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A day at Piedmont Community College

“This is a big thing for us,” Patricia Holmes said, as she walked the campus at Piedmont Community College (PCC). Holmes, a student ambassador at PCC, is referring to the fact that her daughter received a scholarship to attend PCC. She joked that she and her daughter compete in the one class they have together. 

Piedmont Community College serves residents of Person and Caswell counties. The main campus is located in Roxboro. In the mid-late 80s, the college’s service area expanded to include Caswell County. The Caswell County campus is located next to Bartlett Yancey High School in Yanceyville.  

PCC offers a wide variety of curriculum programs including mechatronic engineering technology, nursing, electrical power production technology, gunsmithing, and film and video production technology.

The mechatronics and electrical power production technology programs help PCC work with partners like Duke Energy and some of the nuclear based power plants in the area. Public information officer Beth Townsend said, “Our continuing education program has essentially created a workforce academy. It allows for students to earn national credentials. We were the first community college in North Carolina to do this.”

We visited the mechatronics program, where instructor Mike Cobb explains the mechatronics learning stations that PCC will receive through a grant from the GoldenLEAF Foundation. 

Cobb goes on to describe PCC’s internship program with Eaton Corporation, a local industry. Students can take classes and work in the afternoon. He said, “This gives the students the chance to decide if they want to work for that industry, because the culture might not be the culture they want to be in. But, it also gives industry the opportunity to determine whether that student or that potential employee will be a good fit for that culture and a good fit for that employment or that business.”

When students graduate from the certified production technician (CPT) and mechatronics program, they earn a national certificate for certified production technician and certified logistics technician. They can earn an international certificate for Siemens level 1.

Gunsmithing

PCC is one of only two community colleges in North Carolina to offer gunsmithing. “We get folks from all over the state to work and learn how to build guns,” Townsend said. “We have graduates move on to work in gunshops or own their own gunshops so that they help the community ensure that they have the proper equipment when they are using firearms.”

Film and video production technology program

PCC was the first NC community college to offer a film and video production technology program. They also offer digital effects and animation. The programs are housed on the Caswell campus. According to the website, “film and video students are taught correct, industry-standard production techniques and terminology. Each class is centered around intensive lab sessions in which students are given hands-on training that allow them to practice and apply what they have been taught during lecture.” When we visited, students were finishing the lecture portion of class and getting ready to break out the equipment.

Distance learning

Some programs and classes also are offered through distance learning, meaning they are either online, hybrid (a mix of in-person classes and online classes), or teleclass (live instruction carried out through video conferencing). We visited one of these teleclasses where PCC students attended the James Sprunt Community College Spanish class. 

Opportunities for high school students

Piedmont Community College offers area high school students many options to explore future educational opportunities and careers. In the summer, students can attend camps centered around classes offered by PCC. For example, PCC has held entrepreneurship and criminal justice camps. Townsend described these camps as very hands-on. The criminal justice camp had a mock crime scene in the courtyard, where students had to find evidence and pick up fingerprints. The cosmetology camp included a competition at the end where employees judged the hairstyles students created. 

Another opportunity for high schools students is PECIL: Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership. The early college is located on the Piedmont Community College campus. The college promotes first-generation college students and is designed to mirror the demographics of the school districts they serve. Students can graduate with a high school diploma and a two-year associate degree. Currently, they have 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, with approximately 50 students per grade. With the small cohort size, instructors are able to develop close relationships with students.

Townsend says the stories from students about their experiences at PECIL tear at her heartstrings. Last year, she asked one student, “What’s the most important thing about PECIL for you?”

He replied, “I’m going to be the first person in my family to graduate and there’s no cost and my parents are so excited!”

“The emotion on his face was so special,” Townsend said, “and that has stuck with me since that moment.”

 

Nancy Rose

Nancy Richmond Rose was the chief operating officer and director of First Vote NC at EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.