Navy Vet Finds New Purpose through A-B Tech Automotive

Nickie Sykes is currently enrolled in A-B Tech’s Automotive Systems Technology program.

A-B Tech student Nickie Sykes spent more than 15 years in the Navy as a survival equipment specialist for the SEALs Team Units.

She was in charge of packing parachutes, keeping life rafts in working order and anything else needed for air-sea rescue equipment. She did countless airplane jumps because if you are in charge of the equipment, you have to guarantee it, too.

The work was challenging and dangerous. By the time Nickie had retired, she had earned a Purple Heart and acquired a brain injury.

“I pretty much thought there was no hope to learn anything else,” she said. “I had forgotten a lot of things. I didn’t know what I could do next. Someone at the VA tested me and told me I just had a different style of learning now and there was hope.”

Sykes knew she was good with mechanics and machinery, so hands-on learning seemed the best fit for her. “I looked around and wanted to choose a career where I could give back and it had a lot of mobility. The answer was automotive,” she said.

She enrolled at A-B Tech in the Automotive Systems Technology program. She has already earned a certificate and is poised to finish her degree by August. Working on cars is something she knew could be meaningful.

“I’m a single mother, and my mother was a single mother, and she comes from a single mother. It’s always been a Catch-22, you need a car to get to work, or you can’t get to work if you don’t have car,” she said.

Sykes witnessed the transportation struggle many times, even with her sister. Her goal is to offer discounted automotive services, such as oil changes, troubleshooting, or anything else that might be needed.

“I would offer services to single parents, mothers and fathers, who are struggling that want to do more for themselves, and their community. I know it will come back on me ten-fold. I get the experience and someone just like me gets a chance to make their dreams come true,” she said.

As a female over the age of 40, Sykes was concerned that it might be hard to find a job. “At no moment did my instructors ever say I couldn’t so something. This is the third semester (and) I’m already removing engines and transmissions,” she said.

“You can’t go wrong with education, I really owe this program a lot. There has been nothing but constant encouragement from my instructors,” Sykes said.


About A-B Tech Community College

One of 58 colleges in the NC Community College System, A-B Tech offers associate degrees, diplomas and certificates in more than 60 curriculum programs through its five academic divisions: Allied Health and Public Service Education, Arts and Sciences, Business and Hospitality Education, Emergency Services and Engineering and Applied Technology.

The Division of Economic and Workforce Development/Continuing Education offers opportunities for workforce partnerships, specific job training, and retraining, as well as personal enrichment classes.

A-B Tech enrolls more than 25,000 curriculum and continuing education students in programs at its Asheville, Enka, Madison, South, Woodfin, and Goodwill locations. For more information visit

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