University News

Western Illinois Adult Student Prepares for Third Career

February 22, 2005

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MACOMB, IL - - Maturity has its advantages. Just ask 57-year-old Charles Bland, who is scheduled to graduate from Western Illinois University this summer with a major in manufacturing engineering technology and a minor in management, 40 years after staring his degree.

The Plymouth, IL (Hancock County) resident returned to school after Macomb’s Porcelain Production Company (PPC) closed it doors in March 2003. He had nearly 25 years of service at the plant, formerly called Cooper Industries, as a machinist toolmaker, which was the highest skill level in the salaried workforce. Bland also had served as a union representative for 20 years and was the union president for eight years (1984-1992).

“When PPC closed I came out to Western to apply for jobs,” Bland said. “I saw on my transcripts that I had only two years to go to complete my degree, so I decided to go back to school.”

Motivation comes with maturity, and he had neither as an 18-year-old when he first entered Western, Bland said.

“I started Western in 1965, right out of Macomb High School, but I just wasn’t motivated and I flunked out after two years,” he said.

He had worked part-time at Barsi Distributing Company in Macomb while at Western and took a full-time job at Bower Ball Bearing in December 1967, two months before being called into service in the U.S. Army. Bland spent 30 months of his three-year tour stationed in Germany as a training sergeant.

In Spring 1971 the newly-released veteran went to work at Fleetwood Enterprise in Macomb, serving as leadman, electrician and service person for the mobile and motor home manufacturer until the plant closed in 1974. Bland worked at Rollins Incorporated and Haeger Pottery until rejoining the newly-reopened Fleetwood plant in November 1975 until it closed again in August 1978. His next, and final job to date, was with Macomb’s PPC (formerly Cooper Industries and McGraw-Edison), until their closure in March 2003.

Bland knows what its like to be a displaced worker; and he now knows how valuable more education can be.

“I’ve been able to take advantage of the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration’s Trade Act programs which pays tuition and books for up to two years of advanced education,” Bland said.

“I would tell other displaced workers, if there’s any chance they can to back to school, do it. Any job out there requires more schooling,” he added.

Since returning to Western in Fall 2003 Bland has taken 15 hours each semester and full summer class loads.

“It has been interesting,” said Bland, who could be a grandfather to some of his classmates. “Students have surprised me the most because they accept me as a student. We’ve been able to trade a lot with each other. I could help them with manufacturing issues and they could help me get up to speed with some computer applications.”

On Saturday, May 14 - - four decades after he first enrolled - - Bland will walk in Western’s 9 a.m. Commencement Exercises. He will serve an internship this summer to formally complete his bachelor of arts degree, with academic distinction.

A father of two and grandfather of five, Bland said he is anxious “to begin a third career” following graduation.

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