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Engineering graduate proves it’s never too late to climb higher

George Whitmire and his son Connor.
George Whitmire and his son Connor

At 52 and with a new baby in tow, George Whitmire was a sight to behold at this year’s spring commencement ceremony at PNC Arena. With his son Connor at his side, Whitmire received his electrical engineering degree and a chance at new opportunities for his future.

Growing up, Whitmire lived in different parts of Europe and the continental United States as his father, a career Air Force officer, went from station assignment to station assignment.

He graduated high school in Italy in 1979 and initially aspired to go into the Air Force Academy. Instead, he worked several different trades and earned skills as a plumber, mechanic, carpenter and electrician. Eventually, he became the supervisor for the water department in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where his family is from. It was here that he oversaw the Instrumentation and Electrical Division and had primary oversight of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) protocol integration for the water infrastructure in Henderson County.

Whitmire was laid off from this position in December 2008 and found it difficult to find new employment in western North Carolina. At the time, Whitmire was attending Blue Ridge Community College and taking night classes to enhance his technical skills and obtain his associate’s technical degree.

While at Blue Ridge, he was nominated by the college to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. This scholarship makes it possible for the nation’s top community college students to complete a bachelor’s degree by transferring to a four-year college or university and provides up to $40,000 per year to each of approximately 85 deserving students selected annually, making it the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students in the country.

At the encouragement of one of his professors and through his own research, he chose to attend NC State over schools like UC-Berkeley and MIT.

“The ongoing research and development here on campus, what Chancellor Woodson is doing to elevate this campus to one of the number one research universities in the country, the opportunities are here,” says Whitmire.

Despite having to juggle a baby, job searching and finishing up his education, Whitmire maintains a positive outlook on his future. With this degree now layering over his background experience and technical skills, he believes he could go into the power sector as an entry level engineer or even get an upper level management position. Given his knowledge of the German, Italian and Spanish languages, he has even considered looking for careers outside of the U.S.

“Going back to school later in life could pose challenges for others. Maybe older adults might be a little apprehensive because it’s something unfamiliar; it’s been years since they’ve been in school,” says Whitmire. “But I have to say that all the anxiety that one might experience before making that step are really unfounded. You just have to put yourself out there and when you do, you just realize that ‘You know, I’m where I’m supposed to be.’”