New graduates of the Power Line Worker Program at Southside Virginia Community College assemble around an improvised flagpole. (Photo By: Laura Emery)

April 20 was a red-letter day in the six-year history of the Power Line Worker Program operated by Southside Virginia Community College, in conjunction with VMD Association cooperatives and industry partners.

The program graduated its 400th student into the line trade. In fact, the number was closer to 420 once all students of the 24-member cohort walked to the stage at the Fort Pickett Officers Club in Blackstone, Va.

At the same time, officials at the first post-pandemic graduation announced the creation of a scholarship fund in the name of Jeff Edwards, the retiring president and CEO of Southside Electric Cooperative, who was instrumental in developing the school.

John C. Lee Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, made the scholarship announcement by video. The fund will benefit students annually through the SVCC Education Foundation, he said.

Jeff Edwards with Quentin R. Johnson (r), president of Southside Virginia Community College. (Photo By: Laura Emery)

“This school is here and successful because of your bulldog mentality to forge ahead with a great idea, to never settle for less, and to put in whatever effort was required to make it happen,” Lee said. “These scholarships, offered in your name, will serve as living testament to your powerful legacy at this program.”

Edwards said he was humbled by the recognition. “The school has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” he said.

Steve Harmon, president and CEO of Community Electric Cooperative, delivered keynote remarks on the importance of setting goals as the students fan into jobs at cooperatives, investor-owned utilities, contractors and related companies in the industry.

“Having direction in your life is important and having goals establishes that,” said Harmon, a former lineworker who showed students it is possible to climb the ladder from that role.

As a sign of the close connection between the SVCC program and co-ops, the sons of both Edwards and Harmon have gone through the program, the first step in establishing a career as a utility lineworker. In addition, the spring 2022 class included Tarrin Johnson, son of SVCC President Quentin R. Johnson, who delivered remarks as well.

“When you leave this program today, you go back and talk to everybody you know about the quality of our programs here at Southside,” Johnson urged, as he led the class in a cheer of “Panther Pride,” the school’s athletic nickname.

Thomas Bryant III of Farmville, Va., was the 400th graduate, while the Climbing Higher Award went to Ryan Moore of Vernon Hill, Va. The program, which counts for college credit toward an associate’s degree, continues on its mission of providing job training for employees in rural areas. In fact, graduate Robert Darden of Courtland, Va., started at Community Electric less than 24 hours after graduation.

—Report by Steven Johnson, Vice President, Communications, VMD Association