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Student Spotlight: From Handyman to Skilled Tradesman

Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) student Matt Atkinson always knew he was pretty good with his hands. A non-traditional student with a penchant for hands-on learning, Matt decided he wanted a career doing something other than sitting behind a desk.

“I have always been good with my hands. As a kid, I grew up watching my dad fix everything around the house and I just took a knack to it. If anything broke, we fixed it. If I broke something, I had to learn how to fix it. I enjoyed it.”

Matt, an Army veteran, husband and father of three, found himself with a host of responsibilities all too familiar to many non-traditional students, when he decided to go back to college at age 35.

“Returning as a non-traditional student when you have a family is a lot harder because a lot of [us] still have full-time jobs, have a family to take care of, a house to take care of and so on,” Matt said. “I have three kids…so my wife has her hands full when I am gone and she works while the kids are at school. There will be only about two or three nights a week that I get to see my family all at the same time. Everybody has to make a sacrifice while I’m doing this…but it’s worth the sacrifice.”

At ICC, Matt had a variety of classes to choose from that could meet his demanding schedule day or night.

“The experience here has been great! The program works well, especially for non-traditional students and their schedules,” he said. “There is a multitude of classes that you can take. Summers can help you do your pre-requisites and spring and fall semesters offer night classes and they’ll work wonders to get around your schedule and get you through.”

Coming from a background in construction, Matt picked HVAC-R because he felt it was one of the better programs for his return on investment.

“For the money that is spent on the program, the return is excellent,” Matt explained. “There are many jobs that need HVAC-R people. Skilled trades built this country and they still keep it going. Somebody is always going to need water, air conditioning, heat, electricity… and skilled trades are the ones that provide that. America was built on the back of skilled tradesman, and it still stands on it.”

After investing in his future, Matt has since graduated from the HVAC-R program and now has a sense of pride in himself that he didn’t have before.

“The degree to me is more than a piece of paper, it’s a piece of pride. It means I accomplished something… I know that I can do it and I can do it at an older age.”

Are you looking to invest in your future? Whether you are a traditional or non-traditional student and regardless of your schedule, Illinois Central College will help you attain the career that is right for you! Search our programs to find the right one!