Brothers Austin and Alex Gibson are few years apart in age, but they have had similar experiences when it comes to their education and careers.
Alex, the younger of the two at age 23, and Austin, 28, are both graduates of Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, where they both earned degrees and have found their life’s work.
Alex Gibson, AEP Electrician
Alex is sure that he nailed his job as a substation electrician with American Electric Power because of the associate degree in Electrical and Instrumentation (E&I) Technology he earned through DSLCC in 2019.
Alex also earned a two-year degree in Information Technology at DSLCC while serving in the IT department, first as a work study student, then a part time employee, then fulltime, before he left DSLCC to work for AEP in the Roanoke area, where he and his crew build new transformers.
“The AP 220 grant paid for everything for my E&I degree” notes Alex. DSLCC partnered with two other colleges in a four-year grant from the US Department of Labor. The grant, known locally as America’s Promise 220 (AP 220), is designed to provide individuals with the opportunity to receive high-quality education and training that leads to industry-recognized credentials and degrees. AP220 has assisted students with tuition and program costs to support their training and credentials in order to earn a higher wage than the level at which they entered the program.
Once hired at AEP, he returned briefly to DSLCC to earn his CDL-A credential. “The company requires us to have a CDL, and I knew that Dabney offered it, so AEP was happy for me to earn it through Dabney.”
The 2015 Covington High School graduate says he decided to get into the E&I program at DSLCC, mainly because he thought his earning power would be good. What he didn’t anticipate was how much he would like the E&I curriculum and now, his job as an electrician.
“I really enjoy it,” he says. “It’s not like work, it’s more like a hobby.” His ten-hour, four days a week schedule agreed with him. Sometimes he and his crew have worked 12-hour days.
Alex has since taken a different position within AEP where he gets to put both degrees to work. He has moved to a SCADA analyst position where he is working on the reliability of the systems that monitor the BES, Bulk Electric System.
Austin Gibson, JRTC Instructor
Austin Gibson considers himself one lucky guy: “I wake up every morning, have a cup of coffee, and when I report to work, I get to play with computers and hang out with the kids. It’s the best-case scenario.”
Austin, who earned an associate’s degree in Information Systems Technology from DSLCC in 2016, is in his fourth year as the Computer Systems Technology instructor and program head at the Jackson River Technical Center, where he teaches high school students from both the Covington and Alleghany County school systems all about the workings of computer technology, both software and hardware components.
Many of his students earn the A+ certification, a job-ready credential. One of his graduates is working on a four-year degree in computer science at Radford University. Austin also teaches a course on the fast-growing and high-demand world of Cybersecurity.
The 2010 Covington High School graduate started out in the Administration of Justice program at DSLCC – the brothers’ step-father is a Virginia State Trooper – but realized criminal justice really wasn’t where his interests were. He enrolled in the Information Systems Technology program, where then-program head Sam Benke suggested he volunteer in the DSLCC IT department to get some more hands-on experience. Instead, he was hired as a work-study student by Tamra Lipscomb, who was the IT director at the time. Lipscomb is now serving as the IT Program Head at DSLCC.
While at DSLCC, Gibson not only earned the two-year degree, but also a Certificate in Microcomputer Operations and two Career Studies Certificates in Networking Technology and PC Repair.
Before coming to JRTC, he spent a year working for the Alleghany County Public School division’s IT department and was instrumental in their project to supply Chromebooks to all ACPS students.
Because of the pandemic and schools being closed and offering only virtual classes, the last few months at JRTC have been a challenge, he says, since a lot of the lab work he does with students is hands-on, after they listen to online lectures and watch videos.
“They learn all the different components of the computer, the engineering behind it, how the processor works,” he notes. “I still have kids coming to class, but with social distancing requirements, it’s a new challenge.”
Austin says he learned a great deal about what skills are necessary to be successful at a job, through his experience at DSLCC: “It provided the foundation for this position,” he says. “I learned people skills, and how to network with other employees.” Recently he was able to secure some old desktop computers to be used in the lab at JRTC through connections with former fellow DSLCC students.
“Everything I’ve done in my career so far has taken me one step forward,” he says. He says he realizes a lot of his students don’t really know what they want to do yet, but whether it’s in the IT world or another career, “I want them to be successful.”
Adds brother Alex: “The degree I earned at Dabney, and the work ethic I learned, definitely got me this job,” he says.