Eyes Wide Open

La Crosse native Michael Roskos is just like any other student in Western’s Welding program. He has assignments, asks questions to his instructor, and visits the Union Market on his lunch break. By all accounts, Roskos is just a student eager to learn all he can.

But what is apparent right away – his age. He just happens to be a 54-year-old former surgeon.

“I’m nine years older than my oldest instructor,” he quips.

Welding student Michael Roskos

During his time as a surgeon, Roskos conducted routine appendectomies, gall bladder removals, and trauma-related emergency surgeries. He’s saved countless lives and improved the health of the overall region during his 23-year medical career.

But his life changed last spring. Roskos enjoys spending outside, and on one day he was chopping wood in a forest near his house. While chopping, a small tree rebounded towards him and hit his right eye, leaving him blind. After two surgeries and the introduction of glasses, much of that eyesight returned. Nonetheless, the damage meant his surgical career was over.

“Nobody could decide but me whether I could go back to surgery,” said Roskos. “Everyone has to take my word for it. I had to decide my own fate and in good conscience. I could never be what I used to be.”

Newly retired, Roskos looked for other opportunities outside medicine. His interest quickly turned to welding, an interest that dates back to his childhood. His best friend’s father was a welding instructor at Western, and he was always interested in the process, trying to better understand how metal is put together. It’s what led him to enroll at Western this fall – at 54.

“My kids love it,” he laughs. “They think it’s funny when we compare school notes.”

After a decade-plus of schooling becoming a surgeon, Roskos was back in the classroom, albeit in a welding lab. It hasn’t always been easy, he says. Getting back into the college routine can be difficult. With no prior experience welding, it’s been a challenge keeping up in class. He puts pressure on himself, but he believes his prior career is helping in class.  

“You need to have good depth perception in welding, as in surgery,” he says. “But you need to learn how to learn again. I had to learn to ask for help.”

Through it all, however, is a determination to see his latest challenge through. He spends extra time with instructors, asking questions and getting hands-on practice right away, something much different at a technical college than in medical school.  

“It’s so fun to be able to do things right away in the lab,” he said. “You know right away why you are learning each skill.”

He doesn’t want attention, but wants to show people his age that anyone can go back and learn a new skill. Life is never too short, even when something unexpected happens.

“At 54, you can do a lot still.”

To learn more about Western’s Welding program, visit www.westerntc.edu/welding.