On Thursday, Aug. 29, students of the East Kentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI) in Paintsville, gathered amongst friends, family and instructors for the graduation ceremony of eight advanced course students.
The graduates are leaving the institution with eight nationally-recognized certifications.
“Those are coveted credentials in the workplace,” said Director Kathy Walker. “You can go any place on the globe and receive employment.”
Also attending the graduation was Tim Melton of Progress Rail, a division of the Caterpillar, Inc., based out of Corbin.
According to Kathy Walker, “Tim has hired most of this class.”
Addressing the graduates, Melton said, “it makes my job easier, this institution that you’ve come through. I feel kind of like Calipari recruiting.
“Without going into any numbers, these guys came over, we talked, we made offers, moving packages included, various things, just to recruit this caliber of machinists,” he said.
According to eKAMI Assistant Director John Michael Laney, the students “usually have a job before they leave this program, none of them making under $20 an hour.”
One of these highly-sought-after recruits was 19 -year-old Jacob Samples.
According to assistant director Laney, “Jacob has a great story. It’s sort of a story from rags to riches. His story is just amazing, and he’s a good boy. He had it in him, that initiative. He wanted to change his life.”
Samples moved to Paintsville from Columbus, Ohio, during his freshman year of high school.
“Essentially, when I first moved here, I had nothing,” Samples said. “I didn’t have a place of my own. I was living with my grandma for a while. Me and my Dad both were sort of stuck in a rut and trying to get out, but that’s not easy to do when you don’t have much. We were hopeless. We didn’t have anything.”
“At the very beginning of my senior year, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do,” he continued. “I had a general idea. I knew I wanted to go into a trade school or something like that because I knew college wouldn’t be for me.”
It was during this time that Samples had the opportunity to shadow someone at eKAMI through their ‘Serve and Learn’ project.
“I ended up getting very interested in it. I love the coding aspect and making things,” he said.
He also was able to get his dad interested in the program and according to Samples, his dad is now thriving at a company in Burlington.
When asked if someone at his high school had encouraged him to check into eKAMI, Samples explained, “It was more of a path I made on my own. I always had people saying you should college and I was like college just isn’t for me. It was something I just wasn’t interested in. “
Unlike many traditional college graduates, Samples has graduated from eKAMI with zero debt, thanks to the facility’s funding by various grants.
Regarding his time spent at the institution, Samples said, “I loved it every step of the way. The director and assistant director were very helpful and the students always kind and willing to help. It was the same way with the instructors. They were always willing to help if I needed it. With what I’ve learned here, I can be a machinist, operator, programmer… they taught me a very wide range of skills so no matter what it’ll help me to be placed into a very well-paying job and actually make a life for myself instead of just sitting there trying to survive.”
At only 19 years old, it seems that making a life for himself is happening rapidly. He will be making approximately $55,000 a year with full benefits.
“On Friday, I’ll be going up there to look at a four-bedroom house,” said Samples of the moving package that was included with his job offer.
Samples said his new position will have him doing various jobs.
“They’ll have me doing a whole bunch of stuff, from running plasma cutters to laser cutters, running big saws and stuff like that,” he said. “They’ll be grooming me and a few other students into becoming supervisors.”
Samples said that eKAMI has a been a “life changer.”
“We took him under our wing and took care of him,” said assistant director Laney. “Kathy treated him as a mom and I treated him like a son. Most of the students here just need a second chance.”