Line Technician Advocates Higher Education

Mitch DeJarnette, a line technician with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), is featured in the June edition of Cooperative Living magazine as the first graduate of a new associate degree program offered through a partnership with the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) and Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC). DeJarnette, who celebrated his second anniversary of employment at MEC in April, says, “Higher education has definitely facilitated more opportunities for me in my career.”

DeJarnette’s interest in the electrical profession began at an early age; and after graduation from high school, he attended the Southeast Lineman’s Training Center in Trenton, Georgia, as there were no lineman training opportunities in Virginia at that time. Following his certification in Georgia, he worked for two other electric cooperatives before coming to Mecklenburg Electric. It was at that time that he decided to advance himself through further education, and he enrolled in Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Power Line Worker training program in Blackstone, Virginia, through a partnership with VMDAEC and SVCC

The VMDAEC represents 15 cooperatives in the Mid-Atlantic region and trains over 100 apprentices per year. VMDAEC apprentice linemen can receive up to 35 hours of college credit for on-the-job training. These credits, when combined with SVCC online coursework, lead directly to an associate degree.

Prior to the opening of SVCC's Power Line Worker (PLW) program in the spring of 2016, interested individuals like DeJarnette had to travel great distances for training. DeJarnette states, “Through the SVCC program, I was able to take all my classes online. This arrangement worked well for me since part of my job at MEC requires me to remain close to my duty station during times I am ‘on call.’” He goes on to explain that if he had been required to sit in a classroom, he would have been too far removed from his on-call station and could not have continued his education. This associate degree program was developed through SVCC so apprentice linemen could gain a degree in Industrial Technology while working.

MEC President and CEO, John C. Lee, Jr., says, “Mitch is only 26 years old and can now add a college degree to his accolades and accomplishments.”

Lee points out that in 2017 DeJarnette represented MEC in the Gaff-N-Go Lineman’s Rodeo in Doswell, Virginia, where he and his team members, Brad Clark and Chadd Harding, placed Second in the Dead-End Crossarm Changeout event; and they placed Second Overall, thus qualifying to participate in the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas. The following year he and his teammates, Brad Clark and Jason McKinney, were awarded the distinguished Jimmy Gardner award which is given to the highest-scoring team in the Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. Just recently DeJarnette and his teammates, Brad Clark and Paul Underwood, continued MEC’s tradition of winning by placing second in the Double Dead-end Insulator Change-out event at the 17th annual Gaff-N-Go Lineman’s Rodeo.

“This partnership is yet another example of Virginia’s electric cooperatives forming a mutually beneficial partnership with the state’s community colleges to provide educational opportunities for those in our industry, or those who want to develop a career in our industry,” Lee states, adding, “We encourage our employees to continue their professional growth, and we are proud of Mitch for taking advantage of the opportunity to glean even greater value from his journeyman lineman training and certification and position himself for serious consideration for other professional advancement opportunities.”

Richard Johnstone, president, and CEO of VMDAEC, says, “Helping students meet their educational goals is core to our mission, and we hope our partnership with SVCC will encourage all of the graduates of our program to enroll, and also those of other programs as well. Creating this career pathway will allow students to progress from industry-recognized credentials to an associate degree and hopefully on to a bachelor’s degree.”

“It gives us a certain level of satisfaction at the college knowing that we are training people for careers and jobs that are available,” states Dr. Al Roberts, then president of SVCC. “When you prepare people well and provide an opportunity for them to earn the appropriate credentials, they move directly into the world of work, and that’s part of what we’re all about. That’s our mission—to provide a strong, well-prepared workforce to support the businesses and industries that are located in our community.”