The March 17 dedication of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas High Voltage Lineman Technology Education Building at Arkansas State University-Newport was well worth the wait — the two-year wait.
Explained ASUN Chancellor Dr. Johnny Moore to a crowd of students, faculty, electric cooperative representatives and civic leaders on the sunny Thursday morning, “This ceremony was originally scheduled for March 17, 2020 — exactly two years ago today. … We all were shut down during this thing called COVID-19. … Those were some very dark days.
“But today — on this beautiful St. Patrick’s Day, two years later — we feel very lucky, indeed, that we have been able to open our campus back up and invite all of you here to join us in the celebration of our High Voltage Lineman Technology Program and our continued partnership with the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.”
Through the program, Moore said, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas have donated more than $1.5 million to students in scholarships.
While the dedication ceremony had been on hold two years, Moore pointed out, “It has been 18 years in the making. Our partnership with the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas began back in spring of 2004.”
He added, “You know, they were barely born at that time,” referencing the High Voltage Lineman Technology students present for the dedication.
Students like Foster Layman of Fayetteville, who is sponsored by Ozarks Electric Cooperative, and
Gavin Harrod of Hamburg, who is sponsored by Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative. After graduation, they’ll return to their cooperatives for internships and, they hope, full-time jobs.
Linework is in Layman’s blood.
“It’s pretty much a family trade,” he said. “My grandpa was doing it. I have two uncles, and then my dad was a lineman for a little while too.”
Layman said both the industrious and adventurous characteristics of linework appeal to him.
“I like being able to work with my hands, and then it’s an adrenaline rush, you know, climbing and stuff,” he said. “So that makes it more fun. And I like to do something new every day. It’s never the same job all the time.”
Harrod appreciates similar aspects of linework, although he found out about it a different way.
“We had a career day our sophomore year. I like working with my hands, and it seemed like a cool job,” he said. “I don’t have any family members who have been linemen.”
President and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation Vernon “Buddy” Hasten said the cooperatives have sponsored 287 of the program’s 400 graduates and have hired more than 100 lineworkers.
“Our mission is simple — it’s to be reliable, affordable and responsible,” Hasten said. “Our core values are safety, our members, our employees, their families, integrity and financial responsibility. … Our linemen work in a hazardous environment. That environment can become dangerous if we don’t have the right training. … The training that these linemen get at this program makes them safer, and that should make all of us proud, and it helps us to actually live our core values.”
The program helps ASU live its core values as well, said Dr. Charles “Chuck” Welch, president of the Arkansas State University System.
“There are 32 public colleges and universities in the state of Arkansas,” Welch said. “We don’t want ours to just be one of 32. We want ours to have an identity and have unique programs that set them apart from the other institutions of the state. And it’s programs exactly like this one that do just that. … It’s always exciting to talk about these students and, not only about the great careers they’re being prepared for, but about this collaborative partnership with the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, and how unique that is in ensuring our students are successful before they even enter the program.”
Layman confirmed the program has prepared him with the necessary skills and safety instruction for his career calling.
“We learn to climb, how to look at transformers, how to hook them up and then building lines, setting poles, everything like that,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of framing, learning how to frame different poles. It gives you all the basics for learning what you need to do for the job.”
Speaking to Layman and other aspiring lineworkers, Hasten said, “I do believe that the lineman profession is an honorable profession. It’s an awesome profession. And I think that the career that you gentlemen are going to be embarking upon, having graduated from this program, is a good one.”
The partnership is also a good one, according to Moore.
“On behalf of our institution, on behalf of the students whose lives have been forever changed going through this program, I want to sincerely thank the cooperatives for their support of Arkansas State University,” he said. “You have been an elite partner, and we want to thank you.”
After graduation, many students in the ASU-Newport High Voltage Lineman program will begin their careers at local cooperatives.
Favors given to dedication attendees, hard-hat-shaped stress balls with logos of ASUN and the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, symbolize a long-standing partnership.
ASU System President Dr. Charles “Chuck” Welch said collaborative partnerships, like the one with the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, make their programs unique and competitive.