military. You make friends with neighbors, but every two or three years, they’re gone, and you’re starting again.”
Melissa shares that before she and her husband closed on their house, they had already met half their neighbors and were invited to a party a week later.
“It was an instant community. And not a fake one. They’re here to help each other. One of the hard things about transition is you lose your people. That was hard. When I got here, it was the community, the like-minded people in my neighborhood, that helped me manage that. The overall acceptance has been amazing.”
For others making the transition, she cautions that the experience is different for everyone. But the best advice she can offer is that your time and what you have to offer is valuable.
“A scary thing for me is that I switched career fields, and I thought, ‘Can I fill this role?’ It felt like imposter syndrome, but I’m not an imposter. I have very valuable skills not taught in a civilian workplace that I bring to the table that make me just as valuable as others.”
She also advises others to seek assistance for their transition, as she did with Mission Wisconsin.
“[Steve] offered so many resources,” says Melissa. “Everything can be so overwhelming when you transition, and to have someone to help focus you on what really matters, it’s one thing less you have to worry about and makes the experience better.”