August 15, 2012

Flying High at Community College


Man standing behind a landing gear with an ultraviolet light Emre holds an ultraviolet light as he inspects the magnetic particles for an Airbus A321's main landing gear

Growing up in Turkey, Emre Aras always liked creating projects, but never expected to one day attend a training program designed for aerospace manufacturing and electrical assembly mechanics in Washington state.
However, that’s just what he got—and moreduring his one-year scholarship program with the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program, hosted at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington.
“My mom says that from a very young age I always told her one day I would travel for my studies,” recalled Emre. “When I was thirteen, I left my family to study at one of the four high schools in Turkey that offer aircraft maintenance and educational training. It was 600 kilometers away, so I only saw my family twice a year during semester breaks. It’s hard to get into engineering school in Turkey, and I knew that a specialized school was a good start toward my dream to become an engineer.”
For Emre, the opportunity to earn a certificate at a college in the U.S., for which he’d need to travel even farther, has been well worth the effort. 
“My goal was to continue my studies in mechatronics - the combination of mechanics, electronics and computer science,” says Emre. “But after doing some research and with the help of my program adviser, I took courses at the Washington Aerospace Training and Resource Center (WARTC), where people in Washington State receive hands-on training to become mechanics for aerospace companies, such as Boeing.”
WARTC is an educational resource center for all Washington residents to learn about and be trained in various aspects of the aerospace industry. It partners with Edmonds Community College to host students for internships, trainings, and professional certificate programs. “As the only international student in the program, it was a true honor to study there,” adds Emre.
According to Emre, earning three different certificates in Manufacturing and Electrical Assembly Mechanics from WATRC and gaining practical experience through an internship will be his ticket to landing work in Turkey. Once home, he plans on finding a job as an aircraft maintenance technician while he attends school full-time to finish his bachelor’s degree in engineering.
“The job skills I’ve gained through CCI are an advantage to me,” says Emre. “And, when you’re living and studying abroad, you’re forced to think outside your own culture. Being on the CCI program has made me an open-minded person.”
Participants in the CCI program at Edmonds Community College live independently in the residence hall on campus. Emre’s three roommates, one from Hong Kong, one from Turkey, and the other from the U.S., are not participants on the CCI program, but have nonetheless taught him a thing or two about sharing a kitchen. “At first finding food I wanted to eat was hard. Now, my new friends and I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen to invent meals by sharing our traditional ingredients,” Emre said. 
Emre also credits his friends in helping him learn about U.S. culture and expanding his world view. “For me, having a friendship family has been the best way to learn about American English and United States culture and history,” says Aras. “I’ve had the chance to try delicious foods and attend traditional holidays. If it wasn’t for my friendship family, I would probably still assume that Americans always eat fast food.”
“I have made the best of friends herethey’re almost like family. I love Washington State because of its fresh air and natural richness. Even though it was my first time traveling outside of Turkey, it will be hard to leave,” he said when he departed.
After he returned to Turkey, Aras used the knowledge and the skills he gained through the Community College Initiative Program to obtain good positions with a major airline, first as an aircraft maintenance technician and then as a materials and equipment testing specialist. He also served as a training coordinator in his company and won second place in a competition for his proposal for company development. Continuing to “fly high,” Aras now is working toward becoming a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer and moving further ahead in his field. 
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