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Former coal miner pursues nursing at Gillette College in response to energy industry flux

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Ray Burger sits in a college classroom with his wire frame glasses resting upside down on the table in front of him. His deskmate, Eliza Shippy, 40 years his junior, sits beside him as a guest lecturer boots up a presentation on dementia.

Ray Burger

Ray Burger, 59, chats with nursing school classmate Eliza Shippy, 19, at Gillette College during a recent class. Burger opted to enroll in nursing school after he was locked out from his job after 37 years of mining Powder River Basin coal.

In the sea of laptop screens raised in front of his Gillette College nursing school peers, Burger sits beside a pen and paper. Usually known for the colorful shirts that his wife, Dawn, makes for him, he’s instead wearing a light blue nursing school polo with a face mask almost the same color.

Ray Burger

Ray Burger reaches for his glasses before joining a group discussion in his nursing class at Gillette College.

Ray Burger

Ray Burger chats with classmate Darlene Bracht before class at Gillette College March 23.

Ray Burger

Inspirational messages hang from a classroom door in Moorcroft K-8 School as Ray Burger vacuums during his custodial duties March 23.

Ray Burger

A custodian at Moorcroft K-8 School, Ray Burger hopes to take what he has learned in nursing school to one day become a school nurse.

Ray Burger

Ray Burger catches up with fellow custodian Peggy Boardman during his shift at Moorcroft K-8 Elementary the evening of March 23.

Ray Burger

Early morning light spills into the Health Science Education Center at Gillette College as Ray Burger strolls to his first class of the day March 23.

Ray Burger

Following a full day of nursing school nearly 30 miles away in Gillette, Ray Burger finishes his day with custodial work at Moorcroft K-8 School.

Ray Burger

With his days full of attending class in the morning and custodial work into the late evening, Ray Burger listens to audio recordings of his textbooks to stay up to date on the curriculum.

Ray Burger

Ray Burger works late into the evening as a custodian at Moorcroft K-8 School after a full day of attending nursing classes at Gillette College. Burger was one of nearly 600 local coal miners locked out of their jobs for months in 2019 by Blackjewel LLC, which owned the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines at the time. Instead of going back when the new owner called, he decided to go back to school and become a registered nurse.

Ray Burger

As the sun starts to dip behind the rolling plains, Ray Burger takes a moment to pause outside Moorcroft K-8 Elementary, where he works as a custodian.

(2) comments

Ka12

Congratulations Mr. Burger on your career change. It takes a lot of courage to work in an industry for most of your life and then change to a completely new career. We should be thankful that we have Gillette College. The college helped me change careers too. I wish you the best in your new nursing career.

justmyopinion

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