HAMLET — The one-of-a-kind partnership between Pee Dee Electric and Richmond Community College netted students another competitive advantage in their education on Thursday.
Pee Dee donated a Cooper Industries relay panel to add to the college’s collection of panels the students are able to practice with as part of the two-year Electric Utility Substation and Relay Technology associate degree program. The company has already donated panels from General Electric, Westinghouse and the more advanced Schweitzer — which is used by 90 percent of utilities — as well as a fully functioning substation, according to Brent Barbee, executive vice president and chief financial officer for RCC.
“This allows us to train students with (equipment made by) multiple manufacturers,” Barbee said.
Coordinator Brian Terry said the EUSRT program, which began in 2011, is one of only two of its kind in the country — and the other was inspired by RCC’s. Students train to maintain high-voltage equipment and protective systems for the electric utility transmission systems, according to RCC’s website. With Pee Dee’s donations, students can be exposed to “every aspect” of substation and relay operation, Terry said.
Several students waited at the Forte Annex at the back of RCC’s campus for the seven-foot tall relay to arrive. First-year EUSRT students Shawn Howard and Fred McDonald, both aspiring relay technicians from Rockingham, said they haven’t gotten to work with the panels yet but are excited to get hands-on experience.
“There’s nothing like hands-on work,” McDonald said.
Second-year EURST student Amber Covington, from Maxton, noted that the industry is male-dominated, but hopes to be a relay technician working on the Schweitzer model she has gotten acquainted with in school.
“This is the experience I want,” she said.
“Anywhere else, students learn everything from their books but they don’t touch anything,” said Dr. Rishad Hossain, a professor in the EUSRT program. He added that those students may take six to nine months to train once they graduate, but RCC students should only take a couple of weeks to be job-ready.
There are 126 students currently enrolled in the program, which will graduate its sixth class this spring. Barbee said there is 100 percent job placement for EUSRT graduates, and many have job interviews before graduation.
“It’s a tedious job, there’s a lot of studying — but if you can make it through that, it’s a career,” he said.
Pee Dee makes the donations through communication with the college about equipment that is at end-of-life by industry standards but is still valuable to the students. Donnie Spivey, CEO for Pee Dee Electric touted the longstanding partnership with RCC.
“Anytime we can help out, we try to do it,” he said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]