Until finding her way inside the hangar that houses the college's Center for Advanced Aviation at the Duluth International Airport, Lisa Forness, 31, had spent her career in the personal care industry, taking care of people as a certified nursing assistant.
Now, Forness is set to join 16 others on stage at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center for graduation on May 16.
The journey, both for the students and the program, has been equal parts challenge and discovery, and a program once boxed and stored in crates is now rolling out graduates.
At home, Forness used to take apart toasters, microwaves, washers and dryers — whatever needed fixing. After a steep learning curve in the first year of classroom work, she found it wasn't impossible for her to keep up while raising a daughter.
Now she's set to embark on a new career in a busy local industry that already has absorbed most of her student peers as tech support in advance of their licensing tests with the Federal Aviation Administration.
"I feel like nursing and this go together," she said. "The system is the brain, the engine is the heart. I love the puzzle of it."
While engine work is at the core of the program, budding aviation maintenance technicians learn to develop an array of skills — making them capable of taking apart and rebuilding a plane from scratch, including doing even the upholstery and painting.