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Apprenticeship Randolph honors first graduates, signs 14 more
by Megan Crotty
ASHEBORO (Aug. 17, 2021) — Several local administrators and politicians, along with faculty and staff from Randolph Community College, the Randolph County School System, and Asheboro City Schools; family, and friends gathered on RCC’s Asheboro Campus on Tuesday, Aug. 10, to both celebrate Apprenticeship Randolph’s inaugural graduating class and witness 14 more apprentices signed to the program.
The evening started with a celebratory dinner for the graduates in RCC’s Armadillo Café.
Chris Harrington, outgoing AR Chairman and the Director of Operations at Elastic Therapy Inc., opened the dinner welcoming everyone in attendance, noting that every company represented at the event were founding partners that helped start the program. He then introduced the eight graduates, having them stand to be recognized as their name was called.
“It wasn’t too long ago when we kicked off this thing called Apprenticeship Randolph,” Harrington said. “We had some mentors that helped guide us, but we built the car as we were driving down the road. We’re very proud of this first cohort. It took a lot of flexibility and adaptability. I also want to thank everyone that helped the program and these eight gentlemen — they didn’t do it by themselves. In addition to the schools, the College, the companies, and other community organizations, we want to recognize the family members, the mentors, and the people in the support network that’s so critical to success.”
After RCC Pathways Activities Coordinator Stacey Miller gave the invocation, guests were invited to have a catered dinner. Diane James, incoming AR Chairwoman and Director of Operations at Hubbell Industrial Controls, then introduced Brandon Hill, who boasted the highest GPA of the graduates, to speak.
“I just want to say what a ride it’s been the past four years,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. To our families and significant others, thank you. Your support throughout this whole process has gotten us to where we are today. You didn’t give up because you wouldn’t let us give up. To all of our instructors, we appreciate the time and knowledge you shared with us. To Apprenticeship Randolph, the school partners and the community partners, thank you for your support and the development of this program. You give students an alternative to a university, employment, and a pathway to success. Thanks to you, the eight of us graduating are not buried under student loans and have a college degree and great career.”
Harrington introduced the dinner’s keynote speaker, AR founder and CTE Director of Secondary Pathways for Guilford County Schools Nancy Cross.
“I’ve dreamed about this day for four years — not because of me, but because of the young men whose graduation we are celebrating tonight,” she said. “How did we have the nerve to ask industry partners to take those babies into their companies? But they did it and you did it and we’re so proud of you all. I wanted to say something really important for this magnificent milestone in your journey. I wanted to share the most insightful, incredible, helpful advice. Instead, I decided to relate it to children’s literature — it’s one of my passions — because it really sums up what I’ve watched you go through the last four years.”
Cross then read “Three Little Engines,” a retelling of “The Little Engine that Could” featuring three engines that encounter different challenges as they take their final test before graduating.
“That’s not really the end,” Cross said after finishing the book. “Just like graduation for you is not the end. Think about the track that you traveled to get here. Some of you have parents and family members who supported you, you made good grades, you didn’t struggle quite as much in that online class as your friends did. There were 14 of you four years ago at the signing event. There are eight of you tonight.
“If you look at the Apprenticeship Randolph logo, there are two hands at the point of the arrow. That was intentional, showing business and education joining hands. Another reason there are two hands is we all need a helping hand. Sometimes we are the helping hand. My challenge to you eight amazing young men is — you give a helping hand to another apprentice so that they, too, may realize their dream.”
James closed the dinner.
“Graduates, we are so excited for your future,” James said. “Don’t forget the ones who helped you along the way. Become a mentor, like Nancy said, for those who are new. We know you will do amazing things.”
The celebration then moved to the R. Alton Cox Learning Resources Center Auditorium for the graduation and signing ceremony. Harrington gave the opening remarks and introduced Cross as the keynote speaker.
“There were so many people involved in starting Apprenticeship Randolph,” she said. “It was a perfect aligning of stars. It was not a single-handed event at all.”
