An inspiring story about how our local technical college, GNTC and industry, Kerry, played a significant role in a student’s future plans.
Joshua Banks looks for the lesson he should learn in his life experiences — good or bad — and how he can use that knowledge for the better.
Banks graduated from Georgia Northwestern Technical College in 2021 with a diploma in Industrial Systems Technology. He’s enrolled in GNTC’s Instrumentation and Controls Technician associate degree program but had to take the spring semester off after he contracted COVID-19; he said he plans to return to classes to complete his second program.
As a younger man, he juggled multiple jobs to support his wife and five children. He worked for the Georgia Department of Corrections for three years, but a decade later Banks found himself on the other side of the system when “a misunderstanding that got out of hand” resulted in his arrest, he said.
“I got into trouble and went to prison for a while,” he said. “When I came home, I thought it would be hard to find a job because of my record.”
His record didn’t hold him back, he said. He found work in his field — but he hit roadblocks when he sought better jobs, despite his eight years of work experience in that field.
“I didn’t really believe in school,” Banks said. “I made my way with good-paying jobs as a laborer, but I couldn’t move up to foreman or supervisor without a degree.”
At age 40 he enrolled in GNTC, 23 years after he had left high school and had completed his GED diploma. He knew he was headed in the right direction after enrolling at GNTC, he said.
Last year Kerry, an international food company, hired Banks as an electrical maintenance technician for its Rome facility. Kerry is one of several local industries who contact GNTC to consider hiring graduates.
“When Kerry asked me about the salary, I told them what I wanted, and they offered me even more because they had been told I was an outstanding student,” Banks explained. “They pay me what I’m worth.”
“The instructors stay plugged in with different area industries and help students get jobs, not just prepare them to work,” said Jeremy Doeg, GNTC alumnus and maintenance manager at Kerry. “When local industries request the college teach different technologies, the instructors incorporate that information into their lessons; familiarity with that relevant technology can give graduates a leg up when applying for a job.”
Several other maintenance technicians at Kerry are enrolled or have completed the program at GNTC, said Doeg, who graduated from GNTC in 1998 with a diploma in Industrial Maintenance.
“The college prepares you for what you will be doing in the world after graduation,” he said. “GNTC provides the basic knowledge for doing the job and teaches the rules and regulations you need to know in your field.”
Banks said he earned his Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10 certification through GNTC for free. OSHA’s 10-hour training provides entry-level workers in construction and general industry basic safety and health information.
“GNTC set me up for the best possible opportunity in life,” he said, adding he is humbled by his experience at GNTC, the confidence his employer places in him and the opportunity to help others.
A sense of purpose
Banks said he learned deeper empathy and compassion for others during his incarceration.
“I see prison as a time for self-reflection without the distractions of a 60-hour-a-week job and family so that I could work on the things I needed to,” he said. “The biggest outcome was coming home with a clean slate to meet my wife.”
Spending a lot of time with the prison’s chaplain and ministry volunteers, he grew closer to God, he said. That relationship fostered a sense of purpose that leads him to share his experiences with students who have started down the wrong path and in the future to become a peer mentor to inmates.
“I know where that road goes, so my passion is to try to prevent anyone else from making those mistakes,” he said.
“I can’t sing the praises of GNTC enough,” he said. “The transition was so easy because it didn’t matter where I’d been. The instructors only cared about how they could help me now.”
He attended his first three semesters at GNTC’s Floyd County Campus in Rome full-time, pouring his best possible efforts into his studies. He said he earned “a wall full of certificates” and maintains a 4.0 grade point average.
“It’s so fulfilling to have instructors say that you are one of the best students they’ve seen,” he said. “I appreciate knowing that the faculty and staff care. Attending GNTC has been a life-changing experience.”
Wesley Runyon, assistant dean of Industrial Technology and instructor of Industrial Systems Technology at GNTC, confirmed Banks as an outstanding student.
“He was a student who showed up early and stayed late,” Runyon recalled. “He always asked questions and helped the other students. You couldn’t ask for a better student.”