Student Eric Pennella doesn’t let cancer stop him from achieving his CADD dreams

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Eric Pennella isn’t letting Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stop him from an education. Pennella, 32, started the one-year Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) certificate at Portland Community College’s Southeast Campus three weeks after finishing chemotherapy.

“I had too many things holding me back, but I still wanted a good career,” Pennella said of choosing the short-term program. “I wanted to use my brain and not just my body.”

It wasn’t the first time health issues had derailed Pennella’s life.

At the age of 13, he was told he had the genetic disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT), a degenerative nerve disease, and after age 18, his doctor told him he would need six surgeries over the next two years. He finished the final rounds of surgeries by the time he reached 23.

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Pennella, who wants to become a mechanical engineer, had just started PCC’s Civil and Mechanical Engineering Program when complications from the chemotherapy interrupted his plans. As he took time to recover, he had a chance to rethink his education and decided to shift to the CADD certificate. Armed with this certificate he’ll be able to find an entry-level job and use it as a stepping stone to Portland State University’s Mechanical Engineering Program.

“The coolest part of the CADD program is learning how diverse the job market can be,” Pennella commented. “The market is shifting– you used to do a hand drawing and then machined your product, but now everything is 3D-modeled before they go through the process of building. I like seeing everything I digitally build come together in real life.”

Stories like his are what PCC is all about. In fact, the current legislative budget request for the state’s community colleges would double the seats in high-demand CTE programs across the state the next biennium (2019-21), earmarking $70 million to grow CTE offerings like CADD.

The possibilities are wide ranging in this program: students can seek positions as a mechanical designer, CAD technician, design drafter, or a detailer that makes the fasteners, holes and various parts of the assembly.

“The CADD program is special because the students get both theoretical and hands-on training from people who all work, or have worked, in industry,” said CADD Chair Justin Mortensen, who provides hands-on demonstrations using parts he designed when he was an aerospace engineer. “It is wide-open, and employers continually want to come into our classes to meet our students. We have employers poised to hire before students have even graduated.”

Eric Pennella.

Eric Pennella.

Phil Eichmiller is an instructor who is setting a good example for students like Pennella. Eichmeiller has a full-time job in the industry. He works at Autodesk, a global leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. His favorite aspect about the CADD program is that students get to create projects in the “Design to Make” class for 3D printing and small-part CNC machining.

“Working with students really helps me see the programming through their perspective,” Eichmiller said. “Autodesk sees the value of me being able to work both at PCC, as well as at Autodesk.

“There’s nothing like seeing the design go from the computer screen to a physical thing in your hands,” he added. “Getting to do that before you get a job is really important.”

Eichmiller, who is a PCC graduate, serves on the CADD advisory board where he works with Mortensen and others in the field to ensure that the program is providing cutting-edge, up-to-date skills and training to meet the needs of employers and students. In addition, industry reps visit his classes to discuss employment opportunities and network.

And it’s working for the students. Pennella, who will earn his CADD certificate in June, was hired last term as a drafting technician at the engineering consulting firm Norwest Engineering.

“If it wasn’t for the CADD certificate, I wouldn’t have the job,” Pennella smiled. 

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There is one comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Linda Browning 7 months ago

Congratulations, Eric! Your hard work has paid off!

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