The road to success
When Nate DeGrandpre quit school after the 10th grade, he could have never predicted that he would one day be working as a plant coordinator for a global manufacturer.
But through trials and tribulations, DeGrandpre, 37, graduated from Isothermal Community College and now works at The Timken Company in Rutherfordton, a bearings and alloy steel manufacturer.
"I never saw myself as having that kind of potential. I really didn't because all I've ever done is what was available," DeGrandpre said. "The staff at Isothermal really helped pull that out of me. They were incredible."
DeGrandpre was born in Vancouver, Wash. and ended up in Rutherford County in 1988 after his parents moved for jobs. He was home-schooled until he quit to go to work in a cotton mill.
"In 1997 I went to the college and got my GED and I thought 'I've made it man, I've arrived and I'm good.' Then I got laid off at Sara Lee when they shut down and went to work at another manufacturing plant in Shelby. I was so tired of the way things were going and not having an education," DeGrandpre said.
DeGrandpre began working at Timken in 2006 on the ground floor running grinders. As time went on, he decided he wanted to do more within the company. That's when the human resources manager suggested that he take some classes at ICC.
"One thing led to another and the woman that I spoke to in the office said I should just get a degree," DeGrandpre said. "I really didn't think I was smart enough. I missed so much of my high school education, but I said I would give it a shot."
DeGrandpre began taking classes full-time while working second shift at Timken. He said during those years, he averaged about three to four hours of sleep a night and had to give up spending time with his daughters, Tabitha and Lindsey, to complete homework projects.
"When I went into this I told God 'If this something you want to do, you're going to have to give me the grace to do it because I don't know how I'm going to do this'," DeGrandpre said. "My wife Betty was the rock that kept me going. There was a lot of mornings when I had classes that she would grab me by the wrist, pull me out of bed and have a cup of coffee ready. I was never late to class and I attribute most of that to her because she was incredible and really supported me a lot."
He also attributes his success to Melissa Johnson, who was his advisor during his time at ICC. Johnson encouraged him all through his classes and helped him with his schedules.
"She was unbelievable and so helpful. She spent some time with me at the beginning reassuring me that everything would be all right and I would get through. Because my first day of class I was scared out of my mind," DeGrandpre said. "After the first semester, I was amazed at what I had accomplished and the potential that was there. By then, I was rocking and rolling, going right through it."
DeGrandpre's dedication in the classroom earned him the college's Academic Excellence Award last year. The award is given to a student who is dedicated to their studies, but also interacts well with other students and instructors. For winning, DeGrandpre got to visit the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh and met Dr. R Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College system.
"Each year there are nominees from each of the academic divisions and then a group gets together and decides who will get it. We only have one for the college and it's our highest academic honor for a student," said Mike Gavin, director of marketing and community relations at ICC. "It's a complete package as a great student."
After two years of classes, DeGrandpre graduated from ICC with an associates in business administration and an associates in banking and finance in December of 2012 and walked during the commencement ceremony in May. His education allowed him to apply for the plant coordinator position, which he started full-time in April.
"I work with any sort of product engineering changes, process engineering changes or any changes to corporate or local quality control documents. I coordinate with the quality group, the engineering group and the manufacturing group and with doing that I coordinate with plants in New Hampshire, our home office in Canton, Ohio, India, Romania, France and different places in Europe," DeGrandpre said. "Any kind of change whatsoever comes to me and I coordinate those changes with the various groups involved. I'm also in charge of new part deployments and coordinating those. I love my job."
DeGrandpre is thankful the for the education and help he received from the staff at ICC, as well as the support from his family and Timken. He said he would have never gotten through the program without them.
"Still to this day it amazes me how all of those teachers were incredible. What's amazing is that the instructors give you the textbook knowledge but they constantly give examples from their career and things they have encountered with dealing with people," DeGrandpre said. "Them being able to guide the students like that, has really helped me apply that here and be successful."