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Like Grandfather Like Grandson: Thaddeus Stevens College makes generational impact

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Loyalty and commitment run deep in the Pettis family. To family, to values, to workplace culture and goals, and to Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology (TSCT). Especially to TSCT, given credit by a grandfather and his grandson — both alumni — for developing the skills and philosophy for them to pursue satisfying careers while supporting a family and comfortable lifestyle.

Steve Pettis may have been the first in his family to attend Thaddeus Stevens College, but he wasn’t the family’s first connection with the college. A generation earlier, his stepfather Philmore Dyer, a printer who owned Lancaster Photo Engraving in downtown Lancaster, supplied the college with plates and cuts used to print pictures and illustrations.

“He was instrumental in getting me into Stevens Trade School (later renamed Thaddeus Stevens College),” said Steve. “He knew I was interested in printing and helped steer me to work in the industry.”

Steve first started working in printing when he was attending Lancaster Catholic High School.

“I got a job with Forry and Hacker located on Liberty Street in Lancaster. My first job was to melt down the lead lines of type from previous printings. The metal was poured into molds to make bars of metal called ‘pigs,’ The pigs were then remelted in the Linotype machines to cast new lines of type for new printings.”

“When I turned 16, I was taught to operate hand-fed presses,” he said. “Those presses were used to print small jobs like business cards, postcards, and envelopes.”

After high school graduation, Steve had the choice between attending MIT or Thaddeus Stevens College. He toured Thaddeus Stevens College and found the printing department was using equipment that he was already familiar with. He chose Thaddeus Stevens College and lived at home while he attended.

Steve’s son, Ronald Pettis, began his career following in his father’s footsteps and working for a printing company. While he did not attend Thaddeus Stevens College, he developed a connection to it.

“I was working in cybersecurity at a printing company with an alum when I was asked to address computer science classes at Thaddeus Stevens College in 2018 and 2019,” said Ronald.

Grandson Shawn Pettis, who grew up in Millersville, is the latest generation of the family to attend Thaddeus Stevens College. Shawn received a degree in business administration (BUAD 14).

54 Years at Lancaster Newspapers/LNP Communications

Steve Pettis started to work at Lancaster Newspaper (later LNP Communications) while attending Thaddeus Stevens College.

 “During my second year, I worked after school from 4:30-11:30 p.m.,” said Steve. “It was like a full-time job, but after work, I got up the next morning to go to class.”

After graduation, Steve joined LNP full-time and worked in print production. He was involved in the development of the equipment and worked through the switch from linotype to electronic typesetting (hot to cold type).

 “We were part of the industry’s testers. The managers liked to get the equipment in and test it, and I was involved in the development and modification of manufacturer’s equipment. I wrote diagnostics for some of the machines to have equipment work with the other parts,” said Steve.

“If the equipment is running good, it’s like I don’t exist,” he said. “There were times I actually slept there because I was working on a problem.”

Steve recently retired from LNP after spending 54 years with the company. When he retired in June 2020, both his college and his employer recognized him for years of dedication and service.

“I had the honor of presenting my grandfather with an award from the Thaddeus Stevens College Alumni Association,” said Shawn, who is a member of the college’s Board of Governors and the Alumni Association and Foundation. “This award was presented to him in recognition of 54 years of commitment to the industry. That was a highlight for me, to present him with something on behalf of the whole college,” he added.

Grandson Chooses Thaddeus Stevens College

An admirer of his grandfather’s intellect, specialized skills, and dedication, Shawn Pettis thought it would be good to continue his education at his grandfather’s alma mater. He first saw Thaddeus Stevens College when he attended a tour with his grandfather.

“I knew I had an aptitude for entrepreneurship and l wanted to pursue marketing or business solutions, to get my feet wet and see how a two-year business degree could help me toward future plans,” said Shawn.

“When I found out that 98 percent of Thaddeus Stevens College grads are employed upon graduation, that was very impressive,” he said. “I knew the college produces high-caliber graduates desired by local industries.”

Shawn said his Thaddeus Stevens College professors were “great teachers who challenged me and helped build my background and character.” He credits them with teaching him communication skills, e-mail etiquette, and extensive Microsoft applications—all skills he continues to use daily in his job.

