PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Not only will Northern Maine Community College graduate its largest ever class and the first graduates from its wind power technology program on Saturday, May 14, it also will be handing degrees to 18 students who had to start all over again when they were laid off from Fraser Timber Inc. two years ago.
At the start of 2009, 200 employees of the company lost their jobs after the business shuttered its sawmills in Ashland and Masardis for an indefinite period of time.
The news came just after NMCC reconvened for its spring semester, but college officials wanted to do something to help the displaced workers. So they created an entire special semester of course offerings tailored to laid-off workers.
NMCC took the unprecedented step of starting an entire semester off the traditional schedule to directly assist many of the individuals who qualified for Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance through the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. The students were offered up to 104 weeks, or two years, of occupational training and education assistance, with additional benefits provided if developmental courses were required.
“It is amazing to see all of these former Fraser workers graduating after they really had to refocus their whole lives after the layoffs,” Jason Parent, director of development and college relations for NMCC, said during a recent interview. “And the diversity of the programs from which they are graduating is amazing.”
One of those 18 graduates, Tanya Clark, 35, of Ashland, was a licensed grader at the Masardis mill before the layoff. The mother of two will graduate Saturday with a degree in medical assisting.
“I don’t really think I would have been able to go back to school, or might not have thought of going back had it not been for this opportunity,” she said. “Going back to school made me realize that I could return and not only be successful, but also really enjoy myself.”
Neil Berry, another displaced Fraser worker, is among the pioneer graduates of NMCC’s wind power technology program. He has spent two years learning to operate, maintain and repair wind turbine generators.
“I remember getting laid off and then thinking about those wind turbines on the top of Mars Hill Mountain,” he said. “Windmills interested me, so I decided to enroll at NMCC and learn how they work and how to fix them. It has been very challenging at times, but it is a step I am glad that I took.”
Guthrey York, 28, of Ashland spent seven years at the Fraser mill in Ashland in various positions. He learned that he was being laid off while his wife was expecting a baby.
“At first, I wasn’t sure about going back to school,” said York, who will earn a degree in electrical construction and maintenance. He also is just a few credits shy of completing a degree in wind power technology. “I never really had been into school much. It took me out of my comfort zone. But, after the first month or so I really got into it. This program gave me the chance to go back to school and build a solid foundation for the future.”
York already has an electrical maintenance position lined up at Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill, which he secured after introducing himself to a hiring representative from the potato processing company at the NMCC Job Fair on campus in early March.
Dr. William Egeler, NMCC’s dean of students, said the college is celebrating the success of the displaced Fraser workers. He said many of the former millworkers have become top academic achievers in their programs.
“We are especially proud of these students’ academic accomplishments,” said Egeler. “They are true testament that when properly motivated and supported, people can do extraordinary things. All of these individuals came to us after having lost a long-term job, many with academic deficiencies and uncertainties, and the vast majority will successfully graduate with a college degree and a new vocation. We could not be prouder of all their accomplishments.”