A Mix of Hands-on Work and Classroom Studies

A Mix of Hands-on Work and Classroom Studies
Shannon Brennan, a senior at Goose Creek High School in Berkeley County, S.C., loads turbochargers for shipping during her apprenticeship at Cummins Turbo Technologies.

While her adolescent peers are sitting in class every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, Shannon Brennan is a few miles away, helping to build large truck engines.

Brennan, a senior at Goose Creek High School in Berkeley County, S.C., is one of 13 high school students in the greater Charleston area who began an intensive new youth apprenticeship program this school year.

Each Tuesday and Thursday she leaves Goose Creek to work from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Cummins Turbo Technologies plant. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays she heads over to Trident Technical College from 2 to 6 p.m. to study industrial mechanics.

Brennan is paid $10 an hour at Cummins, and her wages will grow as she earns more academic credits. By the time she finishes the two-year program she will have earned a journeyman certificate and an option to work permanently at Cummins, starting at about $21.50 an hour. Beyond that, the company will pay 80 percent of the cost if she decides to further her education while working there.

Because she started the program as a high school senior, she will not earn her certification until several months after she graduates from high school. Most of her peers in the program are juniors and will be able to wrap up the program by the time they graduate.

Brennan plans to earn a bachelor’s degree while working at Cummins, where she is anticipating a long career. Unlike most of her classmates, she figures she will graduate from college debt-free.

She is the only female in the group of 13 who began the program this year. She says that’s because there aren’t a lot of girls who are as interested in mechanical things. “It’s always been something that interests me,” she says. “I’ve always liked to go out and help my dad with the car and things.”

Brennan has had to make some sacrifices to join the program, including quitting the school’s ROTC drill team and resigning as secretary of the Spanish Club because of the scheduling conflicts. It was a difficult decision, she says, but one she knew she had to make.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t take an opportunity like this,” she says. Besides, she adds, “I enjoy going to work. I look forward to the days I go to work.”