Graduate Connections – Meet Donald Penny

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Donald, 51, was born Maryville, AZ, but grew up in Mesa, AZ. Donald graduated from the Electro-Mechanical Technologies program in 2008, before coming back to complete the Mechanical Maintenance Engineering (MME) associate degree program in 2009.

 

Thanks for your time, Donald. Tell us what you did before coming to RSI in your late 30s.

Prior to RSI, I was a tow truck driver for about three years. In 2007 the towing company I worked for sold out. Instead of being paid by hour, the new company paid per tow. When you work a ten-hour shift for so many days and only get one call, I decided it was time to move on. I started at RSI in December 2007.

Did you have any knowledge of electrical or HVAC work?

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My dad grew up in construction, my brother is a high voltage electrician, and a lot of my friends are HVAC people, but I hadn’t really played with any electrical stuff.

Did you go to RSI to become an electrician or HVAC technician? What was your goal?

A little of both. I started working for myself at that time as a handyman, so I wanted to better myself and my skills. I now do a lot of electrical, HVAC, plumbing work…a lot of different things. I always liked working with my hands, and making my brain work. I just thought that as long as I’m already doing this handyman kind of work, why not try to better myself and move on up?

What made you come back to RSI to complete the MME program a year later?

I just wanted to get further into it, see what I could get out of it, and expand my horizons. I wanted to learn more about the bigger equipment like big boilers and chillers. I never got into that kind of work, but at least I know something about them.

What did you enjoy most about RSI?

The people were very nice, very knowledgeable. The other students were great, too. One of the guys and I used to go mountain biking together—that’s what I like to do. I also thought they had a good structured program. RSI gives you standards. I still haven’t found an air conditioner yet that meets their standards, but it’s good criteria to go by. In this world, nothing is perfect.

Did you have any reservations about going back to school in your 30s?

The age thing didn’t matter to me. There were a lot of youngsters there, but also plenty of people my age, so that was no big deal. My only thought was whether my brain could remember things. Can I remember this stuff? As you get older, things tend to go in one ear and out the other! But it was fine.

You went to college too right?

Yes, after RSI I also went to regular college—a community college, and an online course, and to me that was a waste of time. I wanted to be a rehabilitation counselor. I tried it, but it was too much money for what I could earn! I’d come out with $100,000 worth of debt, and go into a job where I could make $40,000 a year. It just didn’t add up!

Being self-employed, how has attending RSI helped you in your business?

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Do you find yourself doing more HVAC and electrical work now, more so than handyman stuff?.

I do. I also work with an HVAC company. We help each other out. We do calls for each other, like they do all my installs because of their license, but I can fix stuff for them. It’s like a partnership.

What’s your career plan from here?

I still plan on working for myself. But if I find a company that wants to hire me and is willing to give me what I’m asking for, then I’d work for somebody. Maybe I’d utilize my building technologies skills.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

The different people I meet. I have my own customers. They are all repeat. I’ve worked on Adrian Wilson’s house [from the AZ Cardinals], Bubba Watson’s house [professional golfer], Steve Gilbert, a writer for the Arizona Diamondbacks. They are more than just customers to me, they are also my friends. I enjoy their company. I live in Mesa, but I work all over the valley. I even go out of town to work sometimes too. I’ve got so much work, I can’t keep up with it.

What advice do you have for new students just starting out at RSI?

Study hard, and take it seriously. If you can’t handle the heat, don’t do HVAC, unless you’re going for other reasons like I did. If you want to go better yourself and learn these technologies, do it. Not every day is going to be outdoors, and you can still do appliance repairs or work in refrigeration and never work outside at all.

11 years on, are you glad you went to RSI?

Yes, I’m happy I did it. I got a better education at RSI than I got at regular college. They actually taught me stuff at RSI, rather than just feeding me written assignments and then going over those assignments after. They weren’t adding anything one on one. Why would I go through that? I definitely gained a lot more knowledge at RSI. To me, it was worth it

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.