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Originally published Monday, July 9, 2012 at 9:47 PM

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Corrected version

Jill Biden gives thumbs up to South Seattle Community College's aviation program

Jill Biden, the second lady of the United States, spent Monday afternoon with aviation-technology students from South Seattle Community College.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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South Seattle Community College aviation-technology students became the teachers Monday afternoon at their Boeing Field hangar classroom.

Their student: the second lady of the United States, Jill Biden.

Biden, an 18-year community-college teacher, flew to Seattle as part of the Community College to Career program spearheaded by the Obama administration. The federal initiative awarded SSCC and several other community colleges a $20 million grant to offer more classes in technical-education programs that had yearlong waiting lists.

"We were at the right place at the right time," Biden said of heralding the benefits of community-college education during the recession. "I've seen that these programs are essential for us to be the most competitive and effective workforce."

Biden's husband, Vice President Joseph Biden, also came to Seattle, to headline a fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Coupled with another $20 million state grant to Washington community colleges, SSCC is able to train three times as many students in the two-year Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program this year, said its interim dean, Kim Alexander.

The AMT program is one of several technical-education programs at SSCC that were bolstered by the grant, awarded because there are so many jobs available to those who graduate from them, said Jill Biden.

At least 50 percent of Boeing's workforce, for example, will be eligible for retirement in five years, said Tim Copes, vice president of manufacturing and quality for Boeing Commercial Airplanes — information that sparked a few gasps of joy from students who already felt good about their education choices.

The graduation rate among technical programs such as the AMT program is 95 percent, said Alexander. The overall rate of hiring for technical-education students after graduation is more than 90 percent, said SSCC President Gary Oertli. Because of the demand, many students are recruited before they graduate from SSCC, he said.

Though the good chances for employment upon graduation are a big plus, something else stood out to Biden.

"The common thread here is that the students who come to these programs love their jobs," Biden said.

Jason DeBuys, 31, moved from New Orleans to get into SSCC's AMT program. The father of two now trains with the program from 7 a.m. to noon, sleeps, then works at an on-site training job with Boeing from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"Every day it's surreal that I'm doing what I'm doing," DeBuys said.

Jonathan Honesby, 33, echoed the sentiment even though he entered the program only after being laid off at Microsoft.

"Aviation has always been a passion for me,"said Honesby, who added that he played with model aircraft as a kid.

He's also fairly confident the next job he gets won't be shipped off to Dublin and Singapore, as his online service manager job was.

That's a major selling point to new students, Alexander said. The program has even attracted someone who has a master's degree in a humanities major from Harvard University, she said.

"He came in because he said, 'You know, I have to have a tangible skill to keep a job,'" Alexander said. "If you're a car mechanic, you know your job isn't going to get shipped overseas, because that car isn't going to be shipped overseas to be fixed."

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published July 9, 2012, was corrected July 10, 2012. A previous version of this story said at least 50 percent of Boeing's workforce will be eligible for retirement within a year. The correct number is five years. Also, the program was mistakenly called Aviation Manufacturing Technology. The correct name is Aviation Maintenance Technology. Finally, the federal government's $20 million grant was shared by several community colleges, it did not go to South Seattle Community College alone.

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