Proving Yourself to Yourself

James Manley didn’t consider himself college material.

“I never would have thought that I’d end up here, I can tell you that. When I was in high school, I swore up and down that I wasn’t going to college.”

Manley needed to support his family after high school, so he put his trades experience to use and landed a job at ABB, formerly GE, in West Burlington.

When the 57-year-old Middletown resident was laid off from ABB after 32 years, the opportunity to attend SCC presented itself.

“When I came and saw the lab at SCC, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “My grandfather taught my dad to do electrical work. My dad taught me. I wanted to take this opportunity to improve myself.”

Manley admitted that he had anxiety during the first few weeks of school.

“I was dead nervous when classes began. I finally spoke to my cousin who went to nursing school. I told her about my nervousness, wanting As, and how the homework seemed overwhelming. I felt like I was falling behind.”

His cousin eased his nerves with advice, like developing a routine.

“I don’t have internet at home, so I used the computer at school. I got there around 6:45 each morning and used a computer where everyone could see me. I did homework and took classes until 7 pm. I treated it like a time clock.”

Manley works on projects in the Industrial Technology Training Center. [John Gaines Photography]

Staff and faculty took notice of Manley using a computer in the hallway, and he reaped an unexpected benefit: extra support.

“Since I was doing homework in the hallway, I had real good encouragement. Employees I didn’t even know would stop to check on me and tell me, ‘You got this,’” he recalled. “There were times when I wanted to hang it up, but with the thought of ‘You got this,’ I really did get it done.”

Manley isn’t alone in facing an unexpected mid-life career pivot. Industrial Maintenance Technology (IMT) instructor Paul Volkl said that many students enter the program after spending time out in the workforce.

Volkl explained that the industrial maintenance field is in need of skilled workers.

“This program is often the answer when someone finds themselves in need of a career change. They get realistic, hands-on training and leave with the skills that companies in the area are looking for.”

In 2005, college officials partnered with area industry leaders to create a program specifically designed to help students excel in the workforce.

The IMT program was launched soon after on the Keokuk campus and received a massive upgrade when it moved into the college’s new Industrial Technology Training Center in 2017 .

Students can take classes part-time or full-time and at their own pace. Additionally, an apprenticeship program connects students with area companies for real-world applied learning. These relationships often lead to full-time positions.

Manley chose the full-time route, and his long days and hard work paid off. He discovered that he would graduate with honors hours before the commencement ceremony started.

Manley celebrates earning his degree. [John Gaines Photography]

“When I saw that, I held back tears, took a deep breath, and felt proud that I achieved what I wanted: To walk across the stage and receive my diploma.”

While Manley is confident that he’s now qualified to get a great job, he plans to take a well-earned break before finding his dream job.

He encourages others who are on the fence about continuing their education to give it a go.

“An education is yours to keep. No one can ever take that away from you.”

He also found that a college education doesn’t have to be expensive. In addition to displaced worker benefits, he qualified for Iowa’s Last-Dollar Scholarship program to pay for his college expenses.

The Last-Dollar Scholarship covers the cost of tuition for about 20 programs, including IMT. Students entering eligible programs must apply to SCC and submit the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) by August 1 to qualify.

For more information about SCC’s Industrial Maintenance Technology program, visit or contact the Keokuk admissions office at (319) 313-1923.

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