Taking degree to new heights

YSU's newest degree offersa mix of academicsand adventure.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Paul Bowman tilted his head upward and shaded his eyes with his hand as he peered to the top of the 45-foot utility pole.
"It's a little intimidating at first," Bowman, 42, of Lisbon, dressed in blue jeans and a blue flannel shirt, said as he prepared to dig his spiked boots into the wooden pole and make the climb.
"Especially if you're a little afraid of heights."
Bowman and a dozen other would-be electric line workers spent part of Tuesday scaling 11 utility poles in Smoky Hollow as part of Youngstown State University's and FirstEnergy's new associate's degree program in technical studies.
About the program
The two-year program, which begins this month at YSU, includes classroom instruction as well as on-the-job training and is designed to address a shortage of utility line workers, said Rick Luse, manager of FirstEnergy's Power Systems Institute.
"There's not a guarantee of a job, but there's a good probability," Luse said about students who finish the training, which is offered at four other Ohio colleges.
Just qualifying for the program can be difficult. About 90 potential students attended an initial orientation several weeks ago. Those numbers dwindled after a four-hour technical orientation and 10 days of pole-climbing exercises. In the end, about a dozen students will enroll.
Luse said most electric line repairs nowadays are done from bucket trucks, but line workers still need to climb poles on occasion.
"It's one of the skills that you must have, and you must know what you're doing," he said. Fear of heights and electricity are among the top reasons some students don't make the cut, Luse said. "That kind of weeds people out."
Job satisfaction
But for those who stay, it's a satisfying job, said Craig Bean, a 10-year veteran lineman who helps train prospective workers.
"There's an immense amount of pride, pride because not everybody can do this," he said.
Zach Werther, 18, of New Castle, who just graduated from Neshannock High School, said he's suited for this kind of work.
"I like the outdoors," said Werther, whose father worked for FirstEnergy for 25 years. "It just seemed like a rugged job. It makes you tough."
Dr. Ted Bosela, an associate professor of electrical engineering technology at YSU, coordinates the program.
"It's a good industry-university partnership," he said. "It strengthens the university's efforts in work-force development."
The program costs about $11,000. Luse said line workers are paid between $18 and $20 an hour.

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