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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2016 3 years ago

Westside Tech becomes a college

Changing the name from technical “school” to technical “college” could give Westside added credibility in the community.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

Only 29% of Americans have a college degree, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. This means there is 71% who either doesn’t have a degree or has received some sort of skills training — but they are still making a good living, said Dr. Michael Armbruster, senior executive director for career and technical education for OCPS.

He hopes that a name change with OCPS’s technical centers can increase that percentage.

The Orange County School Board changed the name of its four technical centers from OCPS Technical Education Centers — which combines five separate disconnected campuses into one major college — to Orange Technical College in January.

At the Westside Campus, 955 E. Story Road, Winter Garden, students can get specified skills training to receive licensure and industry certifications — and they can obtain college credit through a new partnership with Valencia College.

The Tech Express program allows Westside students to earn credits toward an Associate in Science degree.

Dr. Michael Armbruster is the senior executive director for career and technical education for OCPS.

“For instance, a student who takes a (class such as) welding, electrical and diesel mechanic, if they complete the program here, if they go and enroll in the A.S. program at Valencia, they get 23 credit hours for having completed it at Westside,” Armbruster said.

Crystal Davidson is senior director of Orange Technical College’s Westside Campus.

“The point of the name change for us is, there's a sliver of people who won't go to a tech center but they'll go to a technical college,” he said. “For me, the name is not the issue. But if one student who wants to come here because it's a technical college, I'm all for that.”

An enrollment increase would mean more opportunities for high-skill, high-wage jobs, he said, and this will have a positive impact on the 71% of people who don’t have a four-year degree.

“In our high-tech world, the university isn't the only way to get to real success, but there's still this mindset that people want their kid to go to college,” Armbruster said.

Florida has 48 technical centers; 34 have changed their name to include “college.”

“If a kid wants to be a welder at age 19, he can do that — but maybe at age 30 he's tired of the hot shop and wants to own his own welding shop,” Armbruster said. “He would need an A.S. degree for that — and the Tech Express partnership would help him or her reach this goal.

“We're in the transition of college mindset and qualified workforce, and we're the bridge to that,” he said.



Westside offers three non-union (called non-joint) apprenticeship programs: Florida Electrical Apprenticeship Training, Air-Conditioning Contractors of America and Building Construction Maintenance Apprenticeship Program. A fourth, Plumbing Industry Professional Education, will be added next year. These apprenticeships are available in four-, three-, two- and four-year programs, respectively.

Westside receives funding to facilitate and provide the services for this on-the-job training, although the apprenticeships are not owned by Orange County Public Schools, Westside senior director Crystal Davidson said. But if someone registers for Westside's programs, those are owned by OCPS.

How does a technical college differ from a traditional college?

“We aren't theory-driven, we are competency-based, instruction,” Armbruster said. “A welder doesn't just read a book and take a test. He has to show that he knows it. For us it's a lot of hands-on practical.”

Davidson added: “(In) pretty much every class we have had classroom instruction and a lab. What you learn in the classroom you actually go and do in the lab. Our teachers have to sign off.”

There is also a difference between licensure programs and training programs: licensure programs such as cosmetology and massage therapy require a license from the state to work.

And just like kindergarten-through-12 schools get graded on FCAT scores, technical colleges get graded based on completion, placement and licensure.

“We have to meet a standard for our accreditation,” Davidson said. “Seventy percent of our students that start the program have to complete the entire program. Placement is 70%, too. Eighty percent of students have to get industry licensure.”

Armbruster said Orange Technical College averages 89% across all five campuses.

“It doesn't just prepare people for the now, but it prepares them for their steps down the pathway,” Armbruster said.


Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].


Metal (Wo)men

Two female students are proving they have the skills to earn certification in the male-dominated welding profession.


Madeline Slater sees potential in every piece of metal. Bent rods become tiaras, and nuts, washers and tiny gears become the jewels.

“I make a lot of tiaras,” Slater said. “I'm still perfecting the process. They all have their own personality, and they have their own wand.”

