U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley visited TRAK Microwave in Tampa on Wednesday to talk with employees who have continued their educations to keep up with changes in their industry.
Riley peeked over the shoulder of Corrie Plynaar as she assembled a filter for microwave frequencies. He discussed changes in the industry with company president Vito Parato. He talked with employees such as Mike Diaz, a test engineering manager who has continued his education to stay on top of his job.
It was a perfect backdrop for Riley to promote Al Gore's something-for-everyone education package. Gore's campaign has been hitting on the theme of a comprehensive education plan that includes everything from pre-kindergarten classes to tax credits for college tuition and continuing education for older students.
"The message is that this is a very important time for this country in terms of education," Riley said. "With the deficit under control it is a perfect time to put aside funds for the education of our children."
Several TRAK employees have taken classes and received degrees from Hillsborough Community College and other institutions. The company has a tuition reimbursement program. TRAK designs and manufactures components for the defense and space programs. TRAK's mission has evolved over the years, and it has entered the wireless market.
"I don't expect to ever stop going to school," said Diaz, 37, who said he is working on his fourth degree. "It's not possible to ever stop learning, or you'll fall too far behind."
Riley, who acknowledged right up front the purpose of his visit ("It's a political day."), made plenty of promises and proposals on behalf of the Gore campaign to Diaz and the others.
"Our administration has been very active in passing college access opportunities," Riley said. "If a young person works hard and prepares himself no child in America should not go to college because of money."