Electrical Technology program leads to dream job at Disneyland – Grad Q&A with Joshua Donahue
Joshua Donahue spent most of his adult life working in the electrical field but could not seem to push past $23.00/hour. He liked the work but with a wife and two young sons, he needed a jump in pay…and a stronger sense of accomplishment. He had two things going for him: his vision of a dream job at Disneyland and a plan to get there.
What was your situation when you finally decided to commit to a career education program?
I’d worked for Chuck E Cheese for 4-years as Facilities Manager where I maintained video games, rides, kitchen equipment the animated figure and light plumbing. CoVid hit and we were open for take-out only. I spent two years making pizza dough and trying to stay employed. Even with 20-years of electronics experience, it was the best I could find with my lack of education.
Why pursue formal education?
I was tired of being kicked around by employers, overlooked for promotions; tired of deciding which bills to pay – a monthly gauntlet that people who live hand-to-mouth have to deal with. Just always trying to shuffle around debt.
I knew I needed college to change my situation. The idea was always there, but when I got married in my mid-thirties and had kids, income had greater importance. I finally started driving around, looking at different colleges.
Why SJVC’s Electrical Technology (ET) program?
I could have gone to a trade school within my union, but I kind of wanted to get a degree. I figured if I’m going to dedicate the time to something and spend the money on it, I want to walk away with a degree. And, honestly, SJVC was the closest to where I live.
I saw this as a means to get to where I wanted to go. I went to school with goals. With an AS degree (Associate of Science) I could go anywhere.
What was the best thing about your Electrical Technology program?
That it got me on track to get what I wanted. This would make me a more valuable candidate for employers and the types of jobs that would pay more money. I enjoyed the program, but it was a means to get me where I wanted to go.
The knowledge I gained in Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) at SJVC was instrumental in my qualifications for my current position.
What were your greatest struggles?
My wife (Lissette) and I talked before I enrolled, and she knew I was basically here-but-not-here for the next couple of years while in school. I still worked full-time, but was at my desk, books open 4-5 hours a day and studying in the afternoon. That would give me about 6-hours of sleep at night. The hardest part was having two young kids (Jacob-9 and Lucas-6) who love to play and having to tell them to leave my room so I can study.
The curriculum was not difficult to me, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have to work hard. I graduated with a 98.5% grade.
What inspired you to keep pushing your limits?
The job that I wanted….but also my kids were watching me. I want to be a role model to them; for them to see me working on my education and see what they needed to do. I wanted to show them that hard work has its own rewards.
It was important that my boys understand that I was doing what I was doing because I love them and wanted to provide a better life for them.
What advice would you give to others about to make this kind of sacrifice for their future?
It’s never too late for college, but there’s no way to sugar-coat it: If you want to be successful, you just have to make those sacrifices of time with family. It’s not having an education that creates all sorts of pits that you have to dig yourself out of. There would be far less to dig myself out of if I’d been making this kind of money at an earlier age.
Did your ‘Dream Job’ to work at Disneyland motivate you?
Over ten years I’d made probably 70-80 applications for positions at Disneyland. I was pretty religious with it and, to their credit, they would always respond with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. None of that got me in the door until I finally put down on that education portion that I was about to get my AS degree in Electrical Technology. That got me interviews and two job offers.
How did those offers feel?
For the first time in my life, I have a positive outlook of my future. I see being able to acquire things for my family as a lot more realistic now. I’m making about 33% more than anything I’ve made in the past – and that’s my starting salary.
What are your job responsibilities?
I’m exactly where I want to be in my professional life right now. I’m in the department responsible for some of the most iconic rides in the park: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain. We maintain the electrical systems on the Mark Twain riverboat and the pirate ship Columbia.
As an Electronics Technician my primary responsibilities are to maintain stage lighting and projectors – anything electrical – that create special effects: animatronics, steam blasters, and fog machines. It is one of the most versatile positions.
Crawling around these rides and attractions, taking them apart and putting them back together; I’m like a kid every time I go to work.
Where do you go from here?
A Bachelor’s degree in math, engineering or project/business management could play within this company. I have a few years to decide on that.
I’ve worked really hard to get where I am right now, and I want to just enjoy that for a little bit before I start looking at ways I can grow within the company. I love my job and make good money at it. It’s a pleasure to come to work every day.
What is your next big dream?
I wasn’t that guy who knew definitely what he wanted to do with his life. I never felt a particular calling to any one profession or direction.
I just want my kids to feel like they grew up in a loving family and that we did all we could to prepare them for life. It’s less important to me what they do with their lives than it is for them to make decisions that lead them to be content with who they are; to feel like they did their best in life.
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