Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on GAP and PACE funding and students at SWCC.
Justin Hornyak of Creston did what was expected of people today: after school he went to college to earn his degree. But, Hornyak’s journey was not the run-of-the-mill college story. Instead, he earned his GED and college certification in the same year.
Hornyak, 28, earned his GED in Creston in 2013. He then started college at Southwestern Community College the same year, working toward a degree in psychology.
“I started to get my degree in psychology,” Hornyak said. “They were making me do an Associate of Art, which was a two-year course, and I ended up having a baby, so that kind of stopped it.”
Hornyak and his wife, Danika, had a daughter in December 2013. Aurora is seven months old.
After his daughter was born, college became difficult. Hornyak quit and got a job at Lakeside Casino in Osceola.
“It was pretty bad working at the casino,” Hornyak said. “The people were great, I loved the staff. But, to drive back and forth from here to Osceola for 12-hour shifts, for $9.07 an hour, that wasn’t worth it. And, it was such a strain.”
It was a rude awakening for him when he realized he did not want to work at the casino for the rest of his life.
“I wanted something better,” Hornyak said. “It was a really rude awakening. I counted the money for the casino, and they only paid their employees $9.07 an hour, and I got to see $900,000 on a table in front of me. ‘Well, this isn’t fair,’ I said. So, I decided I wanted to do something more, something better, something worth working for.”
Hornyak received a flyer at Southern Prairie YMCA with information about a 24-hour welding class at SWCC.
“I was all over that because welders get paid really well and they’re high demand, so I did that,” Hornyak said. “That’s when I was introduced to Kelsey at the GAP program.”
At the beginning of the February course, Hornyak went to the continuing education office for more information on funding. He was referred to Kelsey Hollen, pathway navigator for the GAP and PACE programs at SWCC.
GAP and PACE
GAP and PACE programs are state funding to create programs for community colleges to aid students with financial difficulties in receiving certifications in certain areas. Certifications include CNA, paramedic and welding certifications.
Hollen spoke with Hornyak about continuing his education after the two-week course.
“I thought she meant getting a degree in welding. I was like, ‘That didn’t work out the first time,’” Hornyak said. “She told me I could get my national certification, which would be however long the instructor decided.”
Hornyak started a three-month certification practice in March. Passing the test means the student will be certified nationally, and be able to weld anywhere in the United States.
“You got to pass a test, and they X-ray it, and if there’s one slight hole in your weld, they’ll fail you,” Hornyak said. “You have to be that pristine on your weld.”
Hornyak passed the test, and soon after interviewed for a welding position at a company in Corning. Hornyak’s first day at the job is today.
GAP and PACE funding aided Hornyak by helping pay for welding equipment needed for the three-month certification course, and helping with transportation to classes and job interviews.
“Just knowing that I’m covered in every corner is a pretty good feeling,” Hornyak said. “Not so much stress in finding a job as usual.”
Hollen was also part of helping Hornyak learn to put together a resumé, with help at Iowa Workforce Development.
Prepared to continue
Hornyak said he feels prepared now for his new job and anything in the future.
During his 24-hour course, he learned welding techniques he will do at his new job. And, while he was working on his resumé, he earned his national career readiness certificate through Iowa Workforce Development, 215 N. Elm St.
“I would like a college degree in welding, that would be pretty nice,” Hornyak said. “In consideration, it’s not going to happen instantly, or within months, or maybe not even years.”
But, welding is a step in the direction Hornyak wants to go. That direction is blacksmithing.
Blacksmithing is the art of creating objects from wrought iron or steel using tools to hammer, bend and cut.
“It’s always been my dream job to make swords. Everybody likes swords,” Hornyak said. “If you can get your job off the ground, there’s a lot of promise in it. Renaissance fairs, flea markets, pawn shops, collectors, you can’t go wrong with it. So, the welding thing is just a step ahead.”
Hornyak said he had one bit of advice for those who wanted to change their current situation but didn’t know how.
“Get ahold of Kelsey,” Hornyak said. “I didn’t really think my life could get this far. And, here I am. I’m going to be a welder. I never, never once thought I would take up a job in welding, and here I am. I’m going to be a welder. I plan on continuing this career as long as possible, until my dream goal is met.”
For more information, contact Hollen at 641-782-1417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.