STEM student finds success in Energy Tech career

Travis Kinney
Travis Kinney

Travis Kinney, 28, of Rochester, learned early in life that hard work pays. He dropped out of school and worked as a hard laborer for seven years.

“I had moments when I thought about returning to school,” Kinney, who earned his GED in 2007, said. “It was just so overwhelming trying to think how to fit work and school together.”

Even with a newfound urge to continue his education, it seemed unattainable. Kinney got married, purchased a home and needed to pay bills. He worked in construction and as an iron worker before being laid off New Year’s Eve 2009.

That layoff opened the door to a new future.

“I worked for seven years and felt like I wasn’t going anywhere,” he added. “All I knew was hard labor – which motivated me to go back to school.”

When he was laid off, he took advantage of the college’s Worker Retraining Program and enrolled in the Energy Technology – Power Plant Operations program. He earned his Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Energy Technology, and then returned to Centralia College to wrap up his pre-engineering requirements. Later he was accepted into an electrical engineering program at WSU-Vancouver.

“Attending Centralia College has helped me realize the importance of giving back to the community,” he said. “I am a STEM scholarship recipient and am very grateful for the contributions that directly affect me.”

At the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy (PNCECE) at Centralia College, Kinney was known for being focused, dedicated and determined (skills he claims students should hone in on to be successful). He balanced his time between being a full-time student, working two part-time jobs, and helping his wife with her business. Then in his “spare time,” he led projects to help students and the college.

Kinney led 17 energy tech students to inspect areas of energy inefficiencies within the college’s Technical Building. They examined the building envelope, calculated energy consumption of the electrical loads and lighting, and submitted three levels of retrofits. The college accepted some of the suggestions, including replacing the lighting system.

Rulon Crawford, Energy Tech assistant professor and the project’s advisor, said Kinney spent at least 80 hours of his own time leading the audit and writing the report – a report that was very well received.

“He was a quiet student,” Crawford said. “Then he shined through this report and was a huge asset to the energy program ever since.”

Kinney then worked with former pre-engineering student John Hofman and Centralia City Light in coordinating the outdoor clean energy lab, located on the NE corner of the Kiser Natural Outdoor Learning Lab (KNOLL). Kinney assisted with the project design, organized volunteer labor, and finished the project by coordinating the contractor and parts needed to install six solar panels. The panels work alongside the Energy Ball in producing clean energy for the college’s KNOLL and the college itself.

Students will use this lab to learn about solar and wind generating systems for years to come – and the college will not only receive electricity from the project, it will earn a tax credit as well.

“My goal is to partner our metering system with the science department’s weather tools to offer energy production and weather information online,” Kinney said. “It will be real-time data, which will be available to all students to use for research projects.”

There’s something personal that drives Kinney’s efforts.

“I saw a lot of smart students who ‘slacked off’ and didn’t take their educations seriously,” Kinney said.

His years of hard labor taught him how to focus and be dedicated. His career pathway will include power, instrumentation and system controls.

“Higher education is important to me because I have experienced life without an education,” he added. “My parents did not emphasize the importance of going to school. Neither one of them graduated, so I felt destined to be a manual laborer. I am determined to finish my bachelor’s degree so I can provide a good life for my family. I want to give my future children a more encouraging environment to succeed.”

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