Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Industrious learning — KPC grant will enhance growing degree programs

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Dominique Bonaventure, Ben Reaves, Stacy Whiteley and Mike Stacy came to Kenai Peninsula College from different paths. They’ve met there at different times in their lives. But they all ended up in the same program for the same reason: The prospect of jobs.

The students are seeking their associate degrees in process technology at the Kenai River Campus of KPC, one of several programs the college had developed to meet the developing needs of Alaska’s work force.

Bonaventure came to the program after working in the field for a year. Originally from France, now of Kasilof, Bonaventure got a math degree from the University of Alaska. He spent a year doing computer work for Chevron in Anchorage.

“I met a lot of engineers and saw what went on behind the labor. Since I’m more of a hard laborer I figured the field would be better for me than the office,” he said.

He’s now in his second semester of the two-year process technology degree program at KPC and expects it to provide options for him when he graduates.

“That degree is very versatile. You can work in almost any process industry. … It opens a lot of doors, industrywise,” he said.

“My real goal is three weeks on, three weeks off. That’s the goal.”

Reaves, of Soldotna, came to KPC right out of high school. A 2008 graduate of Soldotna High, Reaves got a $12,000 scholarship from BP to fund his education.

“Going straight into school without having to worry about money is pretty nice,” he said.

It took Whiteley more time and life experience before she decided to get into the process technology program. She originally went to school for business with the intention of working in the tourism industry, and took a break to raise her kids.

“I got here and decided this is not where I was 10 years ago,” she said.
She plans pursue a management position in the process tech field.

“I found my abilities fit this. It’s going to offer a great career,” she said.

Stacy is working toward a degree in process technology after getting his associate’s degree in industrial process instrumentation, also through KPC.

Coming from a farming and construction background in Arkansas 10 years ago, he now sees the process tech industry as being a good fit for his outdoors and mechanical experiences.

They all agree that the KPC program is a great way to prepare for the jobs they see on the horizon, especially with the prospect of Pebble Mine and a natural gas pipeline being built in the state.

Process technology is one of the fastest-growing fields at the University of Alaska. As of fall 2007, UA had more than 300 students enrolled seeking process tech and/or instrumentation degrees, according to the college.

With relatively small class sizes, hands-on training, field trips to industrial plants in Nikiski and even the North Slope, the students said they are confident KPC is preparing them for what’s to come.

“It’s really person-to-person,” Bonaventure said of the KPC program. “All these guys (instructors) worked in the field before. Now they’re teaching. They know what’s expected of us, what’s coming our way in the field.”

“It’s ever-changing and developing,” Whiteley said. “I like how they’re building onto it and adapting to how the industry is changing.”

Thanks to a $500,000 donation from Chevron, announced last week at KPC’s annual community barbecue, the program will offer even better opportunities for students in the future. Chevron donated $1 million in all, split in half between KPC’s process tech, instrumentation and computer electronics programs, and the University’s Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program in Anchorage.

KPC’s portion of the money will be used to upgrade teaching labs, purchase industry-standard training equipment and establish a scholarship program for those fields, according to KPC Director Gary Turner.

“I’m very grateful for the donation,” Whiteley said. “It will open up a lot of opportunities for us in training and simulations that will help us with realistic job experience.

“I just think it’s fantastic that they’re involved in the community like they are and they give us a purpose to drive for, and we have the right instruments to go for it.”

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