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PCC program runs with BIG cats

ThinkBIG will train students to handle heavy machinery

Those familiar big yellow and black earth-moving machines will soon be a part of the landscape at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus as the college kicks off its Caterpillar dealer service technician program.

A ceremony set Friday for 9:30 a.m. in Room 105 will start the ThinkBIG program, a two-year course to train students on all aspects of the machines, produced by the largest heavy equipment company in the world.

On Monday, 25 students from surrounding states will begin their training in the program.

Halton Co., a local Caterpillar dealer that has had a long-time relationship with PCC's diesel technology program, helped get the program off the ground, according to Russ Dunnington, faculty department chairman of the diesel service technology at PCC Rock Creek.

Other dealers who are participating in the program include Peterson Machinery of Eugene, NC Machinery of Seattle; Tractor and Equipment from Billings, Mont., and Western States Equipment Co. of Boise.

The program is quite a boost for the college because it will train Caterpillar technicians from a wide geographic area.

'Without contributions of the dealerships, it would be pretty hard to make this thing fly,' said Russ Dunnington, faculty department chairman of the diesel service technology at PCC. 'Basically our territory will include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, a little bit of Wyoming and a little bit of North Dakota.'

Training includes all aspects of repair and maintenance, such as work on engines, transmissions, undercarriages, hydraulics, heating and air conditioning and other aspects of the machines.

In addition, students receive a general education, taking classes like English, speech, math and social science toward an associate's degree in applied science.

Students in the program must be employees of a certified Caterpillar company, according to officials. As such, they will spend two calendar years on the course, spending half a year at PCC and the other half working for their respective dealers.

'It's a great opportunity,' said Ishmael Rivas, a ThinkBIG instructor at PCC.

There are other perks as well.

'As part of the program, the students receive laptops from the dealers,' he pointed out.

Also, many are expected to receive technician tools from the dealers, which can be worth as much as $3,000.

Dunnington believes it was several factors that placed PCC over the top, including the fact that the school has a strong connection with the Halton Co. Also, the school's central location and proximity to a major airport most likely played a part, he said.

'Those were key factors,' said Dunnington.

During Friday's ceremony, three new Caterpillar machines - worth more than $1 million collectively - will be on display.

For more than three decades, PCC's Rock Creek campus has been a major training location for students interested in the school's diesel service technician program, with an estimated 80 students registered in the program for the fall term.

Still, Dunnington said more techs are needed for diesel programs in general.

'I get calls every week, sometimes several times a week (asking) for technicians,' said Dunnington. Because of the high demand, Dunnington said increased wages are expected. In general, diesel techs can earn, usually with some overtime thrown in, as much as $80,000 annually.