CADnet: Inspiring Dreams, Unlocking Opportunities

Through the CADnet program, TVA helps young STEM students discover the joy of engineering—and even offers some a foot in the door at the nation’s largest producer of public power.

As a 17-year-old student at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in north Georgia, Kellie Keith had a dream—to be the first in her family to earn a college degree. Like many of her classmates she was struggling with answering one basic question: What degree should she pursue?

“The TVA CADNet program was a godsend,” says Keith, now an electrical engineer in TVA’s Telecom Planning and Standards group. “If I hadn’t been exposed to CADNet, I wouldn’t have thought about being an engineer at all.”

CADNet is a program that trains high school students in computer-aided drafting (CAD). CADNet students earn valuable work experience and technical training so they can better compete in the workforce of the future. 

Keith had enough credit hours to participate in a school-to-work program offered by her high school. She applied for the CADNet program, was accepted and spent the next 2 1/2 years at TVA’s Chattanooga office complex working with AutoCAD drawings and learning how to set electrical relays. CADNet was the key that unlocked opportunities and inspired a dream that propelled a young woman on an engineering journey.

Success Means Expansion

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) is the newest partner of the CADNet School-to-Work program that has positively impacted more than 10,000 Tennessee Valley students.

CADNet opened the door for Keith at Chattanooga State Community College as she pursued her path towards an engineer degree. As Keith’s education and experience grew, she moved from TVA’s CADNet program into an internship with TVA’s nuclear operations, where she spent four years in the Engineering Design group.

“I’m a CADNet success story. The opportunity was unbelievable—a young student working with people with 30 years of experience,” says Keith. “I’m glad UTC sees value in CADNet and is the latest partner to support this important program to provide students options they may not have thought of before.”

After completing her Associate of Science in General Engineering degree at Chattanooga State, Keith transferred to UTC, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Then she was hired full-time by TVA.

“I’m the first in my family to graduate college,” Keith explains. “Starting in CADNet helped me get my internship at TVA and then a job as a TVA engineer in Telecom.”

Pathway to College

Trevor Elliott, Ph. D., Assistant Professor with UTC’s College of Engineering and Computer Science says UTC is excited to be a partner of the CADNet program and to provide lab space that’s convenient for all students.

“The CADNet program helps inspire interest in engineering careers and provides a pathway to collegiate engineering programs for potential students that otherwise might not consider possible,” says Elliott. “The partnership provides the CADNet program and our college with a closer working relationship that will broaden the positive impact CADNet has on students, schools, organizations and communities.”

“It’s a big deal to be 17 years old and already working with TVA,” says Matthew Fulbright (pictured at right in the photo at top of page with fellow student  Terrance Tumlin), who is a current CADNet student and will begin studying general engineering at Chattanooga State this fall. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime that most people don’t get or don’t take advantage of.”

Fulbright took as many computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing classes he could in high school and went into class early to learn even more. When his teacher recommended him as the first CADNet program participant from Walker Valley High School near Cleveland, Tenn., Fulbright jumped at the chance.

“This [CADNet] is an amazing program,” says Fulbright. “I work and get paid for something that I enjoy doing and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Fulbright’s favorite part is doing revisions because it’s actual work.

“Each drawing is different and you have to figure out the best way to do it, says Fulbright. “I’m learning something new every day. We teach each other because we all know different commands and shortcuts.”

Can’t Go It Alone

Fulbright was not sure what he wanted to do after he completes his two years at Chattanooga State, but after talking to advisors at UTC he has decided to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at the school.

“The partnership with UTC is great, and CADNet is my pathway to an engineering degree,” says Fulbright. “I hope to stick with TVA and become an engineer, because CADNet is a great chance to get your foot in the door with a great company.”

“Keith’s success story of moving from CADNet to an internship to a full-time professional employment is repeated with several of our students each year,” says Janice Horn, TVA CADNet School-to-Work Supervisor. “Students learn technical skills while providing low-cost, quality CAD services for TVA and other organizations. Plus, our mentors are a positive influence on the students.”

Horn explains that CADNet mentors not only encourage students to succeed, they work with the student to develop business and personal qualities they will need going forward, such as managing workloads, communications and the interview process.

About CADNet

In 1995, CADNet started with three students in Knoxville, Tenn. Today more than 10,000 students from 42 high schools and five colleges across the Tennessee Valley have participated in the program. For more information contact Shane Bales at msbales@tva.gov.