‘Dirty jobs’ pay middle-class wages

Shortage of middle skills workers a growing concern
A one-year certificate in diesel technology helped Julio Lopez secure a job as a lead fleet technician. Credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College .

Half of teens have “little or no interest” in blue-collar jobs, according to a survey by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA). These are low-paying “dirty jobs,” high school students and their parents believe.

Because of the stigma, Houston is facing a shortage of welders, electricians, pipefitters, machinists, auto mechanics and manufacturing workers, say business leaders. UpSkill Houston is working with San Jacinto College to attract more young people to what are now called “middle-skill” jobs.

Julio Lopez earned a one-year certificate of technology from San Jacinto College’s diesel technology program.  He started as a diesel tech at $18 an hour. After three years and a promotion, he now earns in the “mid- to upper-20s an hour” with the potential to move higher. He loves the work.

“I started as a kid, changing oil and worked my way up to eventually building engines,” he said. “To take something that will not run and disassemble it, repair it, and rebuild it brings a feeling of real accomplishment and pride.”

With a two-year degree in welding technology from San Jacinto College, Emily Choate earned $25 to $35 an hour as a welder and welding inspector. She now teaches welding at San Jacinto.

Welding is an art, said Choate. “It’s like painting, but my canvas is metal, my paint is a weld puddle, and my brush is an electrode. When I drop that hood and strike an arc, the whole world disappears, and it’s just me and that weld.”

First steps in college

Points of Contact initiative helps students make a smooth transition to college
Student tutor Oliver Perrett, left, helps pharmacy technician student Fred Smith in San Jacinto College’s student success center. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College

To prevent “summer melt,” San Jacinto College in Texas is helping students navigate application, registration and enrollment through Points of Contact (POC). Points of Contact presenters introduce new students to financial aid, tutoring services, student life programs and activities, First Year Experience services, career assessment, and guided registration into future courses.

High school graduates are less likely to “melt” over the summer if enrollment and registration is “de-mystified,” says Clare Iannelli, dean of student development at the San Jacinto College North Campus.

The college will track retention and success rates for students exposed to POC.

Shared educational planners at feeder high schools also help students prepare for enrollment, placement testing, course  registration and financial aid application.

San Jacinto offers U.S. history for vets

San Jacinto College will offer a U.S. history course section exclusively for students who are military veterans.

Kearby Lyde, who specializes in military and diplomatic history, will teach the section of History 1302, which covers U.S. history from Reconstruction  through the 20th century. “I have found that my veteran students are, most often, more serious about their goals and their education,” said Lyde, who’s taught at the college for almost 40 years.

 “I think the difference between this course and others will be the veterans themselves and their shared military experiences. They will be able to relate to what their fathers and grandfathers went through, and will be able to look at events in a ‘big picture’ sort of way, finally seeing the long-term effects of decisions made 50 to 100 years ago.”

Veterans who are new to campus will “not feel so out of place” in an all-vet class, said Claudia Milton, a Navy veteran.

The college is providing opportunities for veteran students to build supportive networks, said Eugene Bernard, veteran success coordinator on the South Campus. Veteran students “have started taking classes together and forming study groups amongst themselves. This history course that is exclusively for veterans is a great opportunity for that camaraderie to be extended.”

Computer boot camps help ‘Plus 50″ students

Free computer “boot camps” are helping older learners in the Plus 50 Encore Completion program, reports Community College Daily. Teaching computer skills eases the transition to college and recruits students into workforce training programs focused on health care, education or social service fields.

San Jacinto College (SJC) in Texas calls its computer center  Never2Late, or N2L. It provides flexible hours, tutors and a certification of completion.

“When I came back this time, I was so nervous because every classroom had computers in them,” said Randy, 52. “I’d been in the workforce so long but needed the computer skills, so I knew I had to face this fear.” Counselor Leander Nash walked him down to N2L, he said.

South Arkansas Community College provides an eight-hour basic computer course that is open to all students and free to those over age 50.

In California, El Camino College’s free computer basics boot camp is for adults age 50 and over who have enrolled in Plus 50’s two health care programs, pharmacy technician and medical coding and billing.

Dual diplomas for 2 sets of twins

San Jacinto College dual credit students (from left) Saige and Shianne Willingham; Travis and Trevor Blackwood. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College

Graduation was twice as nice for two sets of Texas twins who earned two diplomas apiece as dual credit students at San Jacinto College and Crosby High School.

Saige and Shianne Willingham and Travis and Trevor Blackwood ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class. All four earned associate degrees through San Jacinto College’s Modified Early College Academy.

The Willingham sisters will be dorm-mates at the University of Houston. The Blackwood brothers will room together at Texas A&M. All four will start as juniors.

Saige plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing as her first step to a career as an anesthesiologist. Sister Shianne has a head start on a petroleum engineering bachelor’s and possibly a master’s. “I am attracted to petroleum engineering because it’s a high demand field, and offers a very good salary,” Shianne said. “Also, I really want to travel and see the world, and travel is frequently a part of a petroleum engineer’s job requirement.”

