Armando Gonzalez sat in a classroom on the Havelock campus of Craven Community College (Craven CC) in the fall of 2005. The class contained just a handful of other students, with everyone soaking up all the information the instructor presented. Gonzalez listened attentively and participated as his class took part in an interactive video conference, which allowed him to attend the same engineering lectures as students inside a classroom at NC State University.
Gonzalez was a hardworking student who was willing to put in the effort, making him a perfect fit for the Engineering Transfer Program, a unique partnership between Craven CC and NC State. The program enabled him to complete the first two years of courses through Craven CC and transfer to NC State for the final two years.
For Gonzalez, a Texas native, the program was a second chance at college. After graduating high school in 1990, he got his first taste at a local Texas college. He got sidetracked with the non-educational aspects of college life and things quickly went downhill, so he transferred to Texas A&M to give it another shot. Again, he lacked the maturity to succeed in college, so he joined the U.S. Army. While stationed in Fort Bragg, he got married and started a family.
At the time of his discharge in 2000, Gonzalez had grown up a lot. He worked several jobs and eventually happened upon an advertisement for the engineering program. He decided to give it a try, and it turned out to be exactly what he needed.
He excelled in his role as a seasoned student, and he also worked as a math tutor in what is now the Academic Support Center at Craven CC. Gonzalez completed the two-year program at the college’s Havelock campus in 2005 and decided to finish out the rest of the program at NC State in Raleigh. The program now offers the choice of earning a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree with a concentration in Mechanical Engineering Systems right from the Havelock campus.
“Craven Community College is the only place where a student can receive their four-year engineering degree from NC State without leaving,” explained Dr. Bill Fortney, Eastern NC Regional Director of Engineering. “It is also the only community college with NC State faculty present.”
Regardless of students finishing the final two years at the college’s Havelock campus or at NC State, the first two years at Craven CC build the foundation that students need to succeed in the engineering field. The program allows for a more intimate learning environment in which students are able to receive one-on-one help if needed, and explanations can be more personalized.
Gonzalez has now worked as a package design engineer for CMI Plastics for over seven years. He believes the skills and knowledge that he gained in the engineering program were the driving force behind his success.
He hopes his son, who is currently a Craven CC student, will have a positive experience just as he did. His story offers a reminder that no matter what a student’s circumstances may be, it’s never too late to obtain an education.
The Craven CC and NC State partnership began in 2004 after nearly a decade of planning that was encouraged by a desire of Fleet Readiness Center East (FRC East) to “grow their own engineers.” With over 900 engineers at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), they remain in constant need of properly trained engineers. Students in the program get to work directly with many of those engineers aboard MCAS Cherry Point, gaining hands-on experience and training from experts in their field. Students also have many enrichment opportunities, including design competitions, community outreach design projects, robot competitions, plant tours and technical seminars.
“The initial vision for this program was to support Eastern North Carolina businesses by allowing local residents an opportunity to earn an NC State engineering degree without leaving the area, and this vision is certainly being realized,” said Fortney.
It was accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology in 2014. The 10-year process confirmed the credibility of the program and ensured that the curriculum met industry standards and produced properly trained engineers.
The college’s NC State partnership also inspired the initiation of Craven Early College of Eastern Applied Sciences and Technology (EAST), a five-year educational opportunity for selected high school students. Many graduates go on to enroll in the engineering program. FRC East even created an Engineering Development Assistance Program that enables selected students to work a flexible schedule while pursuing their degree, as well as tuition assistance.
Four students were in the first graduating class in 2012 and began working at FRC East upon graduating. This year’s graduating class consisted of 12 students who participated in a drive-in graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 9, which allowed them to receive their diploma in person while maintaining social distancing.
“Forty-six students have graduated from the local Mechanical Engineering Systems program, and 42 went to work in local engineering jobs,” Fortney added. “Even though they are very competitive for jobs anywhere in the country, 11 of this year’s 12 graduates chose to take a local engineering position.”
The engineering program is now housed in the college’s new STEM Center, a 16,000-square-foot building that opened earlier this year. The state-of-the-art building offers eight classrooms, two science and engineering labs and six offices to help prepare students for high-demand STEM careers.
For more information on the Craven CC and NC State Engineering Transfer Program, contact Fortney at 252-514-5956 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on May 20, 2020.