Cross then shared some facts about apprenticeship — how employers gain a customized talent pipeline and students earn progressive wages, learn valuable skills, and obtain nationally-recognized credentials, before telling her own story — how her parents were CTE educators and the lessons she learned from her grandfather.
“The secret formula came from the threads my grandfather gave me over those years.” Cross said. “The threads were used to weave the fabric that was Apprenticeship Randolph.”
Those include: Use the right tools to do the job, use the tools correctly, and leave it better than you found it.
“To our graduates and our new apprentices, you are a part of something very special,” she said. “Congratulations to each and every one of you.”
Following Cross, Nathan Johnson, a pre-apprentice with Technimark LLC, addressed the audience.
“I first want to thank the company partners, schools, community officials, and all the parents and guardians for joining us to celebrate this momentous occasion,” he said. “Without you all, we wouldn’t be here today. When I went to the week-long orientation, I was overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure of what to expect. However, as we moved through the week, I gradually gained a sense of direction. The acceptance into the pre-apprenticeship was a blessing and a very weighted pressure. Apprenticeship is not a light matter, nor is it a simple one. However, it is something that everyone that has the opportunity and the determination should take. The apprenticeship will not only polish your abilities, but also your character. That first paycheck will be your first true step into adulthood. The people I have worked with have shown me great kindness and inspiration. The companies have shown us patience and generosity for giving us this opportunity. I would like to thank my fellow apprentices for embarking on this journey with me.”
The 14 pre-apprentices then each came up onstage to sign their apprenticeship contracts with industry partner representatives.
“I knew I wanted to do something with my hands and didn’t want to go a university for another four years. This is perfect,” said new apprentice, Reece Beeson, who signed with United Brass Works Inc. “I was able to meet [United Brass Works] early on multiple times. I feel like they’re a good company, very family-oriented. I love to tinker. I love to take stuff apart and put it together and see how things work.”
Beeson said he wasn’t concerned about a four-year commitment.
“It’s just a number,” he said. “If you’re doing something you like, it won’t take long.”
After congratulating the new apprentices and noting that Henry Ford started out as an apprentice machinist, James introduced Hill as the graduation speaker.
“To say that Apprenticeship Randolph has been a blessing in my life would be a huge understatement,” he said. “In 2018, I was set to graduate from Randleman High School and I had no clue how I was going to pay for college. This program fell into my lap at the perfect time. Apprenticeship Randolph offered college and career at zero debt. I knew I wanted to work with my hands, use my talents, and challenge myself on a daily basis. I told myself that four years wasn’t that long and I wasn’t doing it alone.
“Looking back, if I was just getting into the program, I would tell myself not to worry, try your hardest, and give it your best shot because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change your life and your family’s life. Be willing and open to learn from your mentors. These mentors we have are amazing people. Some are mothers and fathers, and they are ultimately teachers and sacrifice their time to help us grow. Take pride in your work, knowing that it makes a difference in the world. All of those in the program are going to be your support structure for the next four years; take any opportunity to be there for each other. Hopefully, after summer semester 2025, you will graduate together with the world at your fingertips.”
Before introducing RCC Vice President for Instructional Services Suzanne Rohrbaugh, Miller thanked Hill for his wonderful words.
“I have had the privilege and honor of getting to know our eight graduates during their time here at RCC,” she said. “I sincerely appreciate the open communication they have and the opportunity to cheer them on from the sidelines.”
Rohrbaugh formally presented the graduates and the eight turned their mortarboard tassels.
“We do take great pride in seeing your success,” she said. “We feel like tonight we’ve come full circle. There were a lot of hours put in to getting us to this point. Every leg of that stool stood tall, stood firm. Congratulations, your grit, your determination, your persistence, you never gave up. You made it, and you should be really proud of yourselves for that.”