Petroleum — or mechanical– engineering also interests Trevor.  Brother Travis will study news broadcasting with hopes of becoming a TV news or sports anchor.

Time management was the hardest part of earning a diploma and a degree, said Saige. “We had to get up at 6 a.m. in order to make it on time for classes at the college, and then return later each day for classes at the high school.”

“It took discipline to finish as a dual credit student, but I see it as an investment in the future,” Shianne said.

Astronauts stay fit thanks to San Jacinto alum

Astronauts stay fit aboard the International Space Station thanks to a treadmill designed by a Boeing team led by Craig Tyer. His career started with an associate degree in design drafting from San Jacinto College in Houston.

“I had great teachers that were willing to invest in me,” said Tyer. “Getting an associate degree allowed me to get my foot in the door which then allowed me to demonstrate my value through hard work.”

Because of low gravity on the space station, astronauts need to exercise to keep their muscles from losing muscle and bone strength.

Fighting fire with sound

A student-faculty team from San Jacinto College and the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) are fighting fire with sound waves. The research could be used to extinguish fires on aircraft and during space expeditions.

Acoustic Flame Suppression Mechanics uses sub-woofers to manipulate sound waves.

. . . bass frequencies are tuned through a frequency generator until modified sound waves interact with the fire, displacing the base of the fire and putting it out. “We now have a working model and it has tremendous potential,” commented Nate Wiggins, professor of math and engineering at San Jacinto College.

During a recent demonstration, San Jacinto College and UHCL team members extinguished a candle using nothing but a frequency generator application on a smartphone that was connected to sub-woofers. As the frequency was tuned lower and lower and the bass volume increased, the flame began to tremble, and then to split, and then to lie over to one side. When the sound wave frequency got so low that the speakers began to rattle, the flame separated from the candle wick and went out.

In November, team members will fly aboard NASA’s Zero Gravity aircraft to test their acoustic flame suppression equipment in a weightless environment.

San Jacinto expands Men of Honor

Houston’s San Jacinto College is expanding its Men of Honor program, which provides mentoring, networking and counseling for African-American males.

The college was shocked to learn that only 8 percent of black male students returned for a second semester. Since Men of Honor started four years ago, passing and retention rates have improved for participants.

June 2013-Men of Honor

Aaron Moore earned an associate degree in air conditioning technology. Photo credit: Rob Vanya

Once a gang member “running the streets, using and selling drugs,” Aaron Moore decided in prison to change his life. After his parole, he enrolled at San Jacinto and discovered Men of Honor. “I found mentors, and began to follow their good examples,” he said. “I also shared experiences, hopes, and plans with fellow Men of Honor members. We learned from each others’ experiences, and we would check on each other for accountability.”

Moore hopes to run his own air-conditioning business. He earned an associate degree in air conditioning technology in May and plans to study business at the University of Houston.

Paintball teaches future EMTs ‘care under fire’

Future emergency medical technicians train to provide “care under fire” at a Houston paintball range.  “Mistakes can get you killed,” Ali Shah, a  San Jacinto College Emergency Medical Technology instructor,  told students as a team of experienced EMT students and instructors demonstrated a rescue.

“The team was perfect. No hits during the rescue,” Shah told the debriefing group. “But one member forgot his weapon, and the entire team had to return to the combat zone. When they did, everyone on the team was killed. It shows the importance of paying attention to details.”

Simulating combat with paintball fire teaches “care under fire,” moving patients from danger to a safe area where medics can provide care. Most EMTs won’t go into tactical EMT work, said Cindy Barbee, director of the San Jacinto College North EMT program. “However, there are aspects of care under fire training that apply to any EMT situation – teamwork and communication. Students also learn the importance of quick thinking and putting the needs of a patient first.”

Jarret Hardy hopes to use the training: After earning an associate degree, he plans to enlist in the Air Force. He hopes to serve as a pararescue jumper in the Air Force, then join a firefighter or tactical crew as a medic.  “The training helped to demonstrate who could serve as actual leaders, and how well people work under pressure,” he said.

EMTs train under (paintball) fire

To learn how to provide medical care under fire, San Jacinto College Emergency Medical Technology students crawled on to a simulated barrlefield and dodged paintball pellets while applying torniquets to “wounded comrades.”

 In the scenario, each student tactical team had a designated “wounded” member. Their objective was to move the casualty while under (paintball) fire to a protected area, and then provide medical care for the patient, and finally to move the patient out of the danger zone.

Ali Shah,an EMT instructor at the Houston college and a U.S. Army veteran, said the goal was to provide true-to-life training.  Students had to work together in a high-stress environment.

After the paintball exercise, Edward Hines decided to pursue tactical EMT work. “It’s exciting. I love it.” After earning his EMT degree, he plans to enlist in the Army as a combat medic.