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Nine RockATOP apprentices sign on with MSI, RCS

Sep 24, 2020

One local company is eight workers richer this fall, after high school seniors and recent graduates in the RockATOP program officially signed on as full apprentices at Machine Specialties Inc. during a ceremony at Rockingham Community College on Wednesday, Aug. 19. A ninth apprentice signed on with Rockingham County Schools.

Through Rockingham Apprenticeship & Technical Opportunities Partnership, more commonly known as RockATOP, Rockingham County Schools and RCC invited high school students to show off their skills and determination in February in front of representatives from manufacturers and other employers in the area. Students were chosen as summer pre-apprentices, after which many officially signed on to continue with full apprenticeships.

RockATOP enables these students to begin a career during high school and bring home a paycheck for time at school and work – approximately 8,000 hours during the four-year program. Eventually, the apprenticeships will graduate from Rockingham Community College with an Applied Science degree, already with certifications and credentials in hand.

This year’s apprentices are McMichael High School seniors Keelan Slaughter and Kathryn Watson Pinson, McMichael graduate Jacob Smith, Morehead High School seniors Luis Calderon and Bryant Hornback, Morehead graduate Logan Murphy, Rockingham County High School senior Jacob Vaden, and Ethan Jones and Ethan Cooley, RCHS graduates. Pinson now apprentices with Rockingham County Schools, and the rest are with Machine Specialties Inc.

“In my almost six years at the College, RockATOP is one of the best – if not the best – programs we’ve put in place working with partners across the region,” said RCC President Dr. Mark Kinlaw. “This is a great partnership and a wonderful opportunity for our students to earn a degree, to work, and apprentice, and after that, to have full employment. I congratulate our apprentices on a job well done, I wish you the very best, (and) I thank our partners.”

“Our kids are getting real-world experience,” RCS Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell, adding his own gratitude to the businesses involved in the program.

Nancy Tulloch-Moore, chair of the RockATOP Consortium, said, “We attribute out success to the dedication of many smart and forward-thinking people, and our ability to manage the delicate balance between business talent needs and qualified interested students.”

Jaime Trogdon of Machine Specialties Inc. introduced his company’s apprenticeships and signed their paperwork.

He said Slaughter has shown great potential by staying engaged and asking questions, and Vaden is a dedicated, hard worker.

Slaughter said the RockATOP program targets students who enjoy hands-on learning.

“I think one of the main reasons I chose MSI is because it will help me achieve my long-term goal of living the best life I can live without the anchor of student debt weighing me down,” he said.

“The reason I chose to pursue the RockATOP apprenticeship was because I was unsure about what I wanted to do past high school,” said Vaden. “It’s a great thing to do. You get college paid for, and you get a career after college.”

Pinson also wasn’t sure about her future.

“I chose to enter the program because I wasn’t quite sure that college was the right choice for me. I think anyone who might think going directly into the workforce is a better option than college should consider the apprenticeship program,” she urged.

Dr. Kenneth Scott, Career and Technical Education director for Rockingham County Schools, welcomed Pinson to the RCS family, on behalf of Superintendent Rodney Shotwell, the Board of Education, RCS Maintenance Director E.C. Stophel, and the entire maintenance department.

Calderon, on the other hand, has already mapped out his future: “My experience has been wonderful. I am ready to take advantage of opportunities presented in front of me and my goal is to do great my four years there, and prove to myself that I’m worth further investing and going to UNC-Charlotte to get my mechanical engineering degree.”

Trogdon commended Calderon’s wonderful attitude and said he has wanted to do great things at MSI.

Smith will be a great apprentice, based on his pre-apprenticeship numbers, Trogdon said. Smith said he pursued the opportunity “because of the stable job it would give me and also the certifications that will allow me, no matter what, to always have a job to lean on.”

Trogdon said Hornback displayed a great work ethic and Murphy had a great attitude and worked hard.

“I chose the RockATOP program because I had the opportunity to surround myself by success each day,” said Hornback. “Every day I go into work (with) people who are pushing me to achieve my absolute greatest.”

Murphy’s experience has been similar.

“I’ve really enjoyed this apprenticeship; I think it was a great opportunity. Any questions I have, everybody is really helpful and eager to help me learn,” Murphy said.

Trodgon said Cooley showed skills that are important to Machine Specialties Inc., and that Jones “was not originally headed down the path that he ended up on,” but MSI is grateful to have him on board.

“My time at MSI has been a great learning experience,” said Jones. “I really got to come out of my shell. I’d definitely recommend anyone who’s interested in this line of work to join this program. It’s really worth it.”

Cooley said, “It was a great opportunity and it allowed me to explore my options and end up in a great company (where) I’ve been challenged every single day I’ve worked there. The biggest challenge was to jump into the swing of things. You’ve always got something going on and you’re always trying to be the best you can.”

The RockATOP program offers apprenticeships in numerous advanced manufacturing fields such as robotics, CNC machining, mechanical, and electrical.

“To our 25 apprentices that are on their way to successful careers and the completion of a dream, we appreciate you and your commitment to the future,” Tulloch-Moore said, addressing students who have been RockATOP since its inception. She thanked the families and relatives of apprentices for their encouragement, elected officials, the RCS Board of Education, RCC Board of Trustees, RCC Foundation board members, principals, instructors and others.

Partner companies that provide employment, competitive wages, on-the-job training, mentors, books, fees, and equipment for the apprentices include ABCO Automation; Amcor Specialty Packaging; Bridgestone Aircraft Tire; Culp Home Fashions; Dorada Foods; Henniges Automotive; Loparex; Machine Specialties; Pine Hall Brick; Rockingham County Schools; Smith Carolina; Sturm, Ruger & Company; and Wieland Copper Products.

Among other things, Tulloch-Moore thanked them for spending valuable time mentoring, coaching, regulating, and encouraging these students.

She then presented the annual RockATOP Champion Award to Jennifer Lester, RCC’s department chair of Applied Technologies. “She is always ready to do whatever it takes, whether it’s giving support for our invitational, or thinking of new ways to deliver our RockATOP program. She is always thinking, and those endless questions that come from parents and students and business partners are always answered with very meticulous, kind and helpful care.”

Mark Richardson, chair of the Rockingham County Commissioners, said his board’s goal is to improve the quality of life for citizens.

“To do that, we need to increase wages, increase ‘hireability,’ and make situations that put people in the environment where they want to have a career in our county, doing something that is useful for everyone,” he said.

“You are entering an elite program, and this means that all eyes are on you and your success as you move forward,” Lester told the apprentices, and encouraged them to reach out for any help they may need.

For more information on the program, visit www.rockatop.org.


Rockingham Community College
PO Box 38
215 Wrenn Memorial Rd.
Wentworth, NC 27375


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