She found the perfect wand handle recently when she was in the scrap metal trailer at Westside College, where she is enrolled in the welding program.

When her instructor, Vishnu “Vinny” Persaud, went looking for her on that day, he saw her out there, an old socket wrench in her hand.

“Vinny had to actually physically remove me from the scrap trailer because I was in there digging,” Slater said. “I said this isn't scrap metal; this is a wand. He just looked at me.”

Slater and Emily Wolcott, both 26, are used to the stares as the only females getting an education in welding.

Madeline Slater, who will graduate from Westside College's welding course in May, performs the TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding method.

“When I first started, there was a group of guys here, and they were all really great, but they almost wanted to be too helpful,” Slater said. “I would be grinding, and they would come over and try to help and end up taking over.”

They both agreed that they have learned to handle the “shop talk.”

“At first, they don’t know whether to be polite,” Slater said. “But then they find we’re OK and they can talk shop. They’re like, ‘OK, she’s cool and can hang.’ … They are also interested in us being in here.”

Wolcott’s mother had a similar experience when she worked in the automotive industry.

“She warned me that there are going to be sexist people or people who talk down to you because of your gender,” she said. “But I’m not worried about that because it seems like it’s one of those industries where … they want to help each other in the shop because it’s a team effort to make good work. … The work is going to reflect on all of them.”

Being a woman has its advantages in this field, too, Slater said.

“They say it’s easier to get a welding job as a female because it’s a male-dominated career and they want to have diversity,” she said.

Madeline Slater, left, and Emily Wolcott are the only two females in the welding program at Westside College, in Winter Garden.




Wolcott's father works in design, and one of the welders in his shop graduated from Westside's program. This piqued her interest, so she signed up for classes. Her ultimate goal is to get into design work herself.

“I think it would be tight to work for museums that deal with designy stuff,” Wolcott said.

Wolcott admits she lacked direction after dropping out of college several times.

“I like the academic setting, but it wasn’t working out,” she said. “I didn’t like my job. Technical school was always on my radar, so I started looking at what certificates or accreditations could I get in a few years. From that, I started assessing the aspects of life mixed with my work habits. I like working with my hands, and I like that (welding is) everything from building boats and buildings to fine art. … It’s such a core foundation of all infrastructure around the world, so you can do a lot of things with it. I like the challenge.

Vinny Persaud is the welding instructor.

“I wanted something I can feel proud of,” Wolcott said. “Working through your problems and coming out on the other side and feeling good about it.”

Slater, who has always been drawn to art, said a high school art teacher convinced her that welding was the best way to create large-scale pieces in a short amount of time. She had tried other art mediums, such as ceramics, but she found there were too many outside influences that could negatively affect the outcome, like an improperly prepared kiln or breakage.

“Even if you put something together and it turns out ugly, you have so many tools at your exposure to make it pretty,” Slater said of welding.

Examples of her work sit on a shelf in the welding classroom: a wrapped package with a bow on top and the bony hands of Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Slater found Westside when she was searching for alternatives to art school and four-year colleges, which she didn’t think were a good fit for her.

Welding appealed to her because she considers herself an active, hands-on person.

“I think there's something very, very rewarding about making something with your hands. … For me, rewards are more tangible for me. You can build a building or put together a table. It's difficult for me to sit in an office.”



Slater, who lives in Orlando, entered the welding program last summer and will graduate in May. She said she’s open to the different job possibilities her certification will provide.

“There are fabricating jobs, which my dad would like me to do because it's relatively safe, and there's structural jobs, where I would climb things, welding beams — but my dad doesn't really want me to do that,” she said. “I kind of really want to climb things. He has a project at one of the colleges, and he had me come out there because they started steel erection. He was trying to show me how dangerous it is, but I kind of liked it.”

