Not long ago, Forrest Bennett was slammed with work, easily working 45 hours or more each week as a jack-of-all-trades at a local restaurant.
“I was on salary there, so I did everything they needed,” Bennett said. “I was the delivery driver and manager, but I was also working (the point-of-sale area), taking customer orders and cooking in the kitchen.”
The demands were huge, but offered little room for upward mobility or work-life balance — all reasons that pushed Bennett to go back to school to pursue a lifelong interest in technology and get a career with opportunity for advancement.
“I was tired of working 45 hours a week at the restaurant,” Bennett said. “So I thought I would go get a degree in technology, so I could make a fair amount of money so I wouldn’t have to work as many hours.”
But first, Bennett needed to go back to school to get the education and skills he needed to pursue his interests.
He enrolled at Fayetteville Tech in 2018 and tackled going to school full time — while still working those demanding hours at the restaurant — until he achieved his goal.
Bennett, 27, graduated in May with associate degrees in Network Management and Systems Security & Analysis, as well as various certificates. In August, he began work as an IT support technician with Robert Half under contract at Fayetteville State University.
The new job meant better pay, more manageable hours and chances for growth, advancement and development in a field that has captured Bennett’s interest since his childhood.
Bennett was born in Rockingham but moved to Fayetteville with his mother in his youth. He considered himself a tinkerer, taking computers apart and putting them back together.
“I was always interested in computers and technology,” he said. “They were really trying to implement that in the classroom when I was a kid, and I was on the Techno Olympics team when I was in fifth- and sixth-grade.”
After graduating from Terry Sanford High School in 2012, Bennett enrolled at East Carolina University to pursue a four-year degree.
But illness derailed those plans when Bennett’s mother, Crystal Bennett, was diagnosed with Lyme disease within weeks of the start of his college career.
“I ended up leaving my first semester because we couldn’t pay for it anymore,” Bennett said.
He withdrew from school and entered the workforce.
Eventually, Bennett decided a return to school was the best way to open up opportunities in a career and that Fayetteville Tech was the best way to do it in an affordable, hands-on environment.
“FTCC was the most viable option for me, financially,” said Bennett, who had his college costs covered through the Federal Pell Grant program. “It was affordable, and I liked the face-to-face interactions with the instructors.”
The classes and labs available at FTCC also gave Bennett an opportunity to learn skills through hands-on application.
“The classes were interactive, rather than being more theory-based,” Bennett said. “FTCC had the equipment and availability for us to do hands-on labs. I wasn’t just sitting there reading something out of a book.”