• My Wabash Story: Danielle Strange

    by Aidan Freeman | Jun 15, 2023

    Breakups can be tough, especially when you’ve moved to unfamiliar territory such as a new town. Danielle Strange found herself in a similar situation prior to her journey with Wabash. She grew up in Knox, IN, a quiet town with little company to behold. She had just graduated high school, and like most fresh high school graduates, she didn’t have an exact idea as to where she wanted to go or what she wanted to do. Not wanting to be stuck at home, she moved out of the house and lived with her brother. She moved to Wisconsin with her partner at the time in 2011, opening a new codependence in their relationship. Being in a new state, they had to make ends meet, and from one small town to another, she began working as a waitress at a local restaurant.

    "I just got really socially awkward in front of people," she said. "So, naturally, it just wasn’t for me.”

    Since working as a waitress wasn’t her calling, she began exploring a wide array of different opportunities. From the service industry to elderly physical care, Danielle plunged into a multitude of potential career paths, yet with little to no avail. Everywhere she went didn’t feel right.

    Danielle is creative by nature, enjoys developing things and working with her hands. Many of the jobs she was doing didn’t allow her to tap into that area of expertise. For a while, she took to one of her passions, digital art, to make ends meet. She worked briefly as a freelancer, taking commissions and doing graphic design. However, it wasn’t sustainable. By turning her hobby into a job, it took away the imaginative aspects of it, forcing her into a creative block and ultimately leading to another career pause.

    For a while, Danielle faced some rough waters. She and her partner ended up parting ways in 2015, and she returned to Indiana to get back on her feet. With little direction as to what she wanted to do in her career and just coming out of a breakup, she took matters into her own hands. She started seeking new opportunities in places she hadn’t thought to look before, including the manufacturing industry.

    Danielle’s Wabash Story began in 2016, after her nephew’s father helped her get a foot in the door in Lafayette. He suggested that it would be a way for her to get out and meet people as well as try something new. Danielle was nervous at first going in, as this was an entirely different world than she was used to. She mentioned that when she joined the team, she was rather quiet, staying reserved and keeping to herself.

    "I had my doubts for a while," she said. "I thought, oh, I don’t know if this is for me. But there were so many people there who were very welcoming. They showed you how to do things, so you felt more comfortable in your role. The whole group there was very, very nice."

    Once she found her bearings, she discovered that the environment that initially presented itself as a challenge was in fact extremely welcoming and collaborative, despite her initial perceptions. She did recall that there were "a few groups that stuck to themselves and didn’t talk to other people," but once they opened up, she found herself among good company, including meeting her now-husband, a fellow Wabash employee.

    Danielle started out drilling channels on the floor of the trailers, making sure the conversions had the right number of screws and holes to cement them down. Prior to working at Wabash, she had little to no knowledge of what went into building a trailer or how to use the tools to construct the products. Even in her early years at Wabash, she found herself hungry to learn as much as she could, when she could. During moments of downtime, Danielle mentioned that she would "take time to learn a new job, or potentially even help someone learn a new job if they were struggling with it."

    "There would be multiple times where I’d not really be doing anything," said Danielle. "So, I thought, well, can I go learn this? Or what do I want to learn? I don’t like to stand there and not do anything."

    Danielle’s eagerness for learning new skills has certainly paid off for her! She mentioned that everything has gotten considerably easier. From knowing net zero to being a professional semi-trailer builder, everything she learned was from training at Wabash. To this day, Danielle still finds herself learning something new, and her supervisors have taken notice of her work ethic. Many times, she’s been contacted to ask whether she would consider taking up the opportunity to become a coordinator. She had mentioned that "she’s open to the idea," but she also recognizes that she’s steady where she’s at and is happy to continue learning and growing in her field. She knows her job well and is glad to be around the people she works with.

    "I definitely feel like I’m really getting there," she said. "There are multiple times now where I’m in charge, and people have told me if a coordinator spot opens up, I definitely should take it!"

    Today, in her current role, Danielle assists her coordinator with order placements as well as providing leadership and delegating responsibilities to employees as needed. Depending on the day or night, she will step in to help on the line, especially if a few employees are absent. When Danielle’s coordinator is assisting other areas of the plant, she adopts more of a leadership role.

    "I think it’s really comforting knowing that these people are coming to me when they need something and can’t find their coordinator," she said.

    Danielle is also doing whatever she can to help her employees feel included, as well as raising morale on long nights and lending an ear to those who may be struggling with something personal. From learning Spanish to combat a language barrier to daily check-ins, she’s helping to build a remarkable team every single day.

    "There are some nights where people are stressed out and they really need someone to talk to," Danielle said. "I’m taking the extra step so that I can actually communicate with them and make sure they’re okay."

    To her surprise, she even finds her family becoming invested in her career. Danielle shared that often, she will find her young stepsons and daughter wearing her or her husband’s Wabash hats or shirts, proudly proclaiming that they’re "off to work!". She remarked that those moments gave her pride in what she and her husband do.

    Despite a rough and nervous beginning, Danielle has been able to find a solid work-life balance between her position at Wabash and spending time with her family. She has also made strides in her creative space, returning to her digital art when she has the time to do so.

    "There have been times when it has been difficult," she claimed. "But I’ve found a nice balance, being able to spend time with my dogs and my family too."

    We asked Danielle if she had any advice for those looking to get started in their career:

    "Things will get easier. Don’t be scared to step out of what you’re normally accustomed to. Be willing to take the initiative to learn all these things and put yourself in situations that you’re not comfortable with. It might be a hard situation at first, and you might be really unsure. But once you get that down pat, you’re going to feel great. Go to that spot where you think, ‘Man, that looks difficult. I don’t think I can do that.’ And put yourself in there. It will make you want to learn, and you can. When you finally master it, you can proudly say, ‘I did that.’"

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