Scappoose woman reaches for the sky with her feet on the ground
Photos and Story by Janis Nichols
She said she was looking for something that would get her out of bed every morning at 5:30 a.m.; something that would always leave her asking for more. She wanted a career that was complex and consuming. Naturally, she chose aviation maintenance.
“I was home-schooled by a single mom who always had at least two jobs,” said April Long, a resident of Scappoose. “She was a health care provider and I suppose she would have liked me to follow that path, but it didn’t appeal to me. I had been in customer service for 15 years in general retail, but I always wanted to be out in the field making things happen. I wanted to be challenged by working in a professional environment.”
Long earned her GED in 2010 at the age of 29. That’s when she became somewhat familiar with Portland Community College. Walking to math class one day, she stopped by a display that featured both welding and aviation maintenance information. For that moment, she was “aggressively interested in the aviation program.”
Because Long was home-schooled, she said her first challenge was to learn how to learn. Sitting in a classroom with discussions facilitated by a teacher was new. Having classmates was new. Being surrounded by other students, mostly men, was new.
“It was a great challenge,” she said. “The camaraderie and the team-building were amazing. Dealing with small-group dynamics was frustrating. Add to that the day to day cramming of large amounts of technical information. Learning in that environment is like taking a sip from a fire hose. It was intense.”
For many students focused on a technology degree, there comes a moment when the lights blaze on and the future comes into sharp focus. For Long it came in her “Assembly and Rigging” class, which is her first introduction to hands-on learning.
“I call this my arts-and-crafts class,” she said. “It became really tactile and kinesthetic. Until that class, I had earned OK grades, but when I started working with my hands, I understood the theoretical concepts better. The assemblies came together. The thoughts came together. It was my aha moment.”
Long finished the aviation maintenance core courses in July and will work on her elective courses between now and her degree completion date in December. But beginning in late August, she will work as a paid intern on an assembly line at the Boeing plant in Gresham. She is one of 12 PCC students accepted into the program.
“My career goal is to work for Boeing and become an innovator and a visionary,” Long added. “Boeing is committed to professional development and that’s where I’ll continue to improve my skills and challenge myself. The internship is where it starts for me. I’m a slow starter and a strong finisher.”