WCCC: Something for everyone

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

For the perfect blend of a great education set at affordable pricing, Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood has what many students are looking for in a post-high school learning experience.

“I tried out an academic school, and it wasn't for me,” Andrew Polpchko, 20, of Mt. Pleasant said.

Polpchko is attending WCCC to learn welding, and he loves it.

“I gave this a shot, and I fell in love with it,” Polpchko said. “I think it's great.”

Polpchko is just one of the thousands of students who have opted to attend the community college, which offers dozens of degrees, certificate programs and courses of study sure to fill the need in anyone who wants to pursue a higher level of education in a field they could then secure a good-paying job.

“This is a place where students can get true value for their money,” WCCC President Daniel Obara said. “We give them the opportunity to receive a good education and in most cases, they are job ready when they leave here. We listen and we know what employers need and what they are looking for.”

The community college celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010 and is relishing in its plans for a future filled with expansions and progress.

In 1970, after listening to the positive feedback from residents, Westmoreland commissioners agreed to sponsor a college and opened its doors in 1971 to a night class of 259 students. Classes were held in rooms rented at Jeannette High School. They were moved in 1972 to the former Westinghouse Semi-Conductor plant, which is now Founders Hall.

In fall 1972, day classes were offered for the first time and nearly 1,500 students enrolled.

At present, the community college has expanded to include education centers in Belle Vernon, Export, Indiana, Latrobe, New Kensington, Uniontown and Waynesburg.

In addition to its popular nursing, technical and business courses, WCCC offers a variety of educational options in workforce training, computer training, personal enrichment, public safety, health care and personal development.

Offering courses all year and evenings, WCCC is able to tailor its education program to accommodate almost every potential student.

WCCC also offers dual enrollment for high school students, childcare, financial aid, tutoring, student guidance and on-line courses, and an array of scheduling options.

“We offer very flexible scheduling,” said Anna Marie Palatella, WCCC director of public relations. “Adults or students that have jobs still have the opportunity to fit in classes and we now also have a very robust number of students who are taking advantage of the on-line classes that we offer.”

Many students who attend the community college have already completed a degree in a four-year college or wish to transfer from WCCC to further their degree of study; most credits are transferable.

Students can take one or more classes, can attend full time or part time, and the facility also welcomes back students who have taken time off from studies.

Students do not have to be from the county. Many travel from other areas to take advantage of the stellar offering of the facility.

“I just really like the program and I like the hands-on work that we are able to do,” student Haley Gainvors of Altoona said.

Gainvors is working toward dual degrees in landscape architecture and lawn maintenance.

“I have a background from a vocational school, but this is great,” Gainvors said.

Focusing on the increased need for skilled workers in the technical industry, the college offers many courses for students looking for a more hands-on career and is planning to open an advanced technical center at the site of the former Sony plant near New Stanton.

“We are looking toward what the future workforce needs,” Palatella said. “We want to offer as many up-to-the-minute career programs that do not require four years of school.”

Palatella added that they also recommend what is referred to as “stackable credentials,” where a student can study numerous fields of technical training that can all be added together to create a more well-rounded technical education.

“We offer programs that we know there is a need for,” Palatella said.

The community college also offers program for senior citizens, such as the SCES grant program and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program or RSVP.

“We provide a lot of opportunities for senior citizens,” Palatella said.

WCCC works with programs for single mothers, low-income families and students who need a little extra help with courses of study.

Also, students who want to participate in sports, clubs or other extracurricular activities will not be disappointed. WCCC offers many options to help create an overall, well-rounded educational and life experience.

“We have developed a lot of strategies to help our students become successful,” Palatella said. “We are working for the goal of the success of our students and we want them to be comfortable and confident.”

Since its inception, WCCC has launched thousands of students who have gone on to lead productive, fulfilling and successful lifestyles.

“We want our students to achieve the dream,” Obara said.

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.

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