Mike, 30, is a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe. He lived on the San Carlos Reservation in south-east Arizona until he moved up to Phoenix in 2021. Mike graduated from the nine-month RSI Electro-Mechanical Technologies program in October 2022.
Thanks for sharing your story, Mike. What did you do before you came to RSI?
To be honest, I was on the Reservation and there were no opportunities. I made some bad choices and did some stuff I’m not proud of. Finally, I moved to Phoenix in November 2021. I needed to get away from the bad influences and try to find a career. I’ve been sober for 14 months now.
Congratulations on the sobriety. That’s a big deal.
Yes, going to school played a big part in that. RSI kept me really busy and away from temptation.
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Why did you choose HVAC as a career?
Honestly, at first, I enrolled in the EA (Electrical Applications) program because I wanted to be a lineman. That’s how I found the RSI Electrical Applications course first because I wanted to do that as a career. But during my first month in the EA program, I heard more about HVAC around the school, and so I switched to the EMT program. Instead of just learning electrical, I thought it would be good to also be able to go into the HVAC or refrigeration field. Now that’s my goal, to have a career in HVAC and/or refrigeration.
Where did the first idea of being a lineman come from?
My brother’s a lineman. So, I just went online and typed in “lineman school,” and RSI came up with the electrical program, a seven-month course to become a certified electrician. I thought doing the electrical program, just to become an electrician to start with, would be good. Then from there, with some experience, I could try to find a lineman job. But when I learned about HVAC everything changed.
What did you enjoy most from your experience at RSI?
Just learning and seeing the progress I was making. I enjoyed not knowing how I was going to do on a test, and then came to find out that I actually did pretty well on those tests. Each phase has a final test. I enjoyed doing those midterms and finals. It really made me feel like I was actually learning something.
With no prior experience, did you find the program difficult, or did it come easy to you?
Honestly it was pretty easy for me. I graduated with a 4.0. I also got perfect attendance and graduated with Presidential Honors.
Congratulations. Tell us about getting a job after finishing school. Did you work with Career Services?
I went out and tried to find something myself at first, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. So, I reached out to Lettie in Career Services. She had a contact with Marriott Hotels. She gave Marriott my name, and I contacted them. I told them my grades, and they said they were interested in hiring me. I went for an interview; the supervisor I met with really liked me because of my grades and RSI background. He talked to his supervisor about hiring me, then I had a second interview with HR. When I went to that interview, they hired me right there on the spot.
Which Marriott do you work at?
I work at the Sheraton in downtown Phoenix, one of the skyscrapers. I’m a General Maintenance Engineer Level III & HVAC/R Technician. I do all kinds of stuff. I change out fan motors, program thermostats. I do mechanical checklists on all the boiler rooms, the elevator rooms. I check card readers, check the water pumps, the hot water supply, the chilled water supply. I also do HVAC maintenance and repairs on units in the rooms.
You just started a week ago. Are you enjoying it?
Yeah, I really enjoy it, especially the money. With my RSI background, they made me an Engineer level III, so that really helped out a lot. It goes from level one to level four at the top end.
What’s your career plan from here?
I’ll stay with Marriott for a few months, then I plan on going to work for a company called Total Refrigeration. Next spring or summer I’ll probably move over there to do more HVAC and refrigeration work. I’m definitely going to stay here in Phoenix for at least a couple years and learn all I can, then I’ll see what’s next. Maybe I’ll try working somewhere different. Then maybe 10 years from now, I’ll look at going back home to the Rez [reservation].
So, have you connected with Total Refrigeration already?
Yeah, they’re just waiting for a position to open up. I’m only at the Sheraton right now because it’s slow for them. Once things pick back up, they’ll have an open position. Once I get that position, the boss said he’ll have year-round work for me because they do residential, commercial, industrial, and even restaurant equipment like ice machines etc. This job at Marriott wasn’t my plan. I just had to make some money for the time-being. The money’s good and the job is easy, but I know I can make more in the HVAC/R field, which is what I went to school for.
How did you connect with Total Refrigeration?
I met the owner through a friend. She talked to him for me, and that’s how I met him.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
Just getting stuff done and getting paid! I feel like I’m productive now. I’m working. I have a career path ahead of me that I can see. Things are good.
Did you make some lasting connections, people you’ll stay in touch with?
Sure, I’m still in touch with some of the guys I graduated with, they’re good friends.
What advice do you have for new students thinking about coming to RSI?
Don’t underestimate yourself, that’s just how I feel now that I’m done with school. You can do it. Nobody stays in school forever. Eventually you’re going to graduate and get a job and go on to do whatever you want to do.
If you’re an RSI graduate and would like to share your success story and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), and program.