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Climbing coconut trees prepares student for lineworker career | Bismarck State College

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Climbing coconut trees prepares student for lineworker career


Growing up in the island nation of Tonga, located in the South Pacific Ocean, gave Sikotilani (Koti) Sheffield Palanite the passion and skills needed to excel at BSC’s Lineworker program. 

Palanite’s village didn’t have electricity until 1995. “I remember my brother and I would fight over who would get to flip the one switch in our house that turned the light on or off. I was always thankful for the power people who gave us light at night. I told my brother that when I grow up I want to be one of those to send power to my other cousins who didn’t have electricity then.”

His upbringing not only gave him a passion for this field of work, but it also made Palanite very talented at one of the critical skills needed for the job – climbing. “As kids, we only went into our house to sleep, so the majority of our days was spent outside climbing coconut and mango trees and hanging out at the beach.” As a result, the heights involved in lineworking don’t bother him at all. His biggest challenge is remembering to use the safety gear instead of free climbing the poles. 

Palanite’s journey to attending BSC began when he first came to the U.S. in July 2008 on a two-year stint as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. During that time, he met the Sheffield family in Minnesota. They were so supportive to him, he said he became part of their family. After he returned to Tonga, Charla Sheffield coordinated a student visa, enabling him to return to the U.S. for college. He attended Normandale Community College in Minnesota. 

Through church activities, he met his now wife in 2012. After they were married, she got a job in Bismarck, which brought them here. As far as attending BSC, he said he knew he wanted to continue his education. When he found out BSC had a lineworker program, he was all in.

Palanite said his lineworker classes are the most exciting part of his day, second only to being a dad to his three children. “My kids are my biggest motivation in school.”

He has so excelled at the program, his professor has encouraged him to complete a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Energy Management. Palanite said he’s looking forward to continuing on to earn that degree. 

His professors are impressed with him, and he is likewise impressed with BSC and the program. “I suggested BSC’s lineworker program to a couple of my friends for their high school children, and even to my relatives back in Tonga.”

Palanite hopes to get a lineworker position right after graduating and would like to stay in Bismarck, a place that has become home.