Despite obstacles, Vincennes University aviation student driven to graduate
The first semester of his freshman year at Vincennes University’s Aviation Technology Center, Tywain Lockhart was struggling.
An arduous commute on weekdays involved taking two buses and walking the final two miles to the ATC campus located at Indianapolis International Airport. He was working as a janitor at night. He was also grieving the death of his brother.
“My first semester was a struggle,” Lockhart says. “I flunked four classes.”
Yet the Indianapolis native remained determined to get a degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology.
His lengthy commute alone would deter most people from forging ahead, but not Lockhart. He continued working toward his goal and kept making the pre-dawn trip from his home to ATC for a 7:30 a.m. class, despite only getting a few hours of sleep.
“I would get off work at 10:30 at night and I had to take the bus home,” he says. “I’d get home at midnight and have to be up by 3 a.m. to catch the first bus. I’d have to catch a bus at the downtown terminal by 4:30 a.m. to get here on time.”
Demand for aviation maintenance technicians is high. There is a need for 189,000 new mechanics in North America through 2037, according to a Boeing study.
Driven by a love of working with his hands and dead-set on entering an industry brimming with great job prospects, Lockhart remained determined.
“My second semester, they put me on academic probation,” he says. “At first, I had to obtain a 2.8 GPA and if I didn’t they were going to take all my tuition money away. I didn’t have the money to pay out of pocket for each semester. Over Christmas break, I said, “I’m not going to keep failing classes.”
He returned to ATC the second semester driving a car that his parents purchased for him and with a stronger dedication to his coursework.
“Second semester I passed my first class with an A,” he says. “I started getting A’s and B’s.”
Lockhart has nearly completed an associate degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology with a concentration in airframe and powerplant. He will proudly walk across the stage to accept his degree at Commencement on May 10 on the ATC campus.
Lockhart credits ATC Director Michael Gehrich and Rick Evans, a senior faculty member, for seeing his potential and helping him navigate the program with success.
“I have a good support system behind me, knowing that they are there,” Lockhart says. “They know you by your name. They ask you, ‘What’s going on? Did you get to class on time?’”
Gehrich says they strive to meet students where they are.
“When a student like Tywain makes it known that they are interested in being successful and are not currently successful, then that’s when we really lock on and get them on our radar screen to make sure we give them as much support as we can,” Gehrich says.
“Unlike some of the other universities that take the approach that ‘this is college and you either you make or not,’ we don’t take that approach here. All of us are very passionate about aviation. Most of us have been here for a very long time. Many of us are VU graduates and we remember what it was like to be a VU student long before we were a VU faculty member. We put all those things in place and say, ‘This is a young man or woman who wants to accomplish a goal and they’re not finding success on their own, so how can we put in a little more effort with them to help them get across the finish line?’”
Lockhart has reached the finish line.
He has landed a job with a coveted employer: GE Aviation. He will work at GE’s jet engine assembly plant in Lafayette, Indiana.
“We currently have about three job opportunities for every graduate within the state of Indiana…there’s that much demand,” Gehrich says. “If a student is interested in going out of state, then literally they can get a job nearly anywhere in the country.
“GE is so coveted locally because it is the highest paying company right out of school. The base pay is $30 an hour right out of school with no experience, and it’s a brand-new facility.”
Continuing his education is also important to Lockhart. He wants to transfer to Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis. VU and Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis offer a joint degree program. Students who complete an associate degree in aviation flight or maintenance with VU are eligible to transfer to Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis to earn a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical technology.
Lockhart has also started the process of earning his pilot’s license so he can repair and fly his own aircraft.
“Once all the pieces started fitting together for him, it was really interesting to watch Tywain transform,”’ Gehrich says. “We went from a student who was not successful at all to a student who is a cheerleader out in the commons, who is bringing other students together, and creating study groups. I think once he understood why we push in the direction that we do - for the student’s benefit and success - that he wanted to spread the word to the rest of the students.”
VU AVIATION TECHNOLOGY CENTER
The 92,000-square foot facility has two hangars and 15 aircraft, including a fully functional Boeing 737-200, as well as two full-motion flight simulators and two stationary simulators. Students can earn a Federal Aviation Administration Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate along with an Associate of Science Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology in just 20 months. Students training to become commercial pilots can earn private, instrument, commercial, and multi-engine ratings along with an Associate Degree in Aviation Flight. More information is available at www.aviationtechcenter.com or by calling 317-381-6000.