26 June, 2017
The Advanced College Enrollment Institute at Gadsden State Community College permits eligible high school students to dual enroll in college courses and high school classes. Students can even earn a high school diploma and college degree around the same time. Nathan Boatwright and Alyssa Winkles are two of those students.
“I knew the ACE Institute would help me further my education faster than most students my age,” said Winkles, 18. “I was so excited about going to Gadsden State and the ACE Institute gave me the opportunity to do that.”
Having a fast track to a career is the reason Boatwright enrolled in the ACE Institute.
“I was just ready to grow up,” he said. “I wanted to get everything done as fast as I could so I could start working.”
ACE Institute classes are offered online or in a traditional classroom at one of Gadsden State’s campuses or at the student’s high school. General education courses and career technical courses are offered. Boatwright, an 18-year-old Hokes Bluff native, enrolled in the welding program at Gadsden State’s East Broad Campus.
“It’s cool to me that you can weld two pieces of metal together,” he said. “Plus, it’s a high-demand job so I know it won’t be hard for me to secure employment.”
He is one of 300 students who earned ACE Institute scholarships for the 2016-17 academic year. Students who are interested in certain career technical programs identified as high-wage, high-demand may qualify for the scholarship awarded to Boatwright. Those scholarships are available in the following programs: air conditioning and refrigeration, automotive body repair, automotive manufacturing technology, automotive service technology, carpentry, civil engineering technology, computer science, drafting design technology, diesel mechanics, electronic engineering technology, electrical technology, emergency medical technology, health information technology, industrial maintenance technology, mechanical design technology, machine tool technology, office administration, paralegal/legal assistant and welding.
Boatwright completed four semesters in welding and a semester in blueprint during his time in the ACE Institute. In May, he earned his associate degree in welding before he got his diploma at Hokes Bluff High School. Now he is working at his father’s heavy equipment business and has even started his own mobile welding service. The service is made possible thanks to a 2007 Ford F-250 truck retrofitted with the tools and equipment he needs. He and a friend built and painted the bed of the truck and installed toolboxes, which saved him over $5,000. They also found and installed an old electric welder on the back of the work truck.
“It is a 1978 Lincoln with an electric ignition and carburetor, and it had only been used nine hours,” Boatwright said. “We painted it and installed it on the truck so I can have all my tools and supplies right there when I need them.”
The mobile welding service is convenient for those using heavy equipment.
“My clients will call me and I’ll go out in the field and fix the equipment right there on the spot,” he said.
Though he has already embarked on a career with great potential, he has plans to take his trade on the road.
“I want to travel and work on the pipeline or an oil rig as an offshore welder,” he said. “It has good pay and good retirement.”
ACE Institute students, like Winkles, can also take general education courses. The Centre native will earn her Associate of Science degree following the summer semester, just four months after completing requirements for her high school diploma. She has been accepted into the nursing program at Jacksonville State University and will start classes in the fall.
A homeschool student, Winkles enrolled in an ACE Institute online course the summer prior to her junior year. She has since attended class at Gadsden State Cherokee and has been a full-time ACE Institute student for the past three semesters. Until recently, she also worked 26 hours a week at a veterinary clinic and still maintained a grade point average that earned her a spot on the Dean’s List.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy to work and go to school but it doesn’t have to be difficult,” she said. “It takes responsibility and time. You just have to manage your priorities.”
Both Boatwright and Winkles agreed that Gadsden State instructors have been instrumental in their success to juggle work, high school and college courses.
“Darren McCrary and Frank Miller are great instructors,” Boatwright said of the two men who taught his welding courses. “They helped me so much. They taught me what to do and what not to do. They were very strict about me learning the process. They were tough but encouraging. They make sure we are expert welders when we leave their class.”
Barbara Dorsett is the instructor who made the biggest impact on Winkles.
“She has always been so helpful,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better chemistry teacher. She has a great heart when it comes to helping students. She always wants to see us succeed.”
In the end, Winkles is happy she made the decision to enroll in the ACE Institute, and she encourages other sophomores, juniors and seniors with at least a 2.5 GPA to enroll.
“Earning a high school diploma and college credits at the same time is achievable,” she said. “Don’t give up. Be persistent. No matter how old you are, you can do it. Set your mind to it and succeed.”
For more information on the ACE Institute, visit www.gadsdenstate.edu/aceinstitute