Rhoanna, aged 21, was born in Fort Defiance, AZ, on the Navajo Reservation, but grew up in Tempe. She graduated from the Associate of Occupational Studies in Mechanical Maintenance Engineering (MME) program in January 2018.
Thanks for sharing your story, Rhoanna. Tell us how you chose a career in this field.
Honestly, it just hit me. I’d always looked at construction; it had always interested me. The Job Corps in Phoenix offered Cement Masonry, and I was going to do that, but my mom warned me it would be really hard work.
So after high school, I decided to go to Tucson for the Job Corps Electrical Wiring course, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. That’s what first caught my eye about RSI. They had an Electrical Technologies program. I thought I could finish my schooling here.
Did you have any electrical experience before school?
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My dad had done some electrical work. He’d built his own house and some of my cousins had done some wiring work. So it wasn’t completely out of left field, but I had no experience.
Did you enroll in the MME program at RSI from the start, or did you decide to stay on?
I originally enrolled in the Electro-Mechanical Technologies program, but I decided to stay on and complete my associate’s degree. I decided that with about four months of the EMT program to go.
Why did you decide to stay to complete the degree?
I figured that I’d learned so much already that it would be a shame to throw away the opportunity to learn more for the sake of an extra six months of my life. I figured that extra notch on my belt, an associate’s degree, would bring me more opportunities.
What was your favorite part of the RSI program, and why?
It was the hands-on experience, the chance to learn something new every day. I enjoyed being able to push myself to always learn something new. The instructors were good. I like how they were straightforward, to the point and gave me everything I needed to get out into the field and get started.
There weren’t many other women in school with you. How was that?
There was just one other lady in the school when I was there, an older lady. It was in my fifth month, I think, that another girl joined. She kicked butt; she really did! But it’s not as bad as it might seem. There’s a lot of joking around, but everybody is really just focused on their school work. There’s always a helping hand available, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Tell us about your job.
I’m currently working at Trieskey Mechanical / RapidTherm. It’s like two companies in one. RapidTherm specializes in the manufacture of environmental test chambers, while Trieskey Mechanical specializes in the installation, service and repair of the chambers and environmental test equipment.
How long have you been with them?
For a year. I started with them when I was about a month into the MME course at RSI. My boss kind of went out on a limb for me, I guess. I took an attribute test when I first showed up and did pretty well.
He saw I had some knowledge, so he hired me! For a while I was working at a Circle K and doing the MME course in person on campus, but it was too much. I couldn’t do it. So I decided to do the MME course online and also try to get into the field. It was shortly after when I got the job at Trieskey.
How did you get the job?
All my co-workers are RSI graduates, actually. I posted my résumé on Indeed.com and my boss called me up. I’d finished the nine-month campus program and had my EPA certificate for refrigerant, and both of those really helped.
What do you do for them?
I help build the chambers, the actual machines, and I also go out on service calls. Most of the time, we work in a controlled environment like a testing lab. It’s challenging every day, which I enjoy, and it lets me feel like I’ve accomplished something when I go home. Sometimes I go home happy, and sometimes I go home mad as hell, kicking rocks, because something should have been a simple fix.
What was it like getting your first paycheck?
It felt good, I guess. Even though I have the schooling behind me, I know I still have to climb the ladder and prove that I’m worth a specific amount of money. I’m only 21, and I’m pretty much earning double what I would earn working in fast food or something. I have the opportunity to climb that ladder.
Was there a part of the program that helps you in your particular job?
There’s a course in the MME program where they tell you how to pipe things, what resistors are and how they work, what a PLC is, and how controllers, transformers and motors work. But to be honest, every aspect of the first nine months on campus helped. Somewhere along the line, they teach you about all the components and how to troubleshoot them. The troubleshooting really helped me.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
I like the challenge basically. I really enjoy the fast pace production side of it, getting stuff done and going home happy. I like meeting deadlines, pushing hard and pushing forward!
What’s your career path?
Right now, I’m trying to learn and absorb as much as I can and keep growing mechanically. Hopefully I’ll be a supervisor one day. I like it here. Eventually, I’d like to become a journeyman in this field, but right now I’m very happy where I am learning and growing. Maybe I could go back to RSI and teach one day, but that’s a long, long way off when I don’t have my youth!
What advice would you give to new students enrolling at RSI?
Don’t overthink it. Sometimes it really is as simple as moving from Point A to Point B. Keep it simple. Take it one step at a time. You will absorb it sooner or later, and when you do, it will hit you all at once. Once you’re on a roll, you won’t stop! It took me until probably the fourth month. Then the lightbulb came on for me and things got clearer!
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.