Christopher Needham had a difficult upbringing and “had to do what I had to do to make ends meet.” But his life is now a bit easier thanks to his determination, a scholarship from Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation, graduation from Polk State College as a Metallica Scholar, and employment as a machinist with JC Machine, Inc.
Needham, who was working in the service industry before he was laid off due to impacts of the pandemic, admits that he didn’t show up to class often in high school.
“But here at Polk State, the people made me want to show up,” he said. “The opportunity to better myself and prove to my family that I can do something great with my life made me want to do better for myself and for my daughter.”
And he did. Needham graduated in December from Polk State’s Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Machining Program with the College’s first class of Metallica Scholars. The Metallica Scholars Initiative at Polk State offers free, quality CNC machining training to students through a $100,000 grant from the All Within My Hands Foundation.
Needham’s relentless drive and inspiring story landed him a speaking role in the inaugural graduation ceremony, where he shared words of motivation with his peers.
“When I came here, everything changed,” Needham said about his personal struggles and the impact this opportunity has had on his life in just two short months. “I was able to leave all my stress at the door and know that when I come here, everything that I do is going to benefit [and] I will be so much further ahead. I will gladly recommend this program to anyone who doesn’t know or isn’t sure what to do with their life. This is something that you can do with your life.”
CNC machinists are trained to operate machinery that precision-cuts, grinds, or drills materials. They serve as the technicians who control the speed, the material fed, and the path of the cut, and ensure that machines are set up properly, working efficiently, and producing high-quality products.
Machinists create a variety of products using CNC technology including medical instruments, airplane parts, and food packaging, and they are in high demand with more than 100 machining companies in Polk County. The need for CNC machinists is forecasted to increase 17 percent nationally in the next five years – well above the average growth of other occupations.
Needham aspires to work in the CNC machining field for six months to gain more experience before enrolling in Polk State’s CNC Programming Track, which will build upon the skills and knowledge he attained in the CNC Operator Track. Through these two tracks in the CNC Machining Program, students can also gain up to four credit hours toward the Polk State Associate in Science in Engineering Technology.
“My background makes me want to strive to do better,” he said. “What I’ve realized is school isn’t that hard and the only person who can fail you is you.”
He expressed gratitude to CNC Machining instructor James Gibbons and his daughter, Madison Gibbons, who is also a graduate of the program and serves as a lab assistant at Polk State.
“In addition to my own personal hard times, we got through a lot of challenges together as a class with it being 2020,” Needham said. “When we’re here, we’re truly a family.”
“That’s what I prefer – a sense of stability; a sense of home,” he added. “Because I’ve never had that, and this here at Polk State has given me hope.”
He also thanked Metallica, calling the scholarship to complete his training for free “the biggest blessing.”
“Metallica did give me something I haven’t been given since I was little and that is hope,” Needham said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to do something better with my life.”
Polk State is enrolling for future classes of Metallica Scholars which will begin on March 8 and May 17. Individuals who are interested in the program and scholarship opportunities should contact Coordinator Jamie Rowan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863.837.5954. More information is available online at www.polk.edu/metallica.