Toby, 18, from New York, has been in AZ for five years. He lived in northern Arizona for four years before moving down to start at RSI a month after graduating high school. Toby finished classes in the Electro-Mechanical Technologies (EMT) program in March 2018. He works for Andrew’s Refrigeration in Phoenix, AZ.
Thanks for sharing your story, Toby. Why did you choose HVAC?
I was going to pursue HVAC as a career in the military, but I was turned down because of a birth defect. I decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me from doing what I wanted to do, so I started looking at options, and that led me to RSI.
Where did the interest in HVAC come from?
My father is a plumber. He has his own business. So I’d sometimes go out with him when I was growing up, passing him tools. I’d watch him and learn the basic stuff.
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I soon realized that I wanted to work with my hands. I wanted to be a tradesman. I didn’t want to have a 9-to-5 job. I wanted to be challenged both physically and mentally.
So why HVAC, rather than plumbing like your dad?
I think it was just something new. HVAC was a new experience for me. It was kind of related but different.
What was your favorite part of the RSI program, and why?
I got good marks academically at RSI. I think that’s because the instruction isn’t based on reading text books most of the time. It’s based on practical, hands-on training. Plus it’s stuff that really interests me. I liked that the learning was something that engaged me, and it was supplemented with hands-on training that solidified what we had learned in the book. I was also President of the Student Ambassador Program for five or six months. I enjoyed that part, too.
Tell us more about that.
I was in charge of student mentoring and tutoring. I really enjoyed being able to tutor and mentor other students, being able to teach from a different viewpoint than an instructor. Of course, when I started doing it, I had to develop a rapport with the instructors so that they knew that I knew what I was talking about. They would listen in while I was helping students and let me know that it was beneficial. I didn’t have a job at the time, so I had no outside commitments.
I was in the afternoon class that ran from 12:45 to 5.45pm, but I’d stay on for the evening class and be kind of a teaching assistant. That’s how it started.
Would you like to be an instructor one day?
That’s one of my goals. I’d love to come back and be an instructor at RSI someday. I don’t know how far down the road that will be, but one day. My motivation is that “light bulb moment” when someone finally understands a concept you’re explaining.
So you graduated last month. Who are you working for?
I work for Andrew’s Refrigeration in Phoenix. We do refrigeration, plumbing and electrical.
You’ve only just started your career, but where do you see it going?
I have a lot to learn, being 18, but having started so young, I’ve given myself the opportunity to try more than just one thing. I’d like to stay here for a good amount of time, proving myself, getting my name out there, working my way up. I started as an Installer, so moving over to technician is the next step. Then once I’ve developed my skills and knowledge I could become a lead technician. One day, a long way down the road, I’d like to be able to develop my father’s company to move beyond plumbing and expand into mechanical and HVAC. But after that, I’d like to come back and be an instructor.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
I enjoy that there are so many different things you can do with this education. If the company you work for is big enough, you can move from one part to the next, learning more and more about the industry and never getting bored. I just find it interesting.
Are you excited about the earning potential of this career?
I’m very excited. What excites me more is that where I start now is not where I’ll end up. The harder I work, the more I can earn. I like that I have the opportunity to earn more based on my performance, that I’m not limited by some kind of corporate pay scale. I like that there is a lot of mobility based on me: what I learn, what advanced courses I pursue and how much I prove myself.
I also know that in three years, when some people my age are getting out of a four-year college, I’ll be well into a career I love, doing something that I enjoy every day and making good money because of it.
Did you make some good connections at RSI?
I made some really good business connections from working alongside the instructors so much. You get out what you put in, and the harder you work at RSI, the more connections you’ll make. And that’s a big part of it with the school in general.
What advice would you give to new students considering RSI?
Go to class. Get there on time or early. Be diligent and focus. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it. The harder you work, the better you’ll do. It’s very hard to fail at RSI. The resources that the school provides you—extra help, extra tutoring, career services—give you the opportunity to succeed. You’re set up for success from the beginning. Then it all depends on you and how you view it. Take the opportunity that you have in front of you.
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.