Ross Stumbaugh doesn’t hold back much. He doesn’t make excuses for his past mistakes; he doesn’t hide the fact that he has a criminal record, or that he’d spent a good part of the last year sleeping in a park. “I was a loser. I say that, because that’s what I was,” Ross said.
A single father who had recently been kicked out of his home and lost the privilege to see his daughter, Ross hit his lowest of lows in 2009. He was unemployed and without a place to sleep. On a whim, Ross went to the library one day looking for jobs online and stumbled upon the Institute of Technology.
“I never thought I would go back to school. I always thought I was too old,” Ross said. “School wasn’t even an option; you just keep working ’til you can’t work anymore. But Institute of Technology called me back … I came in the next day for an appointment and we talked for over an hour about my skills and my background and things that were holding me back.” He left the school later that day with a start date and never looked back.
After lengthy discussions about his interests and his future, Ross decided that he saw himself fitting well in the HVAC program. “No matter where I go or what’s going on in the economy, people are always going to be hot or cold, and they’re always going to need refrigeration regardless. That’s security right there,” Ross said.
It didn’t take Ross long to fit in and find comfort going back to school, even though it had been nearly two decades since he had last been in a classroom. “My first week here, I started making friends with the upper module kids … I looked for anyone I could help out or anyone I could learn from. I would just ask them questions and pick their brain. I stuck with it, and a couple of months later I was at the top of my class.”
It was that inquisitive nature and his natural ability to relate to people that got him his first job working at Gallagher’s Plumbing, Heating, and Air in Yuba City, California. The opportunity to ride along on sales calls was great for Ross, but the distance between Sacramento and Yuba City quickly became a problem. Ross would leave for work at 4 a.m., work a full day, go to classes at night, and make it to bed around midnight, all the while sleeping in a nearby park. The experience was stressful but a necessary step in his growth. Ross persevered, and with the help of the career services department, he was able to find a position closer to home.
“I came in to Susie [Pasillas] and said, ‘I need a job here because the job out in Yuba is perfect, I fit right in, but it’s too far away.’ Susie said, ‘Well, there is this guy at Clarke and Rush who’s actually looking for a few people. He called yesterday – let me get him on the phone.’ She actually called up the company and put me on the phone with them,” Ross said.
By March 2010, the same month that he graduated from Institute of Technology, Ross had officially started at Clarke and Rush Mechanical. He now works successfully as an ESA service tech for residential heating and air and drives his own company van.
“They love me there. For the first time ever, I have a career, not a job, and it’s all because of this school … I feel like Jeff [Stamper] said: ‘Here’s a picture book – open it up. This is what your life is going to be like when you graduate.’ I did what I was told, I flipped the page, and here’s where my life is right now. I see how everything’s going to play out. I know where I’m going to be at in the next five years,” Ross said confidently.
Ross doesn’t take what he has now for granted. Because of where he’s been, he is much more appreciative of the work he has to put in to continue moving in the right direction. “If you always do things the way you’ve done them, then you’re always going to get the same things you’ve gotten. I tell myself that every single day,” he said.
Because of the positive changes that Ross has made in his life, he now speaks with his family on a regular basis, lives under the same roof with his daughter, and even has plans to buy his own house in the next few years. Ross has truly found his way, his calling, and a new lease on life.