Russell Man Forges New Future after Steel Mill Layoff

Sarah D. Burroway

For The Ashland Beacon


Photo By: Angy Ross

   It’s tough to deal with life circumstances like layoffs and job loss without feeling like it’s the end of the world.  But, for Marty Conley of Russell, losing his job at AK Steel two years ago created circumstances that helped him establish a new career and a great outlook on life.

   The 44-year-old husband and father will complete his Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Management at the end of the upcoming summer term at Ohio University Southern.  Conley’s 10-year stint as a steelworker ended in May 2017, when the mill announced a mass layoff for economic reasons. “I had some college and vocational hours after graduating high school but had always worked full-time and never earned my degree,” Conley said.  “(Because of) this lay off, I was able to continue my education.”

   Conley’s son, Jake, had earned an Associate degree in Electronic Media from Ohio Southern, so Conley decided to explore his options for going back to school as a Bobcat.

   Returning to the classroom can be challenging, Conley said. “I had not been in college for 20 plus years and this was all new to me. It definitely took some getting used to.” Although Conley felt knowledgeable in technology, he said he didn’t realize how much of today’s higher education experience is done online. “Applying for college, registering for classes, taking classes and reading textbooks can all be done online, and this was new to how I had done things in the past,” he said.

   As a non-traditional student, Conley added a campus-based job to his schedule and worked part-time in the admissions department as a Student Ambassador. “ I enjoyed this position, helping those that needed assistance with the applying process and as a non-traditional student, I could talk with those students that may be coming back or starting school a little later in life,” said Conley.

   With uncertainty in the economy, Conley said job loss and career change are possible for most anyone.  He said the best advice he can give someone facing the situation that he has been in is, don’t stop.  “Losing a job or changing a career are life-changing events; it hurts and is difficult.  People will offer advice saying, ‘When one door closes, another opens,’ to encourage you through your lay off or job loss, but this piece of advice is true.”

   Conley said some life experiences are uncontrollable, “so we need to press on and work on improving the situation.” He said being able to provide for his family during his transition from employment to education was stressful. “As a father and husband, I felt that I had let my family down, but they are great support staff and have encouraged me through this process.”

   Support from OHIO Southern faculty and staff has been invaluable to Conley’s path toward a new career. He said faculty, staff and other student workers were great resources.  “Believe me, I had a lot of questions through my process and the entire staff has been great.”

   Conley’s manager in the Admissions Office was Oreatha Murray, recruiter for OHIO Southern. “(She) has been beneficial to me for the opportunity to help the campus” in his work as a Student Ambassador. He also credits his advisor, Ella Jones, associate professor of Applied Business/Applied Management with assistance in staying on track toward his degree.  “She has been a great resource for me to talk with through this whole experience,” he said.

   Jones calls Conley “a standout student, a standout individual.” She said he has such a strong work ethic in and out of the classroom. “I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Marty as he has followed an intense path to complete his Bachelor of Science degree (BSAM).I look forward to watching Marty as he builds on his successes and establishes himself as a strong leader in his future career,” Jones concluded.

   And, even though his pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree is nearly complete, Conley isn’t finished with education just yet. “Upon graduation at the end of the summer session, my goal is to continue with my education, working toward my master’s degree.”

   With new goals in mind, Conley said he appreciates his family’s support during his layoff and return to college. “My wife, Amber, and children, Jake, Hunter, Marlie, and Kaylie (showed) understanding of the situation that I was faced with (during the layoff),” he said. “My entire family has been a huge help to keep things positive,” said Conley. “I appreciate them all.”

   Since working on his degree at OHIO Southern, Conley said he hasn’t had much free time, but he has worked as a freelance photographer in the Tri-State, covering high school, college and professional sports for media outlets in the region. “I’ve also worked as a concert photographer (and) enjoy working in photography,” he said. “But, the networking and meeting people have been the most gratifying experience for me,” said Conley.

   This spring, Conley accepted a new job as director of the Lawrence County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said he hopes to be “an asset to the area, to help promote and encourage the workforce to view our community as a great place to live and work.”