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The Traditional Path is Not for Everyone

Jul 3, 2020 ·

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Growing up, Michael Groomes had his heart set on Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He loved science, and a career as an aerospace engineer seemed like the perfect fit. While in high school, he did all of the right things, visiting schools and planning what his next steps would be after graduation.

While Michael’s future seemed certain, his plans changed during his junior year of high school. After exploring all of his options, he decided to enroll at Universal Technical Institute and pursue the career path of a diesel technician. A little over a year later, Michael has built an incredible career working for Peterbilt, a leading truck manufacturer, at just 20 years old.1

His parents, Kender and Theresa, supported Michael every step of the way. While some parents may have doubted their child’s decision to take the non-traditional path, Kender and Theresa encouraged him to follow his passion.

Michael’s story is incredibly inspiring—so much so that it caught the attention of Mike Rowe, host of the popular TV series Dirty Jobs and strong advocate for the skilled trades! Keep reading to learn more about Michael and his journey to becoming a diesel technician:

An Open Letter to Mike Rowe

In a Facebook post that has received over 66,000 likes and 15,000 shares to date, Mike Rowe shared a letter Michael’s father wrote to him as well as a response. Here’s what Kender wrote to Mike:


My son always wanted to go to MIT to get an engineering degree in aerospace. I feared the cost but never said a thing to him about it. I instead tried to get him to consider Caltech, where my connections at JPL could have given him a hand with an internship. But then he decided to attend Universal Technical Institute, to learn to be a diesel mechanic.

When I asked him why he said "I can make good money, it's a two year program, I'll get hired straight out of school. I'll save my money for five years or so, then go get my degree, and I won't have school debt when I graduate. And if I don't find the engineering job I want I can still fix diesels."

Then he added "Have you heard Mike Rowe talk about the skills gap? Someone has to fill it.” Today, my son is working for Peterbilt. He did get hired right out of school, and his loans will be paid off after one year of working. He was the top student in his class, by the way.

I wanted to thank you for setting my son on the path to success. Your words did it. Your work is more important than you know. Thank you again.

Kender MacGowan

Mike’s Response

Within the same post, Mike responded to Kender:

Hi Kender,

Your son is a genius, and so are you. A lot of parents would have bristled at the idea of their brilliant child, "settling" for a two-year school, when MIT awaits. Many others would have discouraged them from learning a useful skill before going straight into a university. Good for you, and good for your son. I'm sharing your note because lots of other kids and parents are in the same position, and I want them to know we're awarding a million dollars in work ethic scholarships to people who think like your son. If you know any such people, please direct them here.

Good luck to your son, and thanks again for the kind words.

- Mike

This Facebook post has created a much larger conversation about just how satisfying a career in the trades can be, and the importance of spreading awareness to the younger generation. In the comments, countless stories have been shared about those who are finding success in this industry by taking what American standards have deemed as the ‘non-traditional path.’

Michael’s Journey

Michael was always interested in science and math. He excelled in school and succeeded at pretty much anything he set his mind to, including winning his high school academic decathlon and graduating at the top of his class. “He was a ridiculously brilliant kid,” Kender shares.

From a young age, Michael wanted to attend MIT to become an aerospace engineer. However, his father Kender had hesitations about the location of the school being so far from home. He encouraged Michael to consider Caltech, where he could most likely get an internship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) because of Kender’s connections. 

While in high school, Michael explored all of his options. At the time, he had a Subaru that blew up, so he turned to YouTube to learn how to fix it himself. He discovered that he had a natural knack for working on cars, and when a recruiter from UTI came to his school, things clicked for him.

Michael enjoyed working on cars, and he was intrigued by the industry demand for technicians and the fact that he could finish his training in a fraction of the time. He enrolled in the Auto/Diesel program at UTI and after completing his core training, headed to Peterbilt Technician Institute (PTI) to receive advanced Peterbilt training on the company's products and technologies.15

Pursuing a Career in the Trades

When Michael brought up UTI to his parents, they were supportive. “His reasoning was sound, and I had no problem with it,” Kender shares.

