SANFORD - Since at least the age of three, Patrick Gietzen has been mechanically minded. He loved taking things apart and then attempting - not always successfully - to put them back together.
"I always wanted to design things - machines and products that people could use, Gietzen said.
But, in today's computerized workplace, being a designer takes training and skills. Gietzen didn't have those because, at age 16, he dropped out of high school.
Now age 24, Gietzen feels like a victor, not a victim. He has achieved major goals and is becoming everything he wanted to be and do before he dropped out.
On Aug. 2, Gietzen was among the proud graduates at Central Carolina Community College's summer curriculum graduation. With a big smile on his face, he walked across the stage at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center and received his Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering, Diploma in Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Certificate in Computer Aided Manufacturing. He received his Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting at the spring graduation.
Not only did he achieve his educational goals, but also already has a job as a manufacturing engineer at WST Industries. He does reverse engineering designs for older equipment so the company has blueprints from which to work to repair it. He's back to first love: taking things apart and putting them back together, only now doing it with a computer - and he credits his success to his experiences at CCCC.
Gietzen is the third of 10 children. His parents are divorced and the children still at home live with his mother, Kimberly Neiss. After dropping out, Gietzen stayed home and cared for his seven younger brothers and sisters while his mother worked. At 19, he got a job at a fast food restaurant. That was when he decided he wanted a better future.
"Mom was taking classes at CCCC," Gietzen said. "That motivated me and I enrolled in the GED [high school equivalency certificate] program."
Gietzen didn't enroll alone. His brother, Thomas, who is a year older, had dropped out of school at the same time as he did. The family was living in Anderson Creek, so both enrolled at the college's Lillington Shawtown Adult Education Center.
It took Thomas just two months to get his high school diploma. He is now one credit short of an associate degree from CCCC. He has joined the Navy and, with his education, he will enter as an E3 Seaman with an electronics technician specialty.
Gietzen received his GED in the fall of 2007. The family moved to Sanford that year and, in 2008, he enrolled in CCCC's Mechanical Engineering program at the Lee County Campus. Money was tight, so he held down a series of full-time jobs while attending school and received some financial aid through the college.
His days - and nights - were long and hard: He worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at a service station, then would head straight to classes. At work one night, he was held up at gunpoint.
"The guy was only two years older than me," he said. "Now, he's in prison. That experience made me want to try as hard as I could to better myself."
Gietzen worked hard and did well. One day, his instructor, Ben Cole, told him of a part-time position open at WST and he applied.
"Everything I needed to know for the interview I learned at CCCC, such as how to dress and how to do a resume," he said. "I had a good interview and they hired me."
Gietzen worked part-time at a job he loved while completing his degree. Now, it has become a full-time career.
Looking back at his life, he has some good advice for young people who have dropped out of high school.
"I look at all the challenges I overcame to get my education and I say to those who have dropped out, 'Reinsert yourself into education and accomplish something you can be proud of,'" he said.
CCCC President Bud Marchant totally agrees with that.
"I have been so impressed with Patrick," he said. "He started with our GED program, then obtained quality academic and vocational skills. Now, he's in the workforce with an excellent position. He is a prime example of what we are all about as a college."
For more information about Central Carolina Community College and the programs it offers, visit www.cccc.edu.
Patrick Gietzen (right), of Sanford, gets a happy hug from his mother, Kimberly Neiss, at Central Carolina Community College's Summer Commencement Aug. 2 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. He had dropped out of high school at age 16, but earned his GED through the college. He then enrolled in college-level classes and went on to earn his Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering, Diploma in Mechanical Engineering Technology, and certificates in Computer Aided Manufacturing and Computer Aided Drafting. He has already found employment as a manufacturing engineer. For more information about Central Carolina Community College and the programs it offers, visit www.cccc.edu .
Dr. Bud Marchant (left), president of Central Carolina Community College, congratulates Patrick Gietzen, of Sanford, on his achievements at the college's Aug. 2 Summer Commencement at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. Gietzen had dropped out of high school at age 16, but earned his GED through the college. He then enrolled in college-level classes and went on to earn his Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering, Diploma in Mechanical Engineering Technology, and certificates in Computer Aided Manufacturing and Computer Aided Drafting. He has already found employment as a manufacturing engineer. For more information about Central Carolina Community College and the programs it offers, visit www.cccc.edu .