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Perspective | Nash Community College grad is ‘the future of advanced manufacturing’

Macey O’Hara was preparing to join the Navy after high school when her plans fell through. She never dreamed that a few years later she would be manufacturing foam products at a plant 30 miles west of where she grew up.

“I had taken a welding class at Nash Community College during high school and really enjoyed it, so I thought, why not try welding,” she said. Macey graduated from Nash Central High School and enrolled at Nash Community College.

She completed her associate in applied science in welding technology at Nash, with honors, in May 2020. “Graduating during the pandemic, I wasn’t quite ready to join the workforce,” she said. “So, I re-enrolled at Nash, this time in computer-integrated machining.”

Macey began the program in the fall of 2020 and was hired as an intern by Nomaco in Zebulon the same semester.

Photo by Kathryn Engrassia, NCC marketing and communication coordinator

“I’ve never been a girly girl,” she said. “I might have the nails, but don’t let that fool you. I read blueprints and drawings for products, use a tape measure and calipers. I like to get in there and work on machines just like the guys.”

As an assistant flex operator at Nomaco, Macey is responsible for the setup, operation, and maintenance of equipment in extrusion, conversion, recycle (regrind), warehousing, and quality control areas. The term ‘flex’ means she moves around in the facility wherever she is needed.

“Macey and her team members are the future of advanced manufacturing in the United States,” Nomaco President and CEO JP Hill said. “That is why we are investing a million dollars in technical, on-the-job, and leadership training.”

“Previously, I worked in fast food,” Macey said. “I wanted to get out of that and do something fun. And this is really fun. When I go in for a shift, I don’t necessarily know what I will be working on. Every day they are coming up with new products for us to build. It’s so exciting. I love my job.” The products are lightweight and fully recyclable, so the company is really growing, Hill said.

Photo by Kathryn Engrassia, NCC marketing and communication coordinator

At Nomaco, Macey completed OSHA-compliant forklift safety training and is internally certified to drive. She attended 5S and Soft Skills training with the American Society for Quality. “People are our most important resource, and we are blessed to have Macey as a member of our team,” Hill said. “We will continue investing in her growth and development over the course of her long career at Nomaco.”

Experience in both welding and machining has uniquely positioned Macey to troubleshoot machine issues, repair machines, help improve production efficiency and quality, and work in various aspects of the production process.

Macey also completed the Center for Creative Leadership Boost training program for first-time leaders to adapt their mindset to become effective leaders. She took an extrusion course through the company to learn the inner workings of the extruder. Basic polymer science was also an important part of her growth and learning in advanced manufacturing.

“People may not realize this, but in manufacturing, specifications and requirements can change all the time,” Macey said. “What is in spec now, may be out of spec later. It’s mind-blowing.”

She enjoys learning how to operate machines in the classroom and then applying those skills to creating products in the plant. “If you’ve ever been to TJ Maxx and seen the exercise rollers with ‘gaiam’ on them, then I probably helped make those,” she said.

Photo by Kathryn Engrassia, NCC marketing and communication coordinator

Macey works 30 hours each week while being enrolled full-time at Nash. She will graduate with her second degree in May 2022. “I tell everybody: you need to go to Nash. The teachers are supportive and understanding and they can help you reach your career goals.”

“We are grateful to Nash which is why we’ve invested in SkillsUSA at every opportunity,” Hill said. NCC students who participate in SkillsUSA are preparing for careers in trade, technical, and skilled service occupations by competing at the state and national levels and developing technical, academic, and work readiness skills.

While pursuing her two degrees, Macey has received numerous scholarships including the Winstead Family Skilled Trades Scholarship, Crown LSP Group Scholarship, the Gene Haas Foundation Scholarship, Rocky Mount Rotary Open Doors Scholarship, and educational support from her employer. 

“I was ineligible for financial aid because I live at home,” Macey said. “I could not have done this without the support of generous donors and my family. My family has encouraged me every step of the way. They are constantly bragging about me and telling others how proud they are. They have been a huge motivation for me.”

Kelley Paynter Deal

Kelley Paynter Deal is a marketing communication strategist with more than 15 years of public and private sector experience executing effective data-driven marketing programs. Kelley serves as Dean of Marketing and Strategic Engagement at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, N.C. She holds Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts degrees in Communication from East Carolina University with academic research experience evaluating techniques to improve critical ​intercultural ​communication​.