By ANDREW SCHOTZ
9:17 PM EDT, August 17, 2012
A pioneering crew of aviation maintenance experts graduated Friday as the first class of Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics’ new branch campus in Washington County.
After 16 months of studying and training, the class emerged with Federal Aviation Administration Airframe and Powerplant Certification, known as A&P for short.
The class held a commencement ceremony Friday afternoon at Hagerstown Regional Airport — not far from Top Flight Air Park, site of the aeronautics institute’s local campus.
“As the first class to graduate from the Hagerstown campus,” said Greg Null, PIA’s director of student services, “you have paved the way for future technicians.”
He urged them: “Take setbacks in stride. Never give up. No whining. Keep working.”
“We all did it,” co-valedictorian Steven Lee Acord of Westminster, Md., said. “It took a lot of hard work, a lot of stress.”
Acord thanked his parents for giving him a weekly allowance to help pay for school costs.
Later, co-valedictorian Eric Andrew Watts of Hagerstown said, “The guys in the class — the 17 of us that made it — have been like a foundation for a school. This school’s built on these students here and I’m sure many of ’em will go and be foundations at other jobs, careers, corporations. So, good luck and godspeed, guys.”
According to the institute, this year’s local graduating class had students from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, ranging in age from 18 to 53 years old.
Applicants for the next class came from those four states, plus New Jersey, Delaware and Texas, the institute said.
In an interview after the ceremony, graduate Bryson Lee Cordelli of Hagerstown said students learned electronics, powerplant, engines, sheet metal, math, physics and aerodynamics. The students “couldn’t ask for more,” he said.
Acord described having to take apart a reciprocating engine and put it back together, doing numerous sheet-metal projects and making a wooden wing with a cotton covering.
Sheet metal work, in particular, was both challenging and rewarding, he said.
“It’s very tight tolerances,” Acord said, “and if you are outside of those tolerances, in a school, it affects your grade. In real life, it could mean a failure of a part.”
Cordelli, 23, wore a lei of candy — a tradition in Guam, where some of his family is from. He was surrounded by immediate family who celebrated with him.
He said he’d like to work with the Maryland State Police medevac system.
Or, he might try for a job with Mecaer Aviation Group, an aerospace company that started a local facility at Hagerstown Regional Airport this year.
Watts, 27, would like to work for Rolls Royce.
Acord, 27, wants to find a job in Texas, where he was born and still has family.
“Maryland’s just a little too chilly,” he said.
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