School leads to job
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 14, 2013 1:46 PM
Gene Koon works to repair the breaks on a Massey Furguson tractor at Carolina Tractor. Koon will attend Johnston Community College in the fall.
Gene Koon works on a Massey Furguson tractor at Carolina Tractor. Koon received his initial training on diesel engines at Southern Wayne High School's Diesel Academy.
Gene Koon has many fond memories of watching his grandfather working under the hood of a car.
"He tinkered on engines his whole life," the 19-year-old recalls.
The recent graduate of Southern Wayne High School never envisioned it could become his career path.
"When I got into Southern Wayne, they had automotive and diesel," he said, of the school's Diesel Academy, introduced in 2008. "I stayed with diesel for three years, took automotive for two years."
The diesel component proved enticing, especially when he learned about the job field and further training at Johnston Community College. He also fared well in the Skills USA competition this past spring, earning third place in the diesel competition for the state.
While Koon says he enjoyed the high school program, the on-the-job training solidified his interest in taking it further.
During his senior year, he began an internship at Carolina Tractor. He received course credit while working on 18-wheelers, semi-trucks and trailers, "anything they wanted me to do," he said. After graduation, it turned into a full-time job.
"People I work with, they're kind of like one big family," he said. "They have taught me a lot about diesels and tractors. They have taught me a lot that I couldn't learn in the classroom, hands-on."
In the fall, he will continue working days and taking night classes at JCC.
"It will take me three years to get through the two-year program," he said. "The degree would be in heavy equipment and transportation."
His goal after college?
"A job close to home that pays really good would be great," the Grantham resident said. "I just love working on stuff. I go to work, I love it.
"I have always loved doing stuff like that. It kind of developed over the years. More and more I decided that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life."
Koon says he is fortunate to have realized his aptitude and interest at a young age.
It also doesn't hurt that it's in a profession with a bit of security for the future.
"I will always have a job," he said. "The diesel (field) for 18-wheelers and trucks like that, there ain't a lot of people doing that, or they're getting ready to retire. Jobs are opening up."
He said he is grateful that his high school offered the training that prepared him for college and the workplace.
"A lot of people don't have the chance to do this," he said. "There are only two high schools in the state that have the diesel program. The other one is in the mountains (Asheville).
"I have learned a lot from Southern Wayne Diesel. Going into Carolina Tractor, if I didn't go there first, I wouldn't know what to do. They gave me the basics."