Susquehanna Township native The Honorable Jeffrey E. Piccola, 15th Senatorial District, Dauphin and York Counties, will address the 1100 students from all of HACC's locations who will receive their associate's degrees.
Senator Piccola serves as Majority Whip, the third ranking member of the Senate Republican Leadership Team. A member of the Education Committee, among others, he has been a champion for improving public education and has been a leader in creating the South Central Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Program, Inc., a scholarship organization that provides tuition assistance to needy families in the region.
HACC's student population continues to grow, and in January the college held its first mid-year graduation. Previously, those finishing their studies mid-year were included in the spring commencement.
"Considering both ceremonies, this is our largest graduating class to date," said HACC President Dr. Edna V. Baehre. "Many are nontraditional students, generally older students going to college for the first time, continuing studies often started years earlier, or retraining for new careers.
"The average age of our students is 28, many are older. They are balancing families, studies and jobs, making huge personal and financial sacrifices. We take immense pride in our ability to provide a high quality, affordable education for many of these students who otherwise would not be able to go to college," said Baehre.
A good number of such students are members of the class of 2005- nontraditional students who, at first, considered college unrealistic. Cher Conley, 32, of Harrisburg will receive a two associate degrees. One is in culinary arts and the other is in restaurant food service management. She also earned a diploma in catering.
Conley already had a bachelor's degree in architecture but spent so much time working her way through college in kitchens that she decided that was what she wanted to do. A self- taught pastry chef, she knew she needed a degree in order to advance, get a higher position and a better paying salary.
She commuted from Lancaster to classes at the Harrisburg campus of HACC for three years before being hired there as pastry chef and moving to Harrisburg.
"A community college allows you go to at your own pace," she says. "I needed to work at it between two and three jobs. I don't know if I would get that flexibility anywhere else. I couldn't afford to take two or three years out of my life. I could work here and take classes."
Circumstances were a little different for Robert Fultz, 38, of McVeytown. He graduates with an associate's degree in the automotive service excellence for General Motors program. He also will receive an award as an outstanding sophomore in the automotive service program for his academic achievement.
A displaced worker, Fultz lost his job in the summer of 2003 when the Corning Asahi plant closed in State College. "I worked there for eight years and thought I would retire there. Then the rug was pulled out from under my feet," he said.
After three months of struggling to figure out his next move, he found the automotive program on HACC's website and thought he could turn his hobby of working on cars into a career. To enter the program, he had to find a car dealership willing to give him 10 weeks of co-op work following 10 weeks of schooling.
He traveled one and one-half hours or 78 miles each way to classes at the Harrisburg Campus of HACC. With five-year-old twin daughters, Fultz and his wife knew it would be tough financially with him going to school instead of working. "But she was thrilled that I was going back to school," he said.
Workforce Investment Act and Trade Act Adjustment (TAA) funding paid for his tuition initially, but this year he was not eligible for TAA benefits and had to fall back on unemployment benefits.
"Even though it was sad that I lost my job, I'm glad I had the opportunity to go back to school- to a community college- and have a career, rather than what I would call a dead-end factory job," says Fultz. "In the automotive field it will be a constant learning experience, a career that is always changing with different body and suspension parts and computer systems."
HACC has more than 25,000 alumni in this region. Today, the college educates more than 16,000 students in degree-seeking programs and more than 55,000 in workforce development and community education courses. Like their predecessors, more than 95 percent of HACC students plan to continue to live and work within 25 miles of their campus.