There I was at UWM, sitting in the orientation session (a misnomer), contemplating the student body that outnumbered my suburb by about two to one. I felt like all of them knew exactly what they wanted to do (which they most likely did not). Shortly after registering for my classes and just before I was to buy books and begin the school year, a series of events transpired. To spare you the complex details, suffice it to say I had become convinced that the Lord did not want me to begin school. I made an eleventh-hour decision to withdraw from UWM. Was it the Lord speaking to my heart? Before I withdrew, it sure felt like it was. Afterward, I was plagued with second thoughts. In all honesty, I was overwhelmed and scared because I felt like I was getting ready to jump off a high dive into a pool I couldn't see and wasn't sure had any water in it, so I came back down via the ladder.
The decision to withdraw was not met with enthusiasm by my father, yet his response paled in comparison to my grandparents. You would have thought that I had just announced my intention to become a hobo. I was treated to raised voices, intense conversations, reasoning, near pleading and coercion. Then Grandma topped it off by saying "Oh, we were going to introduce you to this daughter of a doctor friend of ours too" (right after giving me an admonition not to fall in love and become distracted from any school plans!). Alas, I apparently was no longer qualified to meet her once I sidelined my college plans. C’EST la vie. As the dust settled, I was able to get my job back with a biomedical equipment manufacturer, which had started as a high school co-op arrangement, and I worked there full time for a year. It gave me some time to clear my head and gain some more practical work experience. It would also teach me a couple of lessons.
I would learn that despite what you know and what you can do, the lack of a certain educational background can create a built-in prejudice against you if you seek advancement. I was an electronics assembler but really wanted to be a technician. I had an advancement request form returned to me that said, “Your educational background is too light for the position sought” and then got a performance review that said that I could advance as an assembler or with schooling, become a technician. With a pretty good base of electronics knowledge, I wanted to demonstrate what I could already do so I asked to take the entrance/ability test given to all new-hire technician applicants. Despite scoring very highly on the test I didn’t seem to be any closer to being considered for a technician job. Finally, a new position opened involving the service and testing of one particular unit and the offered me a shot at it. Lesson learned: persistence is a good thing. In that new position I would be working under a couple of very knowledgeable people who would teach me a number of good things, not the least of which was the value of a good mentor. After my training period I walked up to one of these engineers and prematurely asked for assistance in repairing a unit. I gave him the symptoms expecting him to help me diagnose the problem. Instead, he looked at me and said, "Fix it". That two-word sermon got the message across. This was my job now, I had asked for it and I was now responsible to figure out how to make the unit work, not him. After that, I never asked him to do my thinking for me again.
Toward the end of that year I signed up to attend Milwaukee Area Technical College for a degree in photography. My grandparents couldn’t object too loudly since Grandpa had formerly been the dean of Graphic and Applied Arts. I think he got a kick out of the fact that his grandson was now in his old department. He and I were even able to share a memorable day together as he visited the campus. MATC turned out to be far less overwhelming than UWM and a good experience overall. Two years into my schooling and still a few credits short of graduating, our family experienced a major upheaval when my father passed away. I was still looking at another semester of school but was running out of money and needed to earn some in a hurry. One day I was at the local airport doing a photo shoot and ended up being offered a job on their fueling line. It was a minimum wage ground floor opportunity (so to speak) in aviation but I accepted the job. For the next year and a half I was fueling and moving airplanes, taking care of the building and tending various other duties. At this job I worked under a couple of interesting characters, including one gruff flight instructor who kept referring to us line guys as "you college boys" (whether we were actually in college or not). He had come up through the ranks, he valued experience and hard work over head knowledge and he sometimes rode us pretty hard. I loved the job but soon took notice of the avionics shop which did aircraft radio repair.
I had applied to this shop about 5 years earlier for a high school co-op job but it didn’t pan out at the time. Combining my love of aviation and my love of radio looked like my dream gig. I had the general background to be a technician but no degree. Landing this fish would require persistence and a good break. In 1987, the break came. Their nav/com technician left and I was offered a job doing radio repair, working with an enormously experienced man, another one of those good mentor types. I started out with a skilled teacher, the ability to figure things out, the necessary information, the right tools and a lot of work to do. I had much to learn and it would take time, diligence and experience. Now, 17 years later with the same company I am the primary bench technician repairing complex, expensive, critical equipment that helps keep airplanes from bashing into the ground (and each other). Our FAA inspector tells me that I'm one of the only remaining people in the state that does what I do on a full time basis. It pays the bills, gives me something new to work on every day and for the most part is pretty satisfying.
I have laid out my curious zigzag career path as a bit of background information for you. In the remaining segments of this article I’ll be talking a bit about ascertaining God’s purpose for our lives, critique my own career path, offering some pros and cons regarding college and giving you some other general observations.
“Considering College” - Copyright 2006 James A. Karpowitz <email@example.com>
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