Faculty Q&A with Electrical Technology Instructor Kevin Sawyers
He is a self-made man with a fascinating story. At the age of 40, having already had a challenging and successful career as an electrician in the areas of ship building for the Navy and other Defense Department contracts, he is answering the “missed calling” he felt years ago of teaching. And with so much career and life experience, he has much more to teach his students than just the nuts and bolts of Electrical Technology.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I grew up in Rialto, California in the “Inland Empire,” about 30 minutes from the Hesperia campus where I’ll be working. I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Rialto; so when I was 17, I wanted to leave and join the Navy. But I couldn’t until I graduated from high school; it’s a Navy requirement for enlistment. I finally shipped out to San Diego when I was 18.
I’ve been married for 16 years and have three children, two identical twin boys 17 years old and a daughter 11 years old. Before I switched to teaching, I was stationed in San Diego for the last 20 years. I worked for General Dynamics, a major Defense contractor next to the San Diego 32nd Street Naval Base. I worked on building and repairing ships for the military, which took me all over the place, in the United States (Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Texas) and to the Middle East.
Q: How did you get into the field of Electrical Technology?
A: The simple answer is the Navy picked it for me! I never tinkered with electronic stuff as a kid. I took an aptitude test when I applied and the Navy recruiter said I would probably be good at electronics because I scored very highly on the test. I had no idea I was good at it.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working in electrical?
A: I enjoyed learning the technical side and the theory – I enjoyed being challenged to figure something out. Once I figure it out there is a high sense of accomplishment that goes with it. Where I grew up, I never had that feeling; I never realized how intelligent I was.
Q: Since you didn’t have that kind of support growing up, was there a moment in your career that reinforced that idea, that you were good at something, that you were smart enough?
A: Absolutely. I was on a Navy ship on deployment in the Middle East, in a turbulent area. There’s a narrow strip of sea we were headed toward called the Strait of Hormuz; it’s one of the most strategically important passages for oil in the Middle East, between the Persian Gulf and the ocean. It is a very strategically sensitive area and is subject to many international laws; meaning, no ships were allowed to use a radar system at certain frequencies near it. But somehow our ship missed that information that it had to turn off that radar and our system was not wired properly. I was the only technician on the ship able to do this; but I had only just completed a two-month technical training on radar. And suddenly the captain of the ship is asking me to solve the problem!
We had to turn off the part of the radar that searches up to 250 miles around or we would break international law; and yet we had to keep the radar on because it is the “eyes” of the ship to get us through the strait. He was now depending on me to fix this problem – without turning the electricity off – which is highly dangerous and risky work. And I did it successfully. It took me to a new level of competency. If I still doubted in my mind whether I was really good at this work, those doubts disappeared.
Q: What an amazing story! What can you tell others who have struggled in their early years to find themselves – what can you tell them to encourage them to take similar steps?
A: This is a topic near and dear to me. I feel I have something to say to young people who grew up in neighborhoods like I did. You’re smarter than you think you are. I’ve worked in the electrical field for several years, and I’ve seen there are not many young black students or faculty like me. This is what I want to say to them:
Allow room for your mindset to expand. The world is a huge place filled with wonderful experiences, opportunities, and people. My mindset at that age was limited to my neighborhood. I never dreamed I could leave, learn electronics in the military, and travel the world. You can come from the roughest background and still have the intelligence and ability to find a way to build the life you want and deserve. The world has more to offer than what you see and experience in just one neighborhood.
Q: What made you want to get into teaching?
A: I actually think teaching has been a missed calling for me, and that I could have started doing it years ago. I’ve chosen some jobs to make more money, but I was miserable. At my age now, I want work that is more meaningful. And I have a lot of experience to bring to the table and share with students.
Q: What do you like about SJVC?
A: I love it. It’s filling me up with that place I need to be. Also, the instructors I’ve met so far seem to all have a personal passion for their field of study and for teaching. That makes a great deal of difference in the quality of the education here.
Q: What do you want potential students to know about going to SJVC?
A: I would like them to know they are not alone in their journey. There is an entire faculty and staff that are dedicated to helping them make it through the program successfully.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: Yeah. Just one more thing for any student to know:
You may find out that you have natural skills in Electrical Technology, or in a completely different field than mine. Just believe in yourself and your ability to learn. When you come upon something in that field that you’re afraid of, feel the fear – and do it anyway.
Q: One last question: I loved the picture portraits you sent – you are quite the dresser! Tell me about those bow ties…
A: Yeah, I have quite a collection of bow ties. There was a period in my life when I actually thought about designing bow ties. I love wearing them; but I’m glad I chose teaching instead!
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