Fairfield Career and Technology Center has a new principal in 2012-13, J. Christopher Dinkins.
Dinkins comes to education from a nontraditional background. He earned his undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of South Carolina-Aiken.
He then worked in retail as co-owner of an Aiken retail clothing store for several years before going into the corporate accounting field. Accounting soon lost its luster for Dinkins, though.
“I had a good job but I realized that (for me) it was not a fulfilling job,” he said. “I realized I liked working with people and I enjoy helping make a difference in someone’s life.”
He mentored a third grade student, an experience that was life-changing because he saw that not everyone had the kind of support he had as he grew up in a single parent home.
For Dinkins, there was always an outreach, after school or summer program that provided him a male role model in life, but that child he mentored had no such influence.
After volunteering more with the Black Achievers Program for the YMCA, with an alcohol and drug abuse program and with his church, Dinkins found his true calling, teaching.
“I was at the point to advance in my career where I needed an MBA or CPA at that time,” he said. Instead Dinkins changed fields.
He now works to help young people discover their vocation, where their greatest interests and the world’s greatest needs meet.
The career center builds upon individual gradation plans students complete in the eighth grade and matches tendencies to possible careers.
A child who likes working with his or her hands and is a good independent learner might be a good choice for welding, for instance.
Dinkins ensures that essential soft skills and life skills are taught to students. His time in the business world showed him that students need to know how to dress for an interview, how to handle themselves and others with respect and how to look someone in the eye when they shake hands.
That could be the difference in a student getting hired or not. He strives to educate well-rounded students whose skills will be marketable to employers.
“If you can weld and type a document and do a spreadsheet, then you may be the person a company needs,” he said. “We want to fill up every slot in every program and not for our sake but fore students to find a post secondary career, not just a job but a career that they enjoy doing.”
Student safety is of primary concern at the school.
“It is almost like a job site or construction site,” he said.
Students are introduced to power tools and welding tools making a culture of safety essential, something he is thankful already exists within his veteran teachers.
Dinkins sees promise and potential for his school, such as the enrollment leading masonry department under Dwayne Mack. Masonry departments statewide are going away but Fairfield’s is growing thanks to his leadership and rapport with students.
“This is a global economy but there are a lot of good jobs within 30 minutes of Fairfield and we want our students to know what is out there,” Dinkins said.
He is excited that the programs are in the heart of where jobs are as opposed to when he worked in Beaufort County and the school faced the tough sell to students that they would likely have to move away from home to move up in life.
Though no new programs are on tap for this year, he has a plan for conversations and student surveys so that the administrators can learn from them and from professionals like workers at the chamber of commerce what kinds of offerings would be good fits with regional employment opportunities.
More plans to partner with Midlands Tech likely would not occur until the 2013-14 school year.
Dinkins loves the opportunity in Fairfield County. Work-life balance is really important to him as is spending time with his wife and four children.
“The area is close to his hometown of Aiken and he calls small town life appealing and like second nature,” he said. “My background is similar to that of many students here, so I felt I would be an asset to the district and the school.”