GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Students in GTCC's Aviation Program spend 2,100 hours in courses, at least two years in the program. They are trained to keep aircraft running smooth and safe.
"I shy away from using the word mechanic," explained GTCC division chair for Transportation Technologies Richard Pagan. "Because that does create a mental picture of a person, dirty fingernails, sleeves rolled up working on an aircraft. That's not the case today. These aircraft are very smart. It takes an intelligent person."
Students like Matthew Hughes of Randolph County are up for the challenge. He was laid off three years ago and looking for more than just the next job; he wanted a career.
"I've always had a passion for airplanes and my wife said why don't you go to school to work on airplanes? I said- that makes perfect sense!" said Matthew.
The Cemala Foundation of Greensboro wants to support students like Matthew.
They are giving nearly $1 million to GTCC in the form of a grant to expand their Aviation Center. $795,000 will help with supplies and new faculty positions. $137,000 will fund student scholarships.
According to a press release Thursday, GTCC enrolls three sections of 24 students each fall semester in its Aviation Systems Technology (AST) program and two sections of 18 students in its Aviation Electronics Technology (AET) program. The Cemala grant will allow GTCC to add 25 students to the AST program beginning in fall 2013 and 20 students to the AET program beginning in fall 2014.
This plan will add at least 90 students to these respective programs over a three-year period.
Matthew is graduating in June and admitted, "I don't think I'll have a problem finding a job in aviation."
Especially, he hopes, with companies like TIMCO and HondaJet in the Piedmont growing and looking for skilled workers.
Kip Blakely with TIMCO explained why the grant is important to them, too.
"The more output that we can get coming out of GTCC, that's more opportunities we have to hire young people. And with those scholarships? That really incentivized folks to get into aviation as a career," Blakely explained.
"We're not in a buggy whip business here," he continued. "We're going to be here for a long time."
The Cemala Foundation is based in Greensboro and was founded by Ceasar Cone II and his wife Martha.
Ceasar Cone II was once chairman of the Airport Authority and recognized great potential for growth in the Triad's aviation industry. "For years, he purchased land around the Piedmont Triad International Airport and held onto it until the airport could afford to purchase it at market price," explained the press release.