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Diesel Grad Dennis Etienne Moved From the Caribbean to the U.S. to Pursue His Passion

Jan 28, 2022 ·
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Taking a leap of faith to pursue a career path can be an exciting and nerve-wracking process — and no one knows that better than Universal Technical Institute graduate Dennis Etienne.

Dennis stepped foot in the United States for the first time in September 2020 to attend the UTI Orlando campus’ Diesel Technology program and hasn’t looked back since. He enrolled in a Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training (MSAT) program and graduated in November 2021 prepared for an exciting future.

Interested in learning how his journey started? Keep reading to find out more!

Cars in the Caribbean

Dennis grew up on Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean. His interest in cars developed at an early age, thanks to his dad’s garage.

“Back when I was 6, 7, 8 years old, (my dad) had an auto shop and I would just watch the guys working. (I was) amazed by cars,” he says. “At the age of 14, I started working in the garage every summer and holiday. The work ethic started from there. I’ve been working my whole life ever since.”

As he got older, Dennis spent more and more time in the garage and was working there every day. He ended up going to college in Dominica, and afterward was working as an introductory auto technician on the island.

He stayed there for about two years before moving to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he worked at a call center and as a fisherman. “I never completely stopped working on cars during this time,” he says. “I would work on my own car and side projects for others.”

It was after moving to St. Thomas that Dennis found out about UTI and the opportunities to train in the skilled trades, thanks to commercials he saw on YouTube.

Dennis says he thought to himself, “I can learn to become a professional technician in under a year7 and start working in a career that I really want to for the rest of my life,”1 adding, “I was pretty much done with the job-to-job thing.”

Thinking of the Future

The seed had been planted, and Dennis started saving up in hopes of attending school. He made his first contact with someone from UTI in 2018, but it didn’t work out that year.

“I moved back to Dominica in 2019 and then came back to St. Thomas in 2020. I made a second contact with UTI, and the gentleman I spoke to explained everything so well. It really started to make sense,” he says.

One of Dennis’ big concerns was the financial aspect associated with school. Fortunately, there were options. “The representative let me look at all of the financial assistance packages and federal grants, and it started to seem possible.”10

Dennis was working at a marina at the time and thought he could save enough to get his journey started — then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He started questioning if attending school would still be possible, and was advised by some of his coworkers to stay on the island.

But Dennis said to himself, “I think I want to take this chance here, because it’s going to make the rest of my life the way I want it to be, which is to have an official career in the auto industry.”

Exploring Diesel

The more Dennis talked to his recruiter, the more he started looking into UTI’s Diesel program offerings. He fell in love with diesel engines, and although he hadn’t worked on them before, he felt like he could easily transition from automotive.

Dennis decided to enroll in the Diesel Technology program and moved to Orlando, Florida, to start school in September 2020.

“I was very nervous and intimidated by the size of everything. It was my first time coming to America, and everything was huge,” he says.

Dennis jumped into learning the material, which was difficult at first since he had graduated from college almost 10 years earlier. “I felt a bit overwhelmed, but kept at it. I started getting A’s, despite how difficult it was in the beginning. I didn’t have a car and it was my first time having roommates. (But) it was a new and amazing experience.”

He finished the core Diesel program and ended with perfect attendance, a 4.0 GPA and high honors. But the end of the core program wasn’t the end of Dennis’ time at UTI, as an opportunity came up for him to enroll in an MSAT program.

“I had the opportunity to be in the first Daimler Trucks North America program (at the Orlando campus). I thought this might be the best for me, and I decided I would just do it and figure out how to pay for the program. I didn’t have a proper plan, I was just going to go for it,” he says.

The pieces started to fall together — Dennis received a full scholarship to participate in the DTNA Finish First program.

DTNA Finish First Specialized Training

The DTNA Finish First program is a 12-week specialized training program that gives students the ability to gain hands-on training with big names in the trucking industry, including Western Star, Freightliner, Detroit Diesel and Cascadia. DTNA students learn how to diagnose and repair DTNA products.

The program had originally been offered at UTI’s Avondale and Lisle campuses, but it was being introduced at the Orlando campus in the summer of 2021 — and Dennis jumped at the chance to be a part of the experience.

During the three-month program, Dennis got in-depth training working on brands used in the industry. He said the program was extremely helpful in helping him apply the knowledge he had learned in the Diesel Technology program.

Dennis says he also earned six professional certifications and three system certifications through DTNA. He also earned Professional Level Technician status, all of which helped him when he was looking for jobs near the end of the program.5

“Different employers came by during the program to try and employ students. The DTNA program gave me specific certifications and allowed me to dive deeper into every element of what I learned in the core program. Going into my new job, I’m already steps ahead,” he says.

Dennis accepted a job at Florida Detroit Diesel and started on November 29, 2021. When it comes to the benefits of working in the diesel industry, he says, “The sky is the limit. There are not as many diesel technicians as there is diesel equipment out there. The opportunities seem to be endless — you can work anywhere and be in a high-demand industry.”6

Advice to Future Diesel Technicians

Dennis took his future into his own hands and moved to a new country to fulfill his goal of working in the diesel industry, and he’s off to a great start thanks to the education he received from UTI.

For those interested in pursuing a similar career path, he says, “Think about if you’re committed and take a step back and think about where you want to be 10 years from now. Don’t block your mind out to anything, and don’t be afraid to learn every single day. If you do all those things, you’ll be set.”

Students can graduate from the Diesel Technology core program in less than a year prepared for an entry-level roles in the industry. There are also several specialized training program options,11 including the 12-week DTNA program that Dennis participated in.

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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 www.uti.edu/disclosures.

5) UTI programs prepare graduates for careers in industries using the provided training, primarily as automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. Some UTI graduates get jobs within their field of study in positions other than as a technician, such as: parts associate, service writer, fabricator, paint and paint prep, and shop owner/operator. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

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.

7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

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

11) See program details for eligibility requirements and conditions that may apply.

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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