Graduates Reflect on Apprentice Journey
Published March 15, 2023
As they prepare to celebrate their graduation this weekend, members of the Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School Class of 2022 are reflecting on their experience. Among the graduates who will walk across the stage are Jasmine Tutt, Erwin Morales and Rosa Rainey.
The three graduates all took unique paths to the school and made the most of their time as apprentices.
While working at a Subway restaurant in Moss Point, Mississippi, Morales was encouraged by one of his regular customers to apply to the apprentice program at HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding division in nearby Pascagoula. Ingalls was also where Morales’ father worked.
He went to the HII website, searched for apprentice positions and applied. But there was one problem: the position he applied for was in Newport News. “So I actually applied to The Apprentice School by accident,” he said. “I ran up here on a Greyhound bus for the interview. A few months later, they told me I had the job.”
Within a few months, he packed up and moved to Virginia.
Although his apprentice experience may have stemmed from an accident, Morales has been intentional throughout the process. He started in the Foundry and then progressed into the designer and engineering programs. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion University. Morales said he loves engineering, manufacturing and trades.
“I really like being around this stuff and finding creative ways to make things happen,” he said.
Outside of his apprenticeship, Morales has been active in volunteering through The Apprentice School Student Association (ASSA) and Habitat for Humanity, with which NNS shares a close relationship.
Now a mechanical engineer, Morales said “subs” are still a part of his life.
This weekend, he’s excited to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work. “It’s been a journey for sure,” Morales said. “I’m looking forward to being surrounded by good friends I’ve made here and family.”
The Apprentice School has been part of Rainey’s life since she was a child. Her mother worked in the school’s Athletics Department for years. “We actually used to come and help out with the football games and stuff like that,” she said. “Everyone was so friendly.”
Despite the connection, Rainey said her mother didn’t push her to come to the school. She worked other jobs and joined the Navy Reserve before applying to The Apprentice School. For someone who loved math and wanted a career connected to the Navy, it was a “perfect place.”
Rainey said volunteering and engagement have been integral parts of her experience as an apprentice. She even earned the James P. Healy Community Service Award, which recognizes the graduate who most exemplified leadership in community service.
“Involvement and engagement made my experience so much better,” Rainey said. During her apprenticeship, she was part of safety task teams, Apprentice School Jaycees and The Apprentice School Student Association (ASSA).
Rainey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, also served in leadership roles for nonprofit organizations and has been involved with the Youth Builders program since it started. Youth Builders invites high school juniors and seniors to participate in fun shipbuilding and job readiness activities at The Apprentice School to build a bridge from high school to a meaningful apprenticeship and future career.
Now an Apprentice School craft instructor, Rainey is grateful for the opportunity to support and mentor current apprentices.
“There were times when I didn’t think I could do this. I was a parent with two kids having to get them to daycare on time to get here on time, while also balancing studying and spending time with them,” she said. “It was definitely difficult, but it was all worth it. Now, I’m able to help other people get through and find different resources they can use.”
Rainey has volunteered at The Apprentice School graduation ceremony the entire time she’s been at the school. For the past three years, she was the volunteer coordinator. But this year, she gets to experience it as a graduate.
“I’ve been training someone to take my place,” she said. “This is the first year I won’t be running around making sure everything is straight behind the scenes, but I’m really excited to see all the apprentices who are going to be volunteering – the next generation. I’m ready to be proud of them.”
By earning the prestigious Homer L. Ferguson Award, Tutt is making Apprentice School history. She is the first African American woman to receive the award, which recognizes the apprentice graduating with the highest honors. Tutt said she was focused on working hard and wasn’t striving for this type of recognition.
“It’s surreal. I just wanted to do a good job and learn with and from my peers,” Tutt said. “It is nice to be recognized because I did work really hard, but at the same time the experience in my apprenticeship was its own reward.”
After graduating from the College of William & Mary and working as a lab tech for a few years, Tutt was on the hunt for new opportunities and a better career. That’s when she decided to apply to The Apprentice School.
As she reflects on her time as an apprentice, Tutt said the first thing that comes to mind are the people she’s met, worked with and learned from. “I have a whole shipyard family, and I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing without every single one of those people,” she said.
The Apprentice School – and the shipyard – isn’t for everyone, Tutt said. But if you’re willing to learn, take criticism and make improvements, it’s worth it.
“Every individual experience is different,” she said. “You have to be open minded, willing to learn and willing to invest your time, sweat, tears and energy to make it rewarding.”
As graduation approaches, Tutt – a shift refueling engineer who earned an electrical engineering degree from Old Dominion University – said she is looking forward to celebrating with her family, although one important person won’t be present physically.
“My mom passed away during my process of qualifying as a shift refueling engineer, but the rest of my family is meeting and I’m really happy to spend time with them and celebrate,” she said. “They’ve made sacrifices, too.”
While making history wasn’t her intention, Tutt knows her experience may help lead the way for others in the future.
“If someone can look at my achievements and be inspired and say, ‘I can do that, too,’ then that’s worth it to me,’” she said.
The graduation ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 18. The event will be livestreamed at www.hii.com/events/nns-as-graduation and on the HII YouTube page and the HII and Jennifer Boykin Facebook pages.