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One Risk Leads to a Big Reward

Going back to school is a scary thought for some. At 24 years old, Tulsa Tech alumnus Austin Ridgard took a leap of faith, but he knew what Tech could offer him. While at Union High School, he was enrolled in the pre-engineering program.

After six years of switching jobs to get ahead, he was ready for a change, but that change would cost him a lot. He just missed out on the Accelerating Independence scholarship. The scholarship offers students up to age 23, who graduate from a school district within Tulsa Tech’s boundaries, a chance to train in a Tulsa Tech program for free.

So, he made a plan to work the second shift and go to school during the day.

“I had to split sleep into essentially like two into two periods. I planned to get about 6 hours a night for a while,” Ridgard said. “I wasn't sure how I was going to pay for it either. I probably had about $500 savings, just enough for one tuition payment.”

With a leap of faith, he was going back to school. Within a few weeks of starting, Ridgard saw an opportunity in an apprenticeship program. The only problem, it was open to second-year students only.

“I begged my instructor for a chance to interview,” Ridgard recalled. “He said it was not available to first-year students, but I begged and said, I don't know if you know how much of a difference it will make for me. I wasn't sure how I would pay for the next tuition.”

After testing, the request paid off, and he earned a spot as an apprentice with Whirlpool. A position he says is all because of his instructor Casey Taylor.

Fast forward to 2022, and Ridgard is now working as an automation engineer in the Boston area. While the jobs have changed, he still remembers the hard work in the Mechatronics program.

“Mr. Taylor had this incredible, almost casual grasp of the curriculum. The level of quality, not just the quality that he brought to his class, but the high-quality lab equipment in the lab, that is the same stuff that I put my hands on in the field,” he said.

As the years have passed, he’s seen his positions require more knowledge and responsibility. But with each new problem he knows he can always look back to his time at Tulsa Tech.

“It still amazes me that to this day, I can still come across problems in my designs and equipment that I learned about in that class,” Ridgard said with a grin. “I am past five years in my career and forever thankful I took that step.”