By Karen Gamble
Vicksburg-Warren Campus instructor
VICKSBURG – Hinds Community College student Zach Thomas is only 18 years old, but he’s already learned how to “kill two birds with one stone.”
The Warren Central High School senior is attending college while he finishes his last semester of high school.
Thomas is not like the “dual-enrolled” high school students who take college-level classes at their high schools, nor he is like the vocational-technical high school students who are bused to Hinds’ Vicksburg campus during their high school day.
Thomas is a senior at Warren Central High School who attends night classes at the college campus for college credit. His “double-dipping” will mean Thomas will get his high school diploma along with his Warren Central classmates in May and, in December, he’ll also be able to pick up his 30-semester-hour career certificate with other Hinds students.
If he chooses to further his welding studies, Thomas would need to take only 15 more welding hours to receive his technical certificate and then only 15 hours of academic classes to get his associate in applied science degree, which could come as soon as 18 months after his high school graduation.
The welding curriculum is one of six new similar programs at the Vicksburg-Warren campus that offer students a chance to receive their career certificates in two semesters of college. The others are automotive technology, residential carpentry, animation simulation and design, culinary arts and early childhood development.
Marvin Moak, dean of the Vicksburg-Warren Campus, said the aim of the new programs is to move knowledgeable Warren County employees into the workforce at a quicker pace, aiding industry and the students.
The offerings allow students to pace themselves to get their “stackable credentials” more quickly and possibly continue their studies after they’ve landed employment in their chosen fields. As for Thomas: “I’m just ready to go to work,” he said.
On weekdays, he heads to Warren Central for academic classes until about noon, then he crosses Mississippi 27 to study automotive service technology at Hinds’ Vicksburg campus as part of the vocational-technical arm of the Vicksburg Warren School District. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, he heads to his college welding classes at 5 p.m. and stays there until midnight.
“I figure with what I’m learning in the welding program, and getting my welding certificate, and what I’m learning in my auto technology classes, I’ll be able to move up in my job and make more money because I’m a certified welder,” he said.
He said he uses the three hours between dismissal from high school and reporting for his college classes to take care of homework and studying. “I really want it, so I just push through,” he said.
Thomas has worked in construction during summers away from school and said he already has welding job offers for when he receives his career certificate.
“It might be in construction, but I’ve been told I can get a welding job on a pipeline and get paid about $35 an hour, so I’m ready to start,” he said. He said he hopes to continue his education and get his associate’s degree after he has started work.
Thomas credits his aunt, Nancy Thomas of Vicksburg, with pushing him to follow his dream.
“He seemed to be struggling in high school because he gets bored easily,” she said. “He told me first he wanted to join the military, but his daddy had taught him a little about welding and he decided he wanted to do that.
“All I did was tell him to go on over to Hinds and see what he needed to do, and he found out he could start while he was still in high school,” she said. “I went with him to see the counselor, and now I’m just ready to see Zachary graduate and get his college degree.”
The degree likely “will be the difference between working on the line in a job and being the boss,” Nancy Thomas said she told her nephew.
His high school counselors have been impressed with Thomas’ initiative.
“I see him as a student who will work hard,” said Letrica Willis. “I think he got interested in the college program because of his time in Hinds’ vo-tech program. But I think other students will read about him being in the program and that will pique their interest to enroll.
“Hinds is such a key element in Warren County for high school and college that I think the programs are a wonderful addition,” Willis said.
Counselor Carla Simpson Smythe agrees.“I think as word gets out there will be many more high school students who will take advantage of it,” Smythe said. “They just have to be committed.”
Registration for the 2015 fall semester begins in April at www.hindscc.edu, and classes begin in August.