Miller then introduced each apprentice, who stood with their respective industry partners, Harrington, and Rohrbaugh to receive their diploma, certificates, and credential. The eight graduates each left parting advice for future apprentices along with a message of thanks.
James closed the ceremony, giving special recognition awards to Cross, Harrington, and Jaeco Precision Inc.’s Jeff Callicutt, who was an original co-chair of AR — a clock made in the RCC machining lab.
Among those in attendance were Senator Dave Craven, Randolph County Commissioner Hope Haywood, Asheboro City Schools Superintendent Aaron Woody, Randolph County School System Superintendent Dr. Stephen Gainey, Asheboro/Randolph Chamber Director of Operations Julie Fowler, North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) Vice President of Economic Development Dr. Bruce Mack, NCCCS Director of ApprenticeshipNC Kathryn Castelloes, and RCC Vice President for Administrative Services Daffie Garris.
The graduates, who also will be participating in RCC’s Curriculum Graduation on Aug. 27, each received an Associate of Applied Science in Manufacturing Technology, a Certificate in Manufacturing Technology, a State Apprenticeship Certificate, and a National Journeyworker Credential. The members of AR’s inaugural graduating class (with company and job title) are:
- Nikolaus Gumbas (Sapona Plastics LLC, Journeyworker: Mechatronics Technician),
- Brandon Hill (Hubbell Industrial Controls Inc., Journeyworker: Electronics Technician),
- Dustin Hill (Technimark LLC, Journeyworker: Tool & Die Maker),
- Jonathan Mroczkowski (Jaeco Precision Inc., Journeyworker: Maintenance Technician),
- Nicolas Pless (Mohawk Industries Inc., Journeyworker: Maintenance Technician),
- Monroe Presnell (Mohawk Industries Inc., Journeyworker: Maintenance Technician),
- Zachary Ratchford (Technimark LLC, Journeyworker: Tool & Die Maker),
- J.J. Warren (Technimark LLC, Journeyworker: Maintenance Technician).
The new apprentices (with high school) are:
- Randolph Community College — Damion Meadows (Uwharrie Ridge 6-12), Christopher Rudd (Uwharrie Charter Academy).
- Elastic Therapy Inc. — Aidan Whitmire (Providence Grove High School),
- Energizer Holdings Inc. — Joseph Modery (Southwestern Randolph High School),
- Hubbell Industrial Controls Inc. — Pearce Harper (Wheatmore High School),
- Jowat Corp. — Lindsay Pearce (Southwestern Randolph High School),
- Mohawk Industries Inc. — Wesley Hodgin (Wheatmore High School),
- Oliver Rubber — Ayden Burgess (Asheboro High School), Chase Thomas (Providence Grove High School),
- PEMMCO Mfg. — Zane Emerson (Trinity High School), Gage Smith (Uwharrie Ridge 6-12),
- Sapona Plastics LLC — JD Bennett (Trinity High School),
- Technimark LLC — Nathan Johnson (Southwestern Randolph High School),
- United Brass Works Inc. — Reece Beeson (Randleman High School).
Apprenticeship Randolph began in June 2016 as a collaboration among Randolph Community College, the Randolph County School System, Asheboro City Schools, the Asheboro/Randolph Chamber of Commerce, and local manufacturers. The goal was to bridge both the interest and skill gaps in modern manufacturing and provide a vehicle for expanding the workforce pool for advance manufacturing in the county. With tuition funded through Career and College Promise and the N.C. Youth Apprenticeship Tuition Waiver Program and books paid for by the school systems and the participating companies, Apprenticeship Randolph produces an educated, skilled, debt-free workforce.
The program, which is for high school juniors and seniors, begins with a six-week, pre-apprenticeship summer program that consists of RCC classes and 40 hours per week of on-the-job training. Once a business selects its apprentice after this trial period, the program is spread over four years with students receiving paid, on-the-job training while earning an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Manufacturing Technology or Information Technology through RCC and a Journeyworker Certificate from the N.C. Community College System and U.S. Department of Labor.