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16 July 2007

JSU Co-Op Student Working at Bynum to Receive Degree at the Age of 19

Erica Long visits with Larry Simmons, her mentor and former machining instructor at the Anniston Army Depot Career Academy. Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star

By Matt Kasper
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Long days: Learning is a full-time task
for 18-year-old at Army Depot

Erica Long is planning her retirement.

Granted, the 18-year-old works three days a week on a 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. schedule at the Anniston Army Depot, and two days a week she works from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

She works in the cooperative education program as a safety trainee and takes classes at Jacksonville State University at night.

It’s not the schedule some might expect from a member of the Internet generation. But getting a mature start seems to be a constant in Long’s life.

She graduated from Munford High School in 2005, when she was 16. She plans to graduate from JSU next summer at 19, the age when many college students are just getting started.

When she started at the Anniston Army Depot Career Academy in 2005, Long was the youngest high school student ever admitted to the program.

“At Gadsden State they called me Doogie Howser,” Long acknowledges, smiling a little. She transferred from Gadsden to JSU last year.

These days, she spends her time at the Depot’s Safety Office processing safety-perception surveys and occasionally leading classes on safety.

“I get phone calls about incidents. I have a lot of charts and data you have to incorporate for research,” she explains as she sits at her desk.

She tries to “look for root causes” of incidents.

“I like to see what led to an event ... and find out what could we get to do the next time it occurs.”

The key, she said, is asking the “five whys” whenever an incident occurs.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? might sound tedious, but the repetition is often necessary to determine the circumstances that contributed to an accident.

Long wasn’t always interested in safety studies.

When she started working at the depot in the Anniston Army Depot Career Academy, she worked in the machining department, although she was too young to work in the industrial area, said Larry Simmons, who was her machining instructor.

She transferred from the two-year trade school to the four-year college program last year.

“The main thing is, she went through the machining program. She learned enough about the trade that she’s able to offer advice,” Simmons said.

“Most people in safety have not had the background that she’s got.”

Long said she recently spotted lubricant in one area that needed to be replaced. “The lubricant was way too dark to be using it in the shop,” she said. “It should have been removed a long time ago.”

Workers in any industry can become complacent, and that’s when situations become dangerous, she said.

Hugh Buchanan, an industrial hydraulics instructor, said he’s impressed with Long’s work ethic.

“The thing that I was really impressed about her was the determination to succeed,” he said.

Though Long gets her tuition at JSU paid through the program, all tuition assistance is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to Joan Gustafson, public affairs officer for the depot.

Long said she doesn’t get academic credit for her participation in the program.

When she graduates, which she plans to do, and if she chooses to work at the Depot, which she plans to do, Long will be a safety trainee no more.

“I will be a safety specialist,” she said.

Long works as a safety trainee at the Depot’s safety office. Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star

In the meantime, she wears her age like a horseshoe around the neck.

So when a teacher in a machining course asked her to stand up and say something interesting about herself, she said:

“ I’m 18, and I’m a junior.”

Cutting through the silence, someone asked: “What are you? Some kind of genius or something?”

About Matthew Kasper

Matthew Kasper covers Jacksonville, Piedmont, Ohatchee and Alexandria for the Star.

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