MORRIS – When Nick Lerma enrolled in welding class as a junior in high school, he was looking for an easy A.
“I thought it was going to be a blow-off class,” Lerma said. “But once I got here, I could see my future in front of me.”
A year out of high school, Lerma is now working as a steel fabricator in Joliet and competing in welding competitions across the state. Lerma said he owes his success to the Grundy Area Vocational Center, or GAVC.
“We’ve had two international competition winners come out of this program,” said Jim Cebulski, welding instructor at GAVC. “So I’d say the kids are very prepared for a career.”
Lerma came back to GAVC on Thursday night for the center’s annual open house, which showcased all 10 programs offered at the center. Those programs are automotive technology, building trades, computer graphics and multimedia design, computer maintenance technology, cosmetology, criminal justice, early childhood education, fire science, health occupations and welding.
“It’s a great way to answer questions from parents and students that we don’t normally have the time to answer,” said Deb Eugard, instructor of the early childhood education program.
Gina Magnus and her daughter Samantha, a sophomore, came to explore the health occupations program.
“She’s always said she wanted to be a nurse,” Gina Magnus said of her daughter. “The program here sounded very impressive.”
Roughly 600 juniors and seniors from Minooka, Coal City, Morris and Gardner South Wilmington High Schools are enrolled in GAVC programs, Assistant Director Mark Hulbert said.
Aside from offering high school credit, many of the programs equip students with college credit hours and basic certifications.
Criminal justice students graduate with 12 college credit hours and health occupation students become certified nursing assistants.
Students who complete the two-year cosmetology program can take the state board test to receive a license in cosmetology by senior year, said Shantel Leasure, director of the cosmetology program.
“Classes are five days a week and one Saturday a month,” Leasure said. “Each class lasts for four hours a day.”
Leasure said the cosmetology program – which is based out of Franklin Building in Morris – requires more hours than any other program.
The computer graphics and multimedia design program is only two hours each day, but instructor Joe Terrel said several of his kids work on projects outside of class.
“Our students have designed the Morris Cruise Night website, the Grundy County Three Rivers Habitat for Humanity website and the Immaculate Conception School website,” Terrel said. “We also do live streaming of the area football, basketball and volleyball games.”
Like Lerma, many GAVC students want to pursue a career in their chosen program.
Jessica Mazur, a senior in the early childhood education program, said she wants to be a teacher.
“I’d never worked with kids before so I wasn’t sure if I had the patience,” Mazur said. “After this, now I know I can do it.”
Fellow senior Emaly Garcia was just accepted into Illinois State University’s mass media and video production program.
“I can’t wait to go,” said Garcia, a computer graphics and multimedia design student.
“Hopefully one day I can work in video production. That’s my dream.”