Polk State Masters of Machining: “Metalhead” makes part for NASA

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Changing a car tire was the extent of Madison Gibbons’ technical skills when she enrolled in Polk State Corporate College’s Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machining Program. But after four short months of training, she is now highly skilled in operating state-of-the-art machinery to produce quality products, including those that meet the rigorous standards of NASA.

Although her father serves as the CNC Machining Program’s instructor and her sister is a proud graduate, Gibbons admits that she had no prior knowledge of machines when she enrolled in December 2019. Now, one of her fabricated parts is heading to the International Space Station through Polk State’s partnership with the NASA HUNCH Program.

“It’s so cool and so crazy that there will be a piece of me in space,” Gibbons said. “My favorite part of machining is seeing the finished product. That’s when I feel like a true metalhead.”

“My favorite part of machining is seeing the finished product. That’s when I feel like a true metalhead.”

Madison Gibbons
Polk State CNC Machining Graduate

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from Metallica’s All Within My Hands, 64 students will receive scholarships to become “metalheads” like Gibbons.

In partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges, the initiative provides direct support to Polk State Corporate College’s CNC Machining Program, including scholarships for unemployed and underemployed individuals to complete the short-term training courses, and funds for them to take the exams for six National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certifications that will make them eligible for in-demand, high-wage jobs.

“All the hard work aside, it’s an easy path to a high-wage career,” Gibbons said. “I would absolutely recommend this program to anyone. In the span of four months, my life was completely changed for the better.”

Gibbons graduated from high school in 2011 and was working “dead-end” jobs when she decided to enroll in the grant-funded short-term training program.

“I had no prior knowledge of machines, blueprints, or coding,” she explained, “and even though my dad runs the class, I didn’t receive any special treatment. It’s a rigorous program that allowed me to gain not only new skills, but also a new level of focus in my life.”

Since getting her first NIMS certifications, she has been “grasping for more.”

“I want as many papers as possible that show what I can do,” said Gibbons, who is now enrolled in Polk State’s Associate in Science in Engineering Technology Program.

CNC Machining Program students can earn up to four credit hours toward the Associate in Science in Engineering Technology degree.

Gibbons serves as a lab assistant with the Engineering Technology Program and as the student representative on the Polk State Corporate College Advisory Board with local industry leaders.

“Although I’m not working in the field yet, I am qualified for in-demand jobs with annual salaries between $60,000 and $70,000,” she said.

In Polk County, machinists of all types are in high demand, with a 5.9 percent projected growth rate over the next five years.

“I have options,” she added.

“Polk State gave me the opportunity to make a positive change, hammer out some goals, and refocus my life.”

As an artist, that’s important for Gibbons, who was seeking financial security to pursue her creative endeavors. She plans to work in the machining field after she completes her Associate in Science degree and transitions into a baccalaureate degree program.

She aspires to one day open a machine shop in Key West that caters to the needs of boat captains.

“My main goals are to be a well-rounded machinist, to be happy, and to be constructive,” Gibbons said. “Polk State gave me the opportunity to make a positive change, hammer out some goals, and refocus my life.”

Individuals who are interested in the program should contact Coordinator Jamie Rowan at jrowan@polk.edu or 863.837.5954.

About Polk State College

Located in Winter Haven, Florida, and established in 1964, Polk State College is a multi-campus institution serving more than 16,000 students with Bachelor of Applied Science, Bachelor of Science, Associate in Arts, and Associate in Science degrees, as well as 12,000 students in the Polk State Corporate College with a wide range of certificate and workforce training options. The College also operates three charter high schools.

Polk State’s advantages include small class sizes; hands-on learning; dedicated faculty; day and night classes; online options; affordable tuition; excellent financial aid; and a diverse community and vibrant student life, including fine arts opportunities, clubs, and intercollegiate athletics. Visit www.polk.edu for more.

About All Within My Hands

AWMH is a non-profit, philanthropic organization created by the members and management of Metallica dedicated to creating sustainable communities by supporting workforce education, the fight against hunger, and other critical local services. 100% of donations go directly to local organizations that the Foundation supports. Please visit: AllWithinMyHands.org for more information.

About American Association of Community Colleges

As the voice of the nation’s community colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), delivers educational and economic opportunity for nearly 12 million diverse students in search of the American Dream. Uniquely dedicated to access and success for all students, AACC’s more than 1,000 member colleges provide an on-ramp to degree attainment, skilled careers and family-supporting wages. Located in Washington, D.C., AACC advocates for these not-for-profit, public-serving institutions to ensure they have the resources and support they need to deliver on the mission of increasing economic mobility for all.