May 21, 2013
A degree 27 years later
After layoffs, Locke resident heads back to school for TC3 degree
DRYDEN — Eric Smith, who experienced two manufacturing plant closings and multiple job layoffs, will receive his associate degree from Tompkins Cortland Community College Thursday evening.
Smith, 47, who had not been in a school environment since graduating high school some 27 years ago, found himself at the doorsteps of TC3, hoping for a fresh start in a new career path of computer forensics.
“I was very nervous and did not know what to expect,” Smith said. “I had not been in that kind of environment in three decades and was quite anxious.”
His employer of about five years, Emerson Power Transmissions in Ithaca, closed its doors in December 2010. A recipient of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant, which covers funding to improve worker career training for high-skill occupations, Smith was offered the opportunity to go back to school at no expense.
Smith passed up his first opportunity of a college degree when Rubbermaid, an employer for whom he worked 11 years, closed its doors in 1998.
Smith’s son Austin, who is now 15 years old, was just shy of turning 1 year-old when Rubbermaid shut its doors.
“I passed it up once before when Rubbermaid closed, but my family was just starting and it would have been too difficult to manage,” Smith said.
Instead, the new dad found work at Refrigerated Transport Electronics Inc. in McGraw.
“I worked there for about six months and also found out my wife was pregnant again,” Smith said. “But then I got laid off.”
Smith found himself working various manufacturing jobs at Marietta Corp., Genbrook Millwork Inc. and Higgins Supply Co. throughout the next seven years, only to end up being laid off at all the jobs.
When Emerson Power Transmissions closed its doors, Smith looked at attending TC3 as a new job, this time as a student.
“I treated school like any job,” he said. “I would spend eight hours at school and go to class every single day, knowing that if I missed a day I would miss something important.”
Between classes on campus, Smith would spend his time working on homework. Once 4:30 p.m. rolled around, he would pack up his books and head home.
“I was shocked that some of these students would not go to class,” Smith said. “There was one professor who taught introduction to criminal justice and she would act out scenarios in her class — I did not miss a day because I appreciated her humor and it was hilarious.”
A profound moment for Smith was his freshman English class taught by Sherry Tacktill.
“I was rusty and did not know what was expected of me as a student,” Smith said. “She talked about writing essays and it seemed so foreign to me. My first grade was an F.”
Tacktill allowed Smith to rewrite his essay, but it only earned him a D.
“I went to her office hours and she explained what I needed to know,” Smith said. “To this day, that was important, as she took the time to tell me about how to format an essay with paragraphs and its structure.”
TC3 Dean of Students Amy Trueman said Smith also adds a lot to the class environment.
“(He) brings his additional years of experience and maturity while totally respecting that which every other student brings,” she said. “Their joint contributions have been immeasurable.”
A Dean’s List and PTK honor society student, Smith became involved in student government as vice president of communications, participating in weekly meetings and supporting that group’s efforts.
“When Erin Cornish announced that student government was looking to fill six positions, I figured I would apply myself,” Smith said.
Holding that position for four semesters, Smith worked to gain more student involvement on campus, as well as become the liaison between faculty, staff and students.
The now divorced dad of two children and one stepchild plans on securing a position in his new field of computer forensics.
“My dream job would be to work in the private sector in IT (Information Technology) security,” Smith said. “I would make sure that the company’s network is secure and that the employees are following company technical policies.”
Smith applied for a couple of positions locally and has his resume on Monster.com. Currently he does not have a job secured.
He hopes that his children see something in his efforts to attend college so late in life.
“If they can say that even their father can go back to school, then they will know they are never too old to learn something, “ he said.
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