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Two CCAC students named Apprentice of the Year by German American Chamber of Commerce

PITTSBURGH—Community College of Allegheny County students Jacob Graleski of Beaver and Andrew Knez of Bridgeville have been recognized as Apprentice of the Year award winners by the German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter. The Apprentice of the Year Award is given to an apprentice who demonstrates extraordinary skills and abilities inside and outside of the classroom. Graleski and Knez tied for first place, so they each received the 2020 award, which was presented at the chamber’s annual Ice Gala held January 25 at the Energy Innovation Center. 

Graleski, a first-year apprentice with Impact Guard, and Knez, GACC apprentices and CCAC students Jacob Graleski (left) and Andrew Knez display their awards at the Ice Galaa second-year apprentice with Ensinger, attend CCAC’s West Hills Center two days a month to take classes in Mechatronics Technology. They were nominated for the award by their company trainers, who answered questions regarding the apprentices’ work ethic, training progress and leadership skills. Then, the apprentices’ CCAC instructors provided feedback on the nominees, which was shared with a panel of four judges representing education, government and industry. The scores from the judges yielded not one winner, but two.

Knez said he has found the mechatronics training very beneficial to what he does every day in his job at Ensinger, which produces compounds, semi-finished materials, composites, technical parts and profiles made of engineering and high-performance plastics. He is described by his company trainer as dependable, self-motivated and always willing to take on new challenges. “Andrew is a phenomenal student,” said CCAC instructor Justin Starr, assistant professor of Robotics Technology. “He’s not only one of the hardest workers, but also one of the most efficient, which is evident through his ability to delegate and keep tasks on schedule.” 

Graleski is described by his company trainer at Impact Guard as continually researching and studying manuals and schematics to improve his knowledge and skills, which has resulted in saving time on repairs and money on orders. CCAC Mechatronics instructor Chris Quick remarked that Graleski demonstrates multiple solutions to a question instead of stopping with the first solution that comes to mind. George Mitsch, Graleski’s former instructor at Beaver County Career & Technology Center, was not surprised by his achievement, saying, “Jacob proved to be a hard worker and fast learner. His leadership abilities were evident early on, and it is no surprise that he is doing well both at CCAC and Impact Guard.”

Mechatronics is CCAC’s signature automation systems program in which students learn the integrated skills of supply chain, process technology, robotics/AI and electrical systems. CCAC’s Workforce Development Division and the Pittsburgh GACC partnered for the first time in the fall of 2018 to establish an apprenticeship program to train employees of local manufacturers in mechatronics. Currently, 21 employees attend CCAC for eight hours of training every other week for two and a half years to earn their Mechatronics certificate and credits towards their associate degree.

 The GACC Apprenticeship programs are benchmarked on the German Dual Education System, customized for the region and registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. At the college level of the program, the GACC Pittsburgh’s partnership with CCAC helped develop innovative, workforce and college credited degrees for the Mechatronics, Polymer Technician, Sales Engineer and CAD/CAM Programmer apprenticeship programs.

Photo: GACC apprentices and CCAC students Jacob Graleski (left) and Andrew Knez display their awards at the Ice Gala.


Since its founding in 1966, CCAC has flourished, becoming the educational powerhouse it is today—a nationally renowned two-year college dedicated to serving all members of the community. From groundbreaking student success initiatives to top-ranked academic and career-based programs, CCAC continues to be the college of choice for nearly one out of every three adults in Allegheny County. 

Each year, more than 25,000 students enroll at CCAC, taking advantage of nearly 160 degree, certificate, diploma and transfer programs while thousands more access noncredit and workforce development courses. Comprising four campuses and four neighborhood centers as well as other off-site locations, including the Energy Innovation Center, CCAC is honored to have one of the largest veteran student populations in the state and takes pride in ranking among the nation’s top community colleges for the number of individuals graduating in nursing and the health-related professions. 

CCAC graduates have transferred to the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities, have obtained the most academically challenging and competitive degrees, and can be found at leading companies, organizations and institutions throughout the country. CCAC alumni are actively engaged in every sector of society, providing leadership to scores of economic, scientific, civic and philanthropic entities both in the Pittsburgh region and around the world. Visit to learn more.