Wolcott, a Lake Nona resident, started the program in January and will graduate at the end of the year. She would like to get some jobsite experience first, but her goal is to work on the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project, which is enhancing Interstate 4 from Kirkman Road to State Road 434. She has considered moving back to Oregon and working with friends who are welders.

Both women are excited about the new direction in their lives. Wolcott grew tired of restaurant and retail jobs and was ready for something different.

Slater once owned a horse-boarding barn in Orlando, but she realized the lifelong dream didn’t live up to her expectations. This will be completely different, she said.

“It's nice to have a skill that not a lot of people have and they can come to you for help,” Slater said. “Once you have the basic skill set there's so much you can do with it.”


Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode @ [email protected].

Drew High staff, 1958: front, Coney, Moore, Holt, Mrs. Rose, Grant, Birk, Wright; middle, Charlston, Starling, Maxey, Terry , 2 unknown, Combs, Johnson, Sampson, Walton, Walden; back, unknown, Potter, Salter, Ward, Roberts, 2 unknown, Poole, Anderson.

The Westside story

The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation provided a history of Orange Technical College – Westside Campus and its property at 955 E. Story Road, Winter Garden. Some information was pulled from an old issue of the school newsletter, “The Westside Story.”

In 1923, the Rosenwald Fund provided matching funds to construct a three-room school building on Center Street for Winter Garden’s black community. The Winter Garden School started with two teachers and 125 students. It provided instruction for grades one through eight in three classrooms. By 1941, ninth grade was added.

The Rosenwald building was physically moved from Center Street to the north end of the present campus on East Story Road in December 1948.

After the move to a new campus, the school became known as Charles R. Drew High. Drew was a black American physician known for his research on blood plasma and for setting up blood banks.

Slowly, the school grew and additional buildings were added to the campus. As students became interested in participating in athletic events, local families and the faculty built their own athletic fields.

Class of 1959: L. Thompson, L.J. Siplin, E. Riley, E. Keith, C. James, L. Massey, ?, A. Law, E. Jackson; H. Jackson, C. Bing, B. Lindsey, S. Wilson, H. Brown, W. Mobley, O. Reynolds, I. Baker, V. Massey.

Members of the first graduating class in 1957 were James Allen, Christine Birdsong, Floyd Law, Othella Madison, Hersey Mack, Josh Mack, Josephine Russ, Freddy Rutland, Melvin Scott, Margaret Siplin, Myron Wade and Eddie Zackery.

The school excelled in athletics, winning the state basketball championship in its division in 1963 and the state football championship in 1968. Many students also continued their studies beyond high school.

As the community grew, Drew High, now serving grades one through 12, outgrew its capacity. In 1965, William S. Maxey retired as the school’s first and only principal. The school board revealed at his retirement that a new elementary school would be built on Maple Street and named in his honor.

Desegregation left Drew High without a future. It graduated its last class in 1969, and the school closed in the spring. Students attended the previously all-white Ocoee or Lakeview high schools or one of the local elementary schools.

In the early 1970s, several attempts were made to revive Drew as a vocational school or adult high school, and for a short time it was known as the Charles R. Drew Training Center. The site also was briefly used for the Magnolia School for Exceptional Education until the special-education school relocated in 1973.

The following year, the school board established West Orange Adult Education Center. D. Frank House, the coordinator of vocational education at Wymore Vo-Tech Center, was named director. The name was changed to Westside to avoid confusion with the under-construction West Orange High School.

The first vocational class at Westside was cabinetmaking, and the first program to be fully established was the Business Education Department.

As more vocational programs were added, the school’s name was changed to Westside Vocational Technical Center.

In 2002, the school pioneered the use of photovoltaic, or solar panel systems, to power the facility, which would save Westside thousands of dollars each year. Students enrolled in the two-year electrical program were taught the system.

In January of this year, the Orange County School Board changed the name of its four technical centers from OCPS Technical Education Centers to Orange Technical College.

Westside then partnered with Valencia College to create Tech Express, a program that allows Westside students to earn credits toward an Associate in Science degree.


Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].


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