A new way of looking at education

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CARMICHAELS – What if your son or daughter could graduate high school with a marketable skill, one that could immediately propel them into the workforce, or give them an edge into and/or even help pay for their higher education? That option exists at Greene County Career and Technology Center.


For many, attending CTC carries a negative connotation of a place for low-performing students that limits college opportunities and leads to low-paying jobs. The story of GCCTC graduate Eric Elli shows how far from reality this thinking is.


Elli, 27, of Greensboro, is just one example of a GCCTC graduate who took the skills he learned there and found a well-paying career without taking on a huge higher education debt.


“I was always artistic, always good at drawing. I thought about college, but I wanted to see what else there was for me to do instead,” Elli said.


When he reached the high school level he was presented with a way to pursue a creative path in the drafting and design program at the GCCTC. An honor student, Elli could have followed the academic track to a four-year college but the technology center approach to a career made more sense to him.


Today he finds himself ahead of many of his peers.


“I’m glad I made the choice to go to the CTC. I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do and with the drafting program I knew I’d at least enjoy the career I chose,” he said.


Even before he graduated Elli had paying opportunities. He was part of a company formed at the GCCTC known as Drafters, Inc. The company prepared maps for Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Authority. The student employees also received management skills as they had to keep time cards and other business records.


In his senior year at Mapletown, Elli was contacted by his wrestling coach to do something special.


“He knew I was in drafting so he asked me if I could sketch a new design for the Bobtown Polish Club,” Elli said. “I went off of how they wanted it laid out, added my own touches and they got it approved. It was my first real paying job.”


Elli began putting his drafting skills to use at Aquatech International Corp. in Canonsburg, just days after his 2007 high school graduation. His work there entailed creating technical drawings to ensure proper flow through pipes involved in the company’s water purification processes.


“I worked there until 2009 and then came here, to Dra-Surv Inc., (in Carmichaels) to work as a senior draftsman and surveyor,” Elli said. He has plans to continue his education in the field of engineering, something his current income will help him to achieve.


GCCTC administrative director Karen Pflugh,sees students like Ellis come through the doors at the technology center every day. She is trying to increase those numbers. Enrollment for the current school year is up by 80 students. Pflugh would like to see a much larger increase.


“We prepare them for a life skill that could lead to their career success. We prepare them for college if they choose to be college bound,” she said. “I believe our students are actually more prepared to enter post-secondary education when they leave here with some a certification that will give them an edge for a job.”


As part of that process, GCCTC students prepare resumes and undergo a series of interviews in their senior year there. Each student completes a portfolio with examples of their work, awards received and certifications. As director, Pflugh has made it a requirement for all of her students to earn their Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certification before they graduate. It is just one more “edge” over the competition, she said.


One-third of instructors at GCCTC are former technology center graduates, either from GCCTC or some other high school. Pflugh said this is another example of the success available to students who choose the school.


“If you go there with the right mindset you will have the skills to get a job. A lot of people think of it as “the vo-tech kids, the dumb kids.” I had a 3.5 overall grade-point average and scored high on my PSSA’s,” Elli said. “I always had high honors on the honor roll.”


Not everyone who goes to GCCTC takes advantage of what it has to offer, Elli said. He watched several people who did not take its seriously enough and are struggling today.


Quoting former drafting instructor Nick Kovacic, Elli said, “Mr. K always said, ‘The real world is a cruel world. If you let it, it will knock you down. You’ve got to stay head of it because it is tough to dig yourself out.’”


He remains in touch with Kovacic, who has since retired.


“Even if you decide to go to the CTC and not into the field you chose there it is an extra asset if something happens. If you lose your job you can say to yourself, ‘Hey, I went to the CTC,” Elli said, noting it is an option to fall back on.


As temperatures in the area continue to dip below freezing Elli thinks about his friends who didn’t take their education as seriously as he did.


“I’d rather sit in a nice warm office, behind a nice desk, in a comfortable chair doing something I really enjoy than being out in the cold working,” he said with a grin. “No, I don’t regret it (the CTC) at all. Do you want to spend $100,000 to get your education or do you want to get a free education, save time and have a good job? They (CTC) give you the tools; you’ve just got to have the mindset to just do it.”


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