The concept of the project was simple: Develop a job training program that would provide well paying, upwardly mobile jobs for men and who were unemployed or underemployed.
The method, however-to place the academic resources of a university at the disposal of a team of young engineers and allow them to tailor-make an employe-was untried.
This month, the pilot project, known as CETP (the Comprehensive Employment Training Program), came to a close as 72 CETP trainees graduated from George Washington University with certificates equivalent to associate college degrees.
Thirty of the Washington area residents were trained as biomedical equipment technicians, 19 as medical institution safety technicians and 23 as business machine service technicians.
Roger Williams, director of the program, said all 72 students are currently employed in their fields. Their salaries range from $11,000 to $16,000 a year, and job offers are still pouring in, Williams said.
"I think our employment rate and the salary the students are drawing shows its success," he said of the program. "We had to produce a salable product in that student."
The $1.3 million project was funded by the Department of Labor and conducted jointly by GWU and Marymount College of Virginia.
The three work-study programs were developed by a GWU team who asked 55 area employers to identify their current and future employe needs.
Marymount conducted a similar program for registered nurses.
Courses lasted eight to 28 months, and were conducted by eight full- or part-time instructors.
Applicants are required to have a high school or equivalency diploma and two years of high school math and science. The next session for the program begins in September.
Nearly 100 students, most of them minorities from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, originally enrolled in the training.
Only the most highly motivated, such as Robert Warner III, a 22-year-old former Naval recruit, managed to survive.
Warners said he will soon begin work as the Philadephia-New Jersey field service technician for a large biomedical equipment company. The second oldest of 16 children, he said the job is a dream come true.
"If it wasn't for my instructors, I don't believe I could have obtained what I have," Warner said. "A lot of people will say their parents were their (professional) inspiration." He gave that honor to his instructor, John Brown.
Conrad Cheeks Jr., 24, another biomedical equipment technician, also praised Brown, as well as Denise Almond, a program coordinator responsible for finding jobs for the graduates.
His proudest achievement, Cheeks said, was learning that he alone had passed an advanced electrical engineering aptitude test taken by the class. Passing the exam was not required to complete the course.
Cheeks, currently an employe at Children's Hospital, said that without the program he might still be working in underpaid food service jobs.
Other students, such as Joyce Richmond, 34, and Angela Burell, 26, also spoke fondly of the instructors who they said drilled them in academics, professional work ethics and personal discipline with a zealousness that combined Mr. Chips and Simon Legree.
"I think we had one of the best health safety persons in the business," said Richmond of her instructor, David Smith.
Burrell, a former business machine service technician trained at the Xerox Corporation, said the training has given her the skills and personal confidence she needed to "feel more positive about myself."
In retrospect, Williams summarized the project as a daily challenge for the instructors to maintain the integrity of the program-"that means you must meet the academics" while motivating students who are "prepared psychologically for failure."
"The one thing, I think, that held this program together was a real sense of commitment on the part of the staff," said Williams. "I feel proud of what we're doing. I came out of a background working with NASA (the national space program), where I didn't feel I was doing anything of any particular significance in the world."
Now, Williams said, staff members are constantly talking about how much they enjoy coming to work.
"As long as you can have people enjoy coming to work you must be doing something right," he said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Vernon Rowe is a graduate of the course for biomedical equipment technicians. By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Leon Hatton, right, teaches Johnny Harrington and Dianne Brown to repair business machines during George Washington University session.