Hamden HS program empowers students to earn associate degree

Kassidy Berger

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A select group of Hamden High School students now have the opportunity to graduate high school with an associate degree in manufacturing engineering. 

The Hamden Engineering Careers Academy or H.E.C.A. program, resulted from a collaboration between Hamden High School, several local manufacturing companies and Gateway Community College. 

The program allows students to earn 68 college credits, or an associate degree, upon completion of program requirements and high school graduation. In addition to the associate degree, students can also earn a certificate in C.A.D., or Computer Aided Design, as well as a certificate in Quality Control.

Daniel Cocchiola, coordinator of counseling and career pathways at Hamden High School, explained the purpose of creating the program. Cocchiola noted the demand for manufacturing jobs in Connecticut caused by companies, such as Sikorsky and General Dynamics Electric Boat, receiving multi-year defense contracts in 2016. As these companies expanded their workforces, the demand for smaller manufacturing companies also increased. At the same time, the workforce in manufacturing was aging at a rate that was faster than new workers were being hired.

“I wanted to marry the two together: the opportunity to track to the associate degree and the opportunity for students to get workforce readiness skills,” Cocchiola said.

A key piece of legislation allowed this program to happen. In 2018, Governor Dan Malloy expanded apprenticeships to manufacturing. The State Manufacturing Incentive Fund Apprenticeship Program provided $10.7 million for manufacturers to provide wage subsidies and reimbursements to apprentices, serving approximately 455 individuals, according to the Malloy-Wyman Record.

“We wanted to create a program where we would offer something that was attractive to the multi-generational college family, as well as the family that’s trying to gain access to higher ed,” Cocchiola said. “And to do it in a way that if the students chose, they could also drive workforce development needs for the region.”

Entrance into the program is through a weighted lottery system. Specific factors were given extra consideration during the application process, including gender, English as a second language students and other underrepresented minority groups. Cocchiola said that of the 25 open spots for the program, he received an overwhelming 63 applications. Ultimately, 36 students were accepted into the program.

Hamden High School plans to use a $500,000 bond from the State of Connecticut to fund the program. The school also plans on building a space to house the program that will feature machinery for students to gain hands-on experience.