Life took Fred Austin and Chuck Mehlman on separate journeys, but when their paths crossed in a classroom at Shoreline Community College, the pair found their pasts, and now futures, have much in common.
While studying at San Jose State, Austin was No. 4 on the military draft lottery. When the Fresno, Calif., native was offered the opportunity to enlist and serve his term in Germany on an Airborne Artillery Tank unit, he did so at the urgent request of his mother and friends as his brother had served and died in Vietnam. When he returned home Austin put his college plans on hold as he had a family to care for, and embarked on a 30 year career as a glazier journeyman. Austin and his wife moved to the Pacific Northwest where he worked for various glass companies before launching a successful window business out of his garage which he had to close eight years later when his customers were forced by insurers to go elsewhere.
Mehlman joined the Army within a week of graduating from Queen Anne High School. At 40, after 21 years and rising to the rank of captain in Special Forces, Mehlman retired from the Army as a helicopter pilot. He entered the University of Washington’s College of Forest Services, majoring in paper science and engineering. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Mehlman opened a Christmas tree farm in southwest Washington, which he still works at on weekends. By 2005 the economy and health issues forced him to look at other career options.
In 2008 Austin and Mehlman met on the opening day of class in the Computer-Numeric Controlled (CNC) Machinist class at Shoreline. On June 5 of this year, the pair sat next to each other during Commencement exercises, each with Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences degrees under their belts and good jobs with benefits waiting for them. Both graduated with honors.
While neither man had seen the CNC program in their futures before coming to Shoreline, both say it turned out to be the perfect fit.
“A friend of mine is a master machinist at Boeing and he said that the SCC program was a really good idea,” Mehlman said, adding that he thought his engineering background would be complimentary to the machining program. Austin said his past brought him a great deal of safety knowledge and experience, an awareness required in manufacturing.
Both Austin and Mehlman say they found school to be something they enjoyed, especially the support they experienced from faculty, staff and administrators.
The CNC program includes not only the regular instructor, but also a basic math instructor and a “career navigator” who not only helps make industry and employment connections, but assists in other areas. As ex-military, Austin and Mehlman also qualified for help through Shoreline’s award-winning Veterans Center.
Austin said that the one-one-one help he got from Keith Smith, CNC instructor and Chris Lindberg, math instructor was nothing short of amazing. Both were grateful for the support they got from the Veterans Administrator as well as Kim Cambern in Worker Retraining and counselors in WorkSource.
The career navigator, Michelene Felker, is also an important part of the team, working with industry to help make the connections with industry and the transition from school to employment as smooth as possible for students.
“She brought people like Royell Manufacturing and Genie Industries to campus to hire people,” Austin said, "and helped us when times were tough." Felker also provided other services such as financial assistance when students were in a bind.
The students who pursue the AAAS degree take a number of classes outside of the CNC curriculum, such as English and computer applications. Austin found the same kind of support he got in the CNC program in those other areas.
“Karen (Toreson) was fantastic,” Austin said of his computer skills instructor. With few computer skills, Austin said he was intimidated: “She always had time to help me.”
Austin also took note of Betsey Barnett, multicultural studies instructor. “She gave me the confidence that I could do this at times when I was not confident,” he said.
Shoreline’s CNC Machinist program is considered one of the best in the region for producing skilled machinists. Students learn a broad range of skills, including using state-of-the-art equipment, and participate in the production of parts that are used by industry.
Students select from a range of degree and certificate options, including a two-year, Applied Associate in Arts and Sciences Degree in CNC Technology, a three-quarter Certificate of Proficiency and one quarter Certificate of Completion.
The program is accredited by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). That means students are eligible to test for the NIMS certification, which assures that the skills graduates acquire that are recognized by industry and employers.
“With industry using the credentials to recruit, hire and promote machinists, and with few other programs in the state providing the NIMS stamp of approval, Shoreline students are ahead of the game in the job market,” said CNC instructor Smith. “This really sets them apart from other machinists graduates. Employers count on our students.”
Austin sets an example of what the NIMS certification can do for a machinist, having landed a job at the highly regarded manufacturing company, Royell Manufacturing, an aerospace-industry supplier located in Everett. Austin is one of five program graduates working for Royell.
“Fred is really good,” Smith said. “He was a very good student and also has the people skills that will make him a very good manager.”
Shoreline’s program is also playing an important role in the resurgence of the manufacturing industry, which has been identified as critical to the economic health of the country by President Obama. Through Skills for America’s Future, industry and colleges work closely to prepare a highly competent workforce that makes the U.S. competitive globally.
Shoreline is one of 20 community and technical colleges in Washington that is aligning their manufacturing programs with the needs of Boeing and the rest of the state’s aerospace industry.
In conjunction with The Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing at Everett Community College, Shoreline and the other schools are working to assure that skills learned in the classroom can quickly be turned into employment.