When Zackary Holton speaks, he speaks from the pulpit. His hands gesture firmly. He speaks from a place of passion and humility. There is energy in every word. Holton learned to preach as a summer intern at his church, and he has carried those oratory skills into another passion of his: being a student in the mechanical engineering technology program at Beaufort County Community College.
Holton returned to work at a pawn and gun shop where he had worked since the tenth grade after withdrawing from his first attempt at community college. Disagreements with an instructor at the community college, and, in his opinion, an inadequate response to it on the part of the college, led him to return to the workforce.
After working at the pawn shop for a while, the owner told him he was letting him go for his own good. “I guess he was trying to push me into doing something. He was like, ‘You’re not coming back.’” Holton asked if he was being fired, to which the owner responded “no.”
He believed that Holton needed to move forward with his education, and he did not want him to get too comfortable in the position. When he asked what he was supposed to do, the owner told him, “Figure it out.”
Holton had performed well in high school, graduating at the top of his class. He was a member of the Beta Club and played on the baseball team. The son of a preacher and an eighth grade teacher, his parents were not willing to let him lose momentum either. Holton took the internship through his church, where he had to plan entire weeks of activities for teenagers. Here he learned how much work went into planning the activities he had participated in during his youth. It was also during this summer program that he learned to preach, gaining his confident and passionate public speaking skills.
He finished up his internship but was still unconvinced about the merits of college. He took a position at a fish farm in Craven County. At 19, he was convinced that the owners would soon retire and hand over the entire business to him. This is the thought that kept him going as he climbed into a pool to harvest fish several times a week. Harvesting involved moving heavy nets, lifting up 70 pound buckets of bass and loading them onto a truck. They would do this for four hours nonstop. The rest of his week was spent managing the sixteen pools at the farm, but the shifts were long, running from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
As winter arrived, the dream of having a business handed to him could no longer sustain him. In fall he could convince himself of the merits of working outside, but when he had to immerse himself in that same pool of bass in January, he started dreaming of a desk job. He emerged from the pool with a new conviction to return to college.
“I always liked to draw. I’m always fidgeting with my hands,” he said of his high school drafting classes. He came to BCCC where he enrolled in the mechanical engineering technology program. He has brought his passion for surfing to the program, using projects to design a surfboard and an aluminum skateboard.
He has received job offers in the field already, but he wants to finish up his degree first. At BCCC he met Matthew Lincoln, the lead instructor for the program, who Holton describes as the best teacher he has ever had.
“Some teachers will go halfway to help, he goes beyond the distance, even in the classes that don’t have anything to do with him,” said Holton. “His limit is not taking a test for you. He’s energetic and enthusiastic about machining. He gives us what we need and then lets us go with it,” he said. For one project, Holton hand designed a logo to machine into brass.
The mechanical engineering students are a “little family or team” according to Holton. Due to that support, they can make better grades, not just in their program classes, but in other classes as well. The classroom has a 3-D printer where after they have designed and perfected a model, the printer can build it out of melted plastic.
“We won’t leave to go home. My morning class was over at 9:30. I could go home,” he said. The students stay in the drafting labs, working on English or designing projects on the computer.
Holton now serves as an ambassador for the college, representing the best of BCCC. He preaches about the virtues of the college he thinks is “awesome.” His job at the fish farm might have sustained him for a season, but his associate degree will sustain him and his passion for a lifetime.
Editor’s note: This perspective first appeared on the Beaufort County Community College website. It has been posted with the author’s permission.Community Colleges NC Perspective