No one in Louis Bernard’s family had ever attended college, and they didn’t expect him to either.
Shortly before he graduated from Lorain High School in 2018, he was planning to become an auto mechanic. He wasn’t choosing college. But college — specifically, Lorain County Community College — chose him.
“It almost feels unreal,” says Bernard, 19, who is pursuing his associate degree in Computer Aided Machining at LCCC. “I never thought I would make it this far. I like the route my life is going, and I’m absolutely loving the college experience.”
The change in course began when a high school teacher pointed Bernard toward a tool and die maker apprenticeship at Elyria Plastic Products, where he learned how LCCC could help him take this newfound career path to a higher level. Elyria Plastic Products is one of several manufacturing companies where apprentices can earn LCCC credits, which inspired Bernard to pursue a degree. Not only is he working toward his state-licensed journeyman’s card, he’s also working toward that degree.
“Students like Louis get a double bang for their buck,” says Kelly Zelesnik, dean of LCCC’s Engineering, Business and Information Technologies division. “If they want to one day become a supervisor and their company wants them to have a degree, they’re halfway there.”
By taking college coursework that directly applies to his job responsibilities, Bernard has discovered the value of higher education.
“I never liked high school, and most people didn’t think I’d make it to college,” he says. “But this seems more real, like what I’m learning actually has a purpose.”
He says he’s always been curious about how things work, taking them apart to see how they operate. The chance to do so — while earning money and a degree — is a perfect fit.
“The hands-on experience has been amazing,” Bernard says.
Zelesnik says it is common for mechanically inclined students like Bernard to finish high school and assume they are done with education. But LCCC’s earn-and-learn programs in fields like tool and die, automation and MicroElectroMechanical Systems help position students to one day be promoted or even open their own business.
“We have a variety of models where students are working and going to school at the same time, and the work is related to their classes,” Zelesnik says. “It’s a job that means something to you, and you can see how your education relates to your work. It helps students keep that fire inside.”
LCCC has lit that fire in Bernard, who once couldn’t envision earning a college degree and now can’t envision his future without it.
“My life is full of new experiences and new knowledge,” he says. “This program has changed my life in a very positive way.”