When Jim Scheuren first tried college more than 30 years ago, he wasn't sure about a career path and left after just a year. That decision took him around the country during a military career, but eventually brought him back home to Pottsville and then RACC when he lost his job.
Jim was working as a nightshift foreman at a local company when the plant closed and the jobs were sent to Mexico. Although he had practical experience as an electrician, Jim received a myriad of questions about certifications when he applied for jobs. "PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) wasn't a technology out there when I was learning," he said. “I had a variety of experience, but nothing on paper, so I started researching my options."
Because his job was sent overseas, Jim qualified for Trade Adjustment Assistance funding which would cover the technical training. He thought about completing only the PLC courses, but after talking with the staff at the Schmidt Training and Technology Center, he decided to pursue an associate degree in Mechatronics. He applied for financial aid and is paying out-of-pocket for his credit courses, which are not covered under the TAA funding.
Jim found the self-paced training at Schmidt to be similar to his training in the Navy. When he left college the first time, he joined the Navy's construction crew where he trained as an electrician. "It was almost an identical structure. There were a lot of modules where you do the work and then go to the computer and take a test," he said.
In fact, Jim even could have done some of the technical training at home, but opted for a structured learning environment free from distractions. In two years, he has taken almost every manufacturing class available at Schmidt, and now just has to finish his credit classes to complete his degree. He is taking 12 credits this semester, an additional 12 in the spring and then earn his degree in May.
"I'd like to find a new job in maintenance/technical management, which is what I was doing before," he said. "I'm hoping with the degree and my practical experience, I'll have a leg up, but I know it's not easy to find a job in any field. I have not ruled out going back for a bachelor's degree since we have agreements in place with great schools like Purdue-Calumet and Penn State." Now in his 50s, Jim said he's not sure how much a bachelor's degree would actually help, but he is considering it more for personal achievement. "I've gotten nothing less than an A since I started here, and I really enjoy school," he said.
Although Jim is planning for his future, he easily shared stories from his past, including a trip to the North Pole as a Navy diver. Early in his military service, Jim went through the dive training and participated in drills and assignments around the country. "We spent six weeks diving at the North Pole in an exercise testing new military equipment. We had to build our own camp and lived in tents. Being in the water was warmer than being on land," he recalled.
After about nine years in the Navy, Jim settled on the west coast and worked in Marine Service, specializing in marine electronics. "A ship is like a small city. It has its own electric, waste and other systems, so I had a chance to work on a little bit of everything," he said. "The cost of living out there though was just too high, and my parents were getting older, so I thought it was time to come back home."
While Jim only has his credit courses remaining to finish his RACC degree, he still spends time at Schmidt, but now as an instructor. He teaches electrical courses three nights a week and PLC on Friday. What started as an occasional call to fill-in has revealed another career option. "If you would have asked me if I would have liked it, I would have said no. But, I really do like it. I wouldn't mind staying on and continuing to teach here at RACC," he shared.