Shawn was honored with the Program Role Model Award of 2014 for the Business Class, and his grandfather Steve attended the award ceremony. Shawn has since returned to campus to speak to business classes, something he enjoys doing.

He attended Millersville University for a year but then chose to take advantage of a job offer as a business development specialist with Dominion Pest Control. It is the largest locally-owned pest control servicer in the area, servicing all of Lancaster and York counties, recently named the number one pest control company by LNP readers.

“Thaddeus Stevens College taught me all the skills I needed and I was really enjoying this company and wanted to stay here,” said Shawn, who lives with his wife, Lauren, in Ephrata. “They were happy with my two-year degree and I was promoted to general services manager, where I oversee the service department and general management of the company’s 17 employees.”

Earlier this year, he also became the first ever public health entomologist accredited by the Entomological Society of America, the international professional organization of professionals, scientists, and government individuals studying insect science. Shawn said the rigorous study and subsequent certification exam recognizes the role of public health-related pests and how they contribute to serious injury and death among the public.

Grateful and Thankful

The Pettis family credits Thaddeus Stevens College for much of its academic and career success.

“My father is my hero,” said Ronald. “His experiences at Thaddeus Stevens College fostered his talents and guided him to pursue an industry passion that ultimately led to a 54-year tenure within the same organization.

“I felt honored to have been presenting to classes where my father’s journey began,” he added.

“I’m extremely grateful for my education and career growth,” said Shawn. “For generations, Thaddeus Stevens College has been there—providing my grandfather with the skills to pursue a good, steady job and helping greatly with our family’s financial opportunity.”

“When Shawn told me he was going to attend Thaddeus Stevens College, I was totally flabbergasted—and very proud,” said Steve, adding he appreciates the opportunity the college has given Shawn to build his own career.

“Thaddeus Stevens College provides a great education at an affordable cost. It grew my character and strengthened me as a person,” said Shawn. “Our whole family is very invested in contributing to Thaddeus Stevens College.”

Combating COVID-19 with Hands-On Experience

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Justin Popp, ’21, assists in developing state-of-the-art equipment to aid in the battle against COVID-19, while learning valuable, real-life skills.

“I’ve had a high level of satisfaction working on these decontamination units, knowing that I was providing a way to potentially save lives and make a difference during these challenging times. It was a difficult choice to go back to school later in my life, but having the opportunity to help others and gain experience in the in-demand field of automation confirmed I am on the career path I was meant to be on.”

In March 2020, while the world faced a global pandemic, one Electro-Mechanical Technology student had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in developing a product to keep communities safe. These products are called decontamination units. Decontamination units are portable, automatic, high-speed indoor surface disinfection and decontamination fogging systems. They are designed to clean and sanitize healthcare buildings, educational facilities, commercial businesses and more. After a surge in sales for decontamination units due to the onset of COVID-19, RG group hired additional Engineering Technicians like Justin to help with the demand.

As an Engineering Technician for the RG Group, Justin’s primary tasks were to perform the mechanical assembly and electrical wiring of the decontamination units. Eventually, as his skills progressed, Justin was able to train other temporary technicians to build and wire the units.

“RG Group is a diverse company that specializes in fluid power systems and automation/robotics integration. They can also handle custom manufacturing, which is what I was mostly involved with. They’ve had a contract for several years with a company that sells portable decontamination machines,” Justin explained. “These machines are commonly used in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, schools, and other businesses. They use a special ionization method to create a mist of a highly effective solution that kills germs and viruses [including COVID-19].”

Through this experience, Justin has gained satisfaction in his work and expertise in his field. Prior to the internship, Justin says he had “weak wiring and electrical skills”; however, after time and practice, these challenging areas have developed into some of his strongest abilities. Through this opportunity, Justin has gained experience reading electrical and mechanical schematics, troubleshooting issues, and improving management skills through training temp workers. “One thing I am particularly proud of is the fact I was able to help develop the current wiring methods and layout of one of our models,” he says.

For Justin, this incredible opportunity to work with a leading company in the fluid power system industry was extremely rewarding, as he was able to gain real-world skills and played a role in fighting against COVID-19. When looking back at his experience, he says that it has been “a very interesting internship and a great story to tell”.

Justin will be graduating this spring semester and moving forward in his career in the Electro-Mechanical field.

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