“I love the working man,” Kender continues. He sees the value in people who weld, plumb, run electrical lines, build things and fix vehicles. He realizes that without those who work in the trades, our country would not be able to run at the speed and efficiency we’re accustomed to.

While Michael was attending UTI, he would always come home and tell his parents stories about his experiences in class and what he was learning. Michael’s instructors not only taught their students skills, but also talked to them about the industry as a whole, including what it takes to succeed and educating them on the great income potential that comes with fixing diesels.

Building a Career with Peterbilt

Today, Michael is working as a Level I Service Technician for Peterbilt. Because of his PTI training and certifications, he does much more than a Level I Technician would normally do. He loves his job and credits his specialized training program for allowing him to hit the ground running with his career.6

Even if Michael decides to one day pursue becoming an engineer, he will always have his diesel career to fall back on. In fact, one of the things Michael wants to design is a drone that runs on diesel—so he will likely combine his diesel background with his engineering knowledge one day.

While he was at UTI, Michael received four toolboxes from contests he won and during his PTI training, and he entered the tech rodeo to sharpen his skills. His natural ability combined with his strong work ethic has already taken him a long way in his career.

The Importance of Carving Your Own Path

There’s no doubt that Michael has accomplished incredible things in his career, but the road wasn’t always easy. His parents were supportive of him, but like many who choose to go into the trades, he was faced with doubts of others. The idea that you have to go to a 4-year school to be successful is still ingrained in the minds of many. 

When going through this, Michael learned a powerful lesson: you’re the only one who can decide what is best for your future. “Very little of other people’s critical input actually matters,” he shares. “If someone has something critical to say, it’s more important where it comes from than the actual content of it.” 

Michael chose a path that led him to where he wanted to go in his career. He learned valuable, in-demand skills, and completed a specialized training program that linked him directly to the manufacturer he wanted to work for.

Throughout his UTI journey, Michael worked incredibly hard. He excelled in his classes all while working 8 hours a day and commuting and hour and a half each direction—at just 17 years old. In the short year it’s been since he graduated, Michael has already reached major milestones in his career. There’s no telling where he’ll go in the future! 

Advice to Other Parents

Michael had the support of his parents, but this isn’t always the case for those who choose to go into the trades.

According to Michael’s mother Theresa, “Supporting your child in what they want to do is our job as parents.” For Michael, UTI was a springboard into his future—it provided him with the training and industry connections he needed to get started on the right foot.

Kender’s advice for other parents is to always have your child’s back, even if you think their plans are wrong. According to him, “Trade school is the way to go, and you can always go back to school for a 4-year degree later.”

“We need tradespeople,” Kender continues. “They make a good living, and the work is always going to be there.” There’s something satisfying about working with your hands, and those who follow what they are passionate about are most often the happiest.

“UTI teaches kids in-demand, real-world skills and sets them up for long-term success,” Kender shares. Learning a skill, whether it’s working on diesels, welding or CNC machining, gives you something you can always fall back on and earn a living doing.

In the end, everyone’s path is unique. As a parent, it’s important to see this in your child and encourage them in their passions. Michael and his family’s story is a perfect example of how big of an impact the support and encouragement of a parent can make in a student as they pursue their career!

Opportunities Are Out There

If you’re considering a career in the trades, you may qualify for scholarships and grants that can help to lessen the cost of your education and provide other valuable incentives. To learn more, check out the resources listed below:

Train for a Career at UTI

From Automotive and Diesel to Motorcycle and Marine, UTI offers a wide variety of programs to prepare you for a career in growing industries.2 To learn more, visit our programs page and request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

6) UTI graduates’ achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on personal credentials and economic factors. Work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer and their compensation programs affect wages. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

10) Financial aid, scholarships and grants are available to those who qualify. Awards vary due to specific conditions, criteria and state.

14) Incentive programs and employee eligibility are at the discretion of the employer and available at select locations. Special conditions may apply. Talk to potential employers to learn more about the programs available in your area. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

15) Manufacturer-paid advanced training programs are conducted by UTI on behalf of manufacturers who determine acceptance criteria and conditions. These programs are not part of UTI’s accreditation. Programs available at select locations.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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