Facebook pixel 60 Years of Stories! Justin Claywell

60 Years of Stories! Justin Claywell

Justin Claywell, 2019 STLCC alum

“I guarantee I could not have afforded to go to any of the four-year schools. I didn’t want to take on huge debt. For me, taking the classes one at a time, having a low-cost means to get an education, and the flexibility that STLCC has with multiple campuses, satellite centers and online options was essential for me getting my degree.”

-Justin Claywell, 2019 STLCC graduate through a partner program with local labor union


In fall 2019, Justin Claywell graduated from St. Louis Community College with an Associate of Arts in applied sciences as part of the tuition reimbursement program provided through his union, the Laborers’ International Union of North America. However, his path to graduation was not always clear.  

Claywell started his time at STLCC in 1996. “I found fascination in architecture, and I saw you could take a couple of years at St. Louis Community College, so I got out of high school and went to STLCC,” he said. While Claywell had a successful start diving into his coursework in math, hand drafting and computer-aided design, he struggled with some of his other classes and ended up choosing another path. 

“I needed to start making some money,” he said. “I was wanting to get a house and get married. At that point, someone told me about the Laborers Union.” He started his career as a laborer through LiUNA’s Apprenticeship program and was a union laborer for the better part of 20 years, working on numerous projects like the $700 million Highway 40 reconstruction in 2008. 

In 2013, Claywell moved from the job site to teaching as a certified instructor at LiUNA’s Eastern Missouri Laborers’ Training Center at High Hill. As an instructor, he often told people about the tuition reimbursement program, where laborers who have gone through LiUNA’s Apprenticeship program can count their apprenticeship as 45 college credit hours toward an Associate of Arts in applied sciences from St. Louis Community College while getting reimbursed by LiUNA to complete the additional 15 credit hours required. Justin Claywell at work

“I was pitching the sale and one day I got to thinking, ‘I went through the apprenticeship program, why don’t I do it?’” He got in contact with Becky Epps at the STLCC Center for Workforce Innovation. “Becky was a joy to work with and got me set up, so I knew exactly what I needed to do to get my associate program done,” he said. He was able to count some of the classes he had taken after high school toward an associate degree and ended up needing only three courses to finish the degree. 

Claywell is especially thankful for the flexibility that STLCC provided, particularly with his two-hour commute to work in each direction. “To do in-person and maintain my career at High Hill never would have worked.” Luckily, STLCC has offered virtual classes for years, and he was able to complete his coursework online in the evenings. 

Nervous to go back to school after so long, Claywell also took advantage of the many schedule options that STLCC offered, choosing a 16-week course to ease himself back into his education and then ramping up to finish his degree by taking two concurrent eight-week courses. 

“It was rewarding to take the course credit I got after high school and the apprenticeship certificate I got in 2001 and combine them with classes and get an associate degree,” he said. While he will always say he did it for himself, he also knows his degree opens up options to continue working after he retires from being a laborer. 

As a final thought on his experiences with STLCC, Claywell wishes more people would be able to take advantage of the reimbursement program that LiUNA offers to get their associate degree. “It can lead to more, especially for the laborers or students that want to become a project manager or estimator. Those are great careers that we need people in, and this program could be a stepping block towards that.” 

Back to top