Three generations of a Walker County family are proud to call Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) their alma mater.
Don Shields was awarded his Machine Tool Technology diploma in 1969; his son, Mark Shields, received his Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Technology diploma in 2011; and his granddaughter, Darsey Shields, earned her Dental Assisting diploma in 2021.
“My coursework matched my work life perfectly so that I was prepared early in my life for my profession,” Don Shields said. “My technical training at GNTC enabled me to achieve a journeyman status before age 21.”
Don Shields kicked off his career working in machine shops in Chattanooga from 1968 until 1974 when he moved into nuclear power maintenance. Over the next 44 years, he worked at all TVA nuclear plants, worked as a nuclear power contract specialist beginning in 2005 and retired after serving as mechanical maintenance instructor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“My father was a machinist during World War II and worked for TVA as a machinist,” Don Shields said. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
His years at GNTC set him on a path to achieve great things. “The satisfaction I found in this chosen field was molded by the instructors and the learning experiences in the classroom and the machine shop,” he said, adding he appreciated how knowledgeable and helpful instructors Frank Lewis and Tim Land were.
“Our instructors always instilled within each student the desire to succeed,” he said. “Their work was appreciated by each student.”
Mark Shields is a third-generation machinist, he said. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1989-93 as a boiler technician on a guided missile destroyer during the Persian Gulf War.
When Blue Bird North Georgia shuttered its plant in LaFayette in 2010, Mark Shields lost his job of 13 years. He turned to GNTC for machinist training, where he received tools and financial help through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
“The program and instructor Philip Shirley set me up for success in every way,” Mark Shields said.
Shirley, who teaches Precision Machining and Manufacturing, taught students to be safe, to produce consistent work and always to deburr their metal, he said.
Mark Shields said he thanks God, his family, Philip Shirley, his other instructors at GNTC and Selena Magnusson, GNTC’s vice president of Institutional Effectiveness and Student Success for helping him to complete his diploma.
“Mark brought a great attitude and strong work ethic,” Shirley said. “I am still in touch with him on occasion and am proud of his success. He works alongside several of my other graduates at a local company.”
Mark Shields is a CNC Machinist at Teems Fabrication Inc. in Ringgold. There he sets up, programs and operates CNC milling machines and CNC lathes.
“I cannot say enough great things about Philip Shirley and the GNTC program for what they are doing to prepare students like Mark Shields for the workforce,” said Brian Woods, department manager for Teems Fabrication. “Mark has been with us for a little over 10 years now and is considered to be one of the top operators in our shop.”
The training Mark Shields received at GNTC allowed him to program parts at the machine on his first day on the job, Woods said.
“This was a huge benefit to a company like ours,” he explained. “We are a job shop, which means we run a multitude of different parts in one day as opposed to setting up on a production part where you would run the same part repeatedly. Mark is considered one of Teems Fabrications most valuable employees, and we look forward to hiring more operators like him from GNTC.”
When the time came for Darsey Shields to consider college, she knew that her father and grandfather had attended GNTC and decided that GNTC would be “a great choice,” she said.
Her interest was piqued after hearing a presentation in her high school healthcare class about careers in the dental field, she explained.
“I chose GNTC for the Dental Assisting program because I heard great things about it and so I could get started with a career,” she said. “If I want to further my education, the credits are compatible with several other colleges.”
Darsey Shields works as a certified dental assistant for Mason Dental Associates in LaFayette, she said. She assists the dentist in procedures including fillings, crowns and extractions.
“I started doing my clinical hours at that office and got hired there after graduation,” she said. Her experience at GNTC equipped her for her career because students “did a lot of hands-on work that prepared us for being in a dental clinic.”
Haley Davis GNTC’s assistant dean and instructor of Dental Assisting, described Darsey Shields as an excellent student with admirable dedication.
“What stood out the most was how determined she was to understand fully everything we taught,” Davis said. “She would truly listen. If she didn’t get the lesson the first time, she would continue to ask questions and practice until she got it down.”
All three GNTC graduates are Rock Spring natives. Don and Mark Shields attended classes at the Walker County Campus in Rock Spring, while Darsey Shields attended classes at the Catoosa, Gordon and Walker County Campuses.
The family expects to count another GNTC graduate next year. Kathy Shields, wife of Mark Shields, currently attends GNTC to earn her Business Technology diploma.
Darsey Shields said her maternal grandfather, S. J. Bradley, attended GNTC in the 1970s. He studied Heating and Air Conditioning.
Founded in 1962, Georgia Northwestern Technical College is celebrating 60 years of providing quality workforce education to the citizens of northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma or a certificate in aviation, business, health, industrial or public service career paths. This past year, 11,134 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. GNTC has an annual credit enrollment of 8,528 students and an additional enrollment of 2,606 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training and Georgia Quick Start.GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.