Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Avondale, Arizona, might have the largest UTI campus in the nation, but this state-of-the-industry campus comes from humble roots. In fact, when UTI Avondale first opened, it was a single classroom without air conditioning.

Since then, things have changed ... dramatically. The campus, which now spans nearly 270,000 feet, is the innovation that has driven growth for UTI’s presence nationwide. Nearly 40 labs equipped with state-of-the-industry tools and technology give students access to hands-on training in the automotivedieselwelding and aviation industries (Airframe & Powerplant Technician training program coming to UTI Avondale pending FAA approval). Instructors bring real-world experience to the classroom and have a passion for empowering the next generation of technicians.

How It All Began

In 1965, UTI launched its first campus in Phoenix with just five students. New buildings were added to meet the growing demand, and in 2004 it was time to take the next big step — opening the Avondale campus.

The new Avondale facility attracted students from around the country. It even impressed celebrities like actor and car enthusiast Nicolas Cage. In 2006, Cage donated his personal 2005 limited-edition Ford GT 40 to UTI, which can be seen at the Avondale campus today.

“UTI's training facility, technology and manufacturer-specific programs are really impressive,” Cage says. “They're well structured to prepare students for a successful career as automotive technicians. I wish I had had an opportunity like this when I was younger.”

Today, UTI Avondale features seven Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training (MSAT) programs,15 the most of any campus.

When you step foot on the Avondale campus, it’s easy to see that the culture promotes a dedication to student success. It’s not uncommon to run into instructors or other employees with long tenures.

Laying the Groundwork

Eric Bessette was a UTI Automotive Program student at the original Phoenix campus in 1996. Now, he’s an advanced training manager at UTI Avondale.

Bessette was a Navy veteran who learned about UTI through a family friend. “He was in love with it,” Bessette said. “He wasn't the best high school student in the world, and he made it sound like it was a better way to learn.”

Bessette had no previous automotive training, but as a student, he felt empowered to ask any questions he had in order to fully understand the material covered in class. He later enrolled in the Mercedes-Benz program in California and went on to work at a Newport Beach dealership.

After pursuing a successful career in the field, Bessette saw UTI was hiring — and he jumped at the opportunity to apply. “There was no better place to go,” he says.

The camaraderie at UTI reminds Bessette of his time in the military, where a variety of personalities unite to achieve a common goal. In this case, the goal is creating a unique and effective learning environment for students — and he loves carrying out this mission every day.

From Student to Campus President

Mike Romano made his way to UTI Avondale's campus president, but he got his start at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1991.

Before joining UTI as an employee, Romano was an investor. After interacting with board members at a shareholder meeting, he was so impressed that he moved to Phoenix from his home in Ohio — without a job. His goal was to get hired at UTI, which he accomplished six months later when he became Director of Education at the Avondale campus.

“It's been one of the greatest decisions I've ever made in my life,” Romano says. “I've found my home where I can continue to expand my mind and learn, while at the same time give back to future generations and just impact people's lives.” Romano’s story, like many others who work at UTI, speaks to the passion he has for the industry and changing students’ lives for the better.

Lasting Legacies

Dave Allman applied at UTI to gain teaching experience. He planned on being there for six months before moving on. All he really wanted to do was learn how to present lesson plans. However, 21 years later, Allman is still a Ford FACT Instructor at UTI Avondale.

Allman has won the Student Experience Award — twice. It’s an award based on student comments and instructor evaluations, which has validated Allman’s mission to change students' lives every day.

“We believe in honesty, self-empowerment, courage and doing the right thing, even when nobody's watching,” Allman says. “There are a lot of us who have been here for a very long time, and most of us got here in the prime of our careers because of the core values of the company, its people and its purpose.”

One student who has fond memories of his time with Allman is Tyler Conlin, who graduated from UTI Avondale in 2007. Like Allman, he decided to return and is now a Ford FACT instructor alongside his mentor.

“A lot of the same instructors I had as a student are still here, and I'm working with them now,” Conlin says. “There's something about the atmosphere and camaraderie that really stands out. If we need help or need a hand with something, it's a tight-knit group, and the leadership is great.” Allman and Conlin are some of the many UTI team members who are carrying out lasting legacies at the campus.

Community Involvement

For more than a decade, UTI Avondale has been the leading blood donor in Arizona for Vitalant (formerly United Blood Services). The campus hosts four blood drives each year. UTI Avondale is also involved with Boys & Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, YMCA, women's shelters and homeless shelters for Valley teens.

Tracy Rhoades, who has worked for UTI in Arizona for more than 30 years, calls the Avondale campus a family.

“There's a very giving community here,” she says. “If you wear a UTI shirt out, even to the grocery store, someone will come up and say something like they had a brother-in-law here,” Tracy says. “We have dealership row right behind us, and I buy all my vehicles there. All I have to say is I work at UTI, and they say, ‘Oh, we have a lot of your students or graduates here.’”

For prospective students who want to learn a valuable trade, get involved with a supportive community and become part of a family while they're attending trade school, the UTI Avondale campus could be the perfect fit.

“We're not just a business, we're part of the community,” Romano says. “I'm grateful for that every day. I see the tremendous opportunities that exist with this organization, not only domestically but globally, to create more channels and opportunities for people who are often left behind.”

Interested in learning more about the programs offered at UTI Avondale? Visit our UTI Avondale campus page.

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