GTCC, GAP program launch career plan for Ivory Coast native

Published on: February 2, 2022
With help of Guilford Apprenticeship Partnership (GAP) and A&T transfer programs, Vasidki Conneh is able to chart his own path toward an engineering career that began at GTCC.
With help of Guilford Apprenticeship Partnership (GAP) and A&T transfer programs, Vasidki Conneh is able to chart his own path toward an engineering career that began at GTCC.

Vasidki Conneh’s father immigrated to the United States from Ivory Coast in Africa in hopes of finding better opportunities for his family.

Conneh has made sure his father’s efforts paid off.

The elder Conneh arrived in the United States in 2004 and brought his 6-year-old son and older daughter three years later. None of the three spoke English and none were at all familiar with American culture when they settled in Greensboro.

Just over decade later, Conneh was valedictorian of his senior class at Dudley High School. Today, he is less than a semester away from graduating from Guilford Technical Community College's Manufacturing Technology program. He will concurrently finish an apprenticeship with Machine Specialties, Inc. (MSI) through the Guilford Apprenticeship Partnership (GAP) and will only be 17 hours from earning his N.C. A&T transfer degree.

He will enroll full time at N.C. A&T in the fall.

It has certainly been a road less taken for a high school valedictorian, but it is a journey Conneh researched and planned for years to make sure he made the most of the opportunities for which his father had worked.

"There was a lot of head turning when people found out I was going to GTCC and entering the GAP program," Conneh said. "A lot of people asked me what my goal was … at the time the GAP program was new. Nobody knew about it. A lot of people did question it.

"For me the GAP program was the big thing. I remember when I was graduating high school, the hurdle I kept hearing about was that you can go to college, graduate, and still have a hard time getting a job. You needed experience to get a job, and GAP allowed me to get both a degree and experience.”

Conneh is a rock star of the GAP program. Because he eventually wants to be a drafting engineer, that is where his focus has been at GTCC and in the GAP program. But there’s more: He’s learned to operate CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines. His day-to-day job as an apprentice at MSI, a manufacturer of precision parts serving the aerospace industry and many others, is designing and preparing technical drawings that can be used to manufacture products.

"I’m definitely ahead of the curve," Conneh said. "Ever since my second year, I’ve been working with engineers trying to learn as much of their processes as possible. Plus, I’ve worked in a machine shop and have experience on how the machines work. And, I can run a CNC machine," said Conneh, who has been joined in Greensboro by his entire family, including his mother and six siblings. "Compared to my friends, I no doubt chose right for myself."

Conneh’s life and his education and career plans seemingly are progressing smoothly these days, but it hasn’t always been that way.

School was a frustrating struggle for him soon after arriving from Ivory Coast, located on the southern coast of West Africa. French is the official language of Ivory Coast and when Conneh entered elementary school in Greensboro, he spoke no English.

"It’s kind of fuzzy now looking back, but I was mostly speaking my native tongue which was French," said Conneh, who now speaks English without a trace of an accent.

"I remember being very angry at myself at times. My peers understood things, and I was struggling to comprehend. I thought it was all at a very fast pace. I had to do a lot of studying on my own to catch up."

But that self-imposed plan of catch-up studying is still paying dividends for Conneh. His style of study is vastly different from other students. It takes much more time but has a tremendous pay off.

"The way I had to study early on was a main contribution to what I have done. Because I was so far behind, I had to teach myself and study for a long time," Conneh said. “Even now, I still do the same thing. I’m self-teaching myself while the (instructors) are teaching me.

"It"s weird even to this day, even when I'm studying with my peers, it takes me longer because I'm very thorough with it. I go slow. That's the way I do it."

Even though his studies were augmented by summer school, it took Conneh a couple of years to perfect his style of studying, master English, and catch up to his classmates.

"When I look back, I didn't have good grades in elementary school. It was the opposite of many of my peers who had good grades then and not in high school. A lot of my classes I was failing in elementary school. I was in the fourth grade when I started getting Bs and in the seventh grade I started to have a better understanding of the language and classes,” he said.

“I spoke a little English in the second grade and in the third grade I could be in conversations. In the fifth grade, materials started clicking for me and I could comprehend. In the seventh grade I started to understand the curriculum.”

The reason he caught on and caught up, Conneh said, was the long hours of studying, well into the night, even when he was a young child.

"I don’t consider myself smart. I'm conflicted by that. There are a lot of people that have the potential but don't try. It's all about the hard work to me."

His goal has always been to make the best grades possible. He seldom brought home anything lower than an A and never anything under a B. But then, midway through high school, he discovered the ultimate high school academic goal.

"It's weird because for me, I didn't consider being smart a thing. I remember my freshman year of high school I didn’t know what a valedictorian was. My goal had always been to strive for an A and if I potentially fail the comfort would be a B. In my sophomore year, I discovered what a valedictorian was. At that time, I was ranked in the 90s in my class, but I decided 'I'm going to become the valedictorian.'"

"It was all about being able to speak into the microphone, to be on the stage speaking into the microphone. I kept doing what I had normally done, studying, and getting good grades and the first thing you know, I'm the valedictorian."

The hands-on skills Conneh has acquired during his apprenticeship will serve more as reference materials going forward, first in the quest for his engineering undergraduate degree at N.C. A&T and then in his career.

"Once I graduate, I plan on focusing more on the professional world. As much as I like school, I actually like work more," he said. "Professionally, I don't have aspirations to be a manager. I do want to learn as much as I can within the drafting field and build on that."

And much of the foundation of his future has been built at GTCC.

"GTCC has been one of the most crucial aspects of school for me. I was most grateful they were able to accept most of the college credits I took in high school. If not I would have been back to square one.

"I'm so appreciative for GTCC allowing me to be as fluid as possible with my classes," Conneh said. "They have been able to make this as stress free as possible for me, and I am grateful."

For more information, visit the Guilford Apprenticeship Partnership (GAP) program.

For more information, visit GTCC's Associate in Engineering, NC A&T State University Transfer Program.

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