ROBINSON, Ill. (WTWO/WAWV)– Isaiah Henriquez remembers exactly where he was when he saw the damage to a building he did the majority of his classwork.
Henriquez, who is a student in Lincoln Trail College’s broadband technician telecommunications program, saw work that he did alongside his classmates destroyed in an instant by a tornado that took six lives on the night of Mar. 31st.
“I figured out literally the next day,” he said. “My future supervisor, the company I’m interning with, he sent me several photos of the campus, everything and each angle of it, and I was like ‘Wow, it really got destroyed.’”
That destruction of the Harry L. Crisp Educational Center, the building which housed their program, left the rest of their semester in limbo. The students learn how to install things like internet into homes and businesses, as well as how to work the necessary equipment.
But the storm left them with little to work with.
“I was really sad,” Henriquez said. “Our friend, a classmate of mine, lives across the street, and he told us he could see the fiber reels just around his house and our splices around his house. I was just like, ‘wow, what are we going to do.’”
The program’s lead instructor Travis Matthews said he started reaching out to see what they could salvage soon as he could.
“The first steps when we came in Monday were to start contacting our advisory council and our industry partners to ask them if there was any kind of equipment they can get to us to kind of finish out the semester. We had four weeks left in the semester and we still had some hands-on labs that we needed to complete,” he said.
They were able to receive some of that equipment– and Matthews said he hopes it will arrive in the coming weeks. They are moving operations to the north campus for now– and using flexibility they learned when the pandemic upended classes in 2020.
“COVID kind of brought out the ability to be flexible,” he said. “We learned from that three years ago, so we were able to easily maneuver around, get the class lecture part taken care of, and on the labs, again in two weeks we’re going to have the lab part taken care of where students will be able to do the lab portion of the class.”
Other students in the program are starting internships originally planned for the summer early.
“We’re also working with our industry partners on sending our students, all of our students do a paid internship during the summer semester, so what we’ve been doing is working, and calling, and making contact, and I think about half of our students are going to be able to start their internships early starting next week,” Matthews said.
Henriquez is one of those students. He said he was happy to see how things worked out, even if the circumstances were still bittersweet.
“I’m okay. Kind of accepted what’s going on. I think it gets us into the workforce,” he said. “[Matthews] doesn’t get to teach us, but I’m sure during the internship we will be taught what we need to know.”
Matthews said with the equipment they are receiving, they should be able to make do until early 2025, when a tech center that was in development prior to the storm coming through is scheduled to open. Once it opens its doors, the telecommunications program will shift to there.
Until then, the next few semesters are only possible with the help they received.
“Our industry partners, I want to thank them a lot and just the support we’ve had around here,” he said.