April Long launches into PCC's aviation maintenance program

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO  - April Long, a Scappoose resident, works on an aircraft component as part of Portland Community College's aviation maintenance program. Long will complete her Associate of Applied Sciences degree this December.At 30, April Long had yet to settle on a career. After years of working in retail, she knew she needed something more challenging.

The Scappoose resident was taking courses at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus, with no final destination in mind, until she learned about the college’s aviation maintenance program.

Long has lived near the Scappoose Industrial Airpark for the last five years and learned about planes via her close friends who had aviation hobbies. She says she held an interest in planes, but had no desire to become a pilot. With a knack for results-oriented work and hands-on projects, Long pursued PCC’s aviation maintenance program. Three years later, she completed the first day of a paid internship at Boeing, reflecting on her journey from GED to graduate.

“I was looking for something to do,” Long recalls. “It was kind of like, what do I wanna be when I grow up? All my friends around me had found their calling.”

She found hers when she started the rigorous regimen of the aviation maintenance program. Long committed to a minimum of 25 hours a week, five days a week, in addition to working weekends to earn money while she trained.

The reward came in the form of challenging projects that required attention to detail and problem solving.

“I think the moment I felt comfortable and confident was when we were working with sheet metal,” Long says. “The tactile, physical sense of learning gave me a sense of accomplishment.”

The program can be daunting to some, Long admits.

“It’s pretty intense,” she says. “It’s like a job. You have to show up on time every day and stay the whole time. There’s seemingly mass amounts of information to process in a short amount of time. There’s also a physical mastery of the projects and [equipment] tests every other day. There’s also group dynamics of working with a team.”

In addition to the challenge of her assignments, Long had to navigate a public academic setting — something she hadn’t done since elementary school.

Raised by a single mother who sometimes held down two jobs, she and her brother were home schooled during their ‘tween and teen years. Long had to readjust to classrooms and structured assignments with classmates, most of whom were men.

“My mother was working a lot,” Long explains. “So because of our circumstance, I didn’t have very much academic structure. I was extremely intimidated, nothing short of terrified of college.”

One class at a time, Long got over her fears.

Last month, she completed the core courses for the program and, this December, she’ll also earn an Associate of Applied Science degree. In the meantime, she’s also furthering her skills at Boeing during a paid internship.

She jokes that the maintenance program is great for “people who like Rubik’s Cubes.”

“It’s incredibly complicated, and yet common sense,” Long says. “All you have to do is twist in the right way in a certain amount of time and you’ll solve it. It’s commitment and consistency and application.”

PCC is exploring land at the Scappoose airport for development. The college has pledged to develop a facility in Columbia County by 2017.

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