Hannah, 41, is a residential wiring instructor at The Refrigeration School. Hannah was born in Minneapolis, MN, but followed her family to Phoenix in 2005 when she realized she was the last one left there!
Thanks for your time, Hannah. How long you’ve been teaching at RSI?
About nine months. I started as an instructor in July 2020. I graduated from RSI in March 2020, having gone through the EA program to learn the curriculum and program.
That’s interesting. What made you decide to enroll in RSI?
In 2019 the school was interested in hiring me as an instructor because of my extensive background. They had me teach a mock class which went very well, but they wanted me to know a little more in a couple of areas. I decided to enroll in the seven-month Electrical Applications program to see if I liked it. I could learn the curriculum, learn from the teachers. In my head it was training. If I wanted to continue to be around after more training, I could re-apply for an instructor position then. So that’s what I did!
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Tell us about your background. Is it in HVAC or electrical?
I am strictly an electrician and have been for 16 years. I worked two years for the union in Wichita, KS, before I got my first job in live entertainment, light Industrial power distribution specializing in temporary installation. I went from unloading equipment to setting up the systems: hanging the lights, then to designing and programming the lights. I worked my way up as a Master Electrician, Technical Director and Stage Manager in the live entertainment industry.
That’s cool. Did you tour with bands, or did the bands/shows come to you?
They came to me. I didn’t do the roadie life; I wasn’t interested in that. I’ve worked for the major cities and their venues in the Valley: Tempe Center for the Arts, the Herberger Theater Center, Mesa Arts Center, Peoria Arts Center. Pretty much all the big city theaters. I’ve done lighting and built sets for bands, plays, theater shows, dance shows, but always live performance.
Why did you decide to become an instructor?
When RSI first contacted me, it wasn’t something I’d considered, although I come from a family of educators and doctors. It runs in the family! I picked it up quickly and know this is what I’m meant to be doing. I love it. I’m in this for the long haul. I feel very honored to be the only female Instructor at RSI, for the moment at least. It’s been rewarding to prove myself to these gentlemen by working with them and learning from them as well. I believe we can all learn something new every day if we are willing.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Sometimes there’s an opportunity to change someone’s life by simply telling them you believe in them, want the best for them, and won’t give up on them. I tell my students that if they meet me halfway and don’t give up, I will not give up on them. I’ll guide them through my class until they succeed. By keeping a safe and clean space in my classroom, my students’ troubles go away for at least the five hours a day that they have with me Monday to Friday. It is a wonderful way to becoming essential and successful. I’m very satisfied when I see I’ve made a change in others—when I see that light go on in their eyes, when I see their confidence build. I live for the moment when I see my students move from frustration to confidence.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I used to be a professional cyclist. I had a sponsor and did velodrome bike racing for five years. I took first in the state in 2013. Any cycling now is minimal and just for pleasure. I was riding 50-70 miles a day!
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My mom wanted me to be a nurse, like her. But I found I didn’t do well around hospitals. My sister’s a nurse; she took that path. I took a more artistic path. My dad is a retired project manager who worked in the construction industry all his life. So, I’ve been around construction all my life. I think that’s where my desire came from – to build it, make it work, program it, and produce beautiful shows for venues!
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
The first name that comes to mind is a famous artist called Alex Grey. He is a legendary artist who does real human anatomy paintings, very colorful work.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students considering RSI?
Showing up is half the battle. You learn so much every day. It goes by in a whirl. My class, Electrical Wiring – Residential, is 80% hands on and is a lot of fun.
I’d also say see it through because we have a very high placement rate. I advise them not to take a job and stop going to school because of it. A good employer, someone you should want to work for, will want you to finish your education. Don’t fall into the trap of getting a full-time job and dropping out of school. That job may not last forever, and then you’ve lost the money you spent on your education.
What was your favorite tool in the field?
A crescent wrench: there are more than a dozen components that can be adjusted with a crescent wrench in theater lighting. I’d tie one on my belt, so if I dropped it, I didn’t hurt someone. Sometimes I’d be three stories up on a grid above people. If I’m working residential, then I’d say a meter, wire strippers and a flat head screwdriver. I can get a lot of things done with those.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself. What would you do with that time?
I would order in some Thai food, get a nice big Thai iced tea, relax, and watch a movie in my recliner, which is the first thing I bought as a teacher! It’s so comfortable. I think every teacher should have a recliner.
What was your favorite part of your time in the field?
When I’m working in the live entertainment business, I enjoy making art. I’m making the dancers look as beautiful as possible through the lighting changes. I’m helping them tell their story by corresponding the lights to the music. I love being able to see that art every day and seeing the response of the audience.
If you were to tell someone “thank you” for making you the person you are today, who would it be?
Oh, goodness, I’d have to say my parents. My mom and dad are opposites. It’s kind of left brain/right brain when it comes to my parents. I got my strong sense of self, work ethic, and technological brain from my dad. From mom I received the ability to reach people in their lives. She taught me how to steer things in a positive direction, to be sympathetic and empathetic to peoples’ situations as they’re learning and to create a safe space for them. I’m so blessed to have genes from both sides that help balance me as a person. I’m very grateful for that.
If I could add a third, it would be Milton Stark. He was my EA instructor here at RSI and I learned a great deal from him. Lastly, much respect to my co-instructor and mentor here on campus, Ray Haynes. Thank you!
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