Southeast graduate turns side hustle into a career

Published 8:10 am Tuesday, June 28, 2022


Harlan native Ben Cochran worked underground for 15 years before making a career change. The deciding factor, according to Cochran, was watching his father struggle with black lung disease after 40-plus years in the mines.

Southeast graduate Ben Cochran will teach carpentry classes on the Middlesboro Campus this fall.

“I was laid off. I knew I could get a job with another company, but I just didn’t want my family to watch me go through what my dad went through,” he said. “It was heartbreaking.”

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For Ben, construction was the obvious choice. He had already developed the skillset from doing side jobs with his father for many years. In 2019, Ben earned an associate degree in applied Science in Construction Carpenter at Southeast and became certified to teach.

To gauge interest in Middlesboro, program coordinator Kenny Bowling offered a night class during the 2021 spring and summer semesters. Last fall, Ben was hired as an instructor so that Middlesboro could expand its course offerings.

“Construction will continue to be an important part of our programming in Harlan,” said Southeast President Vic Adams, “and we are happy to have Ben available in Middlesboro to give students in Bell County opportunities in this field.”

When Ben is not teaching, he also works for Coap Inc. leading teams of volunteers as they refurbish homes for the elderly and vulnerable throughout the community. Ben and his wife Brittany share three children ages 13, 9 and 9 months.

“This is a great career because it is so practical and necessary,” he said. “I was even able to build my own house.”

Southeast offers a full slate of construction classes on the Harlan Campus, and this fall the Middlesboro Campus will offer several options. Lectures are online, and the labs meet in person. In addition to the associate degree program, students can earn diplomas in a variety of specialties, including general carpenter, dry waller and green building technology.

For more information, call 855-246-7528.