Mike Johnston never imagined that going back to school at Joliet Junior College could lead to a $2,000 scholarship, an opportunity to meet Florida Georgia Line, a free trip to Orlando, Fla., and, most importantly, a job immediately upon graduation.
Back in 2009, Johnston was a landscape architecture graduate from the University of Illinois with no luck as he job-hunted for two long years.
When the fruitless job search became too much, the Channahon native gave himself two options: go back to get his master’s degree in landscape architecture, or attend JJC, where he could affordably earn another degree.
Since the now-27-year-old has always enjoyed working with his hands, Johnston chose to pursue a double major with JJC’s Technical Department in Industrial Maintenance Technology (IMT) and Electrical Electronics Automated Systems Technology (EEAS).
“Along with working with my hands, there are plenty of challenges and problem-solving that goes into it as well, which was similar to my original career plans in that aspect,” Johnston said about IMT and EEAS.
In class one day, earlier in the 2012-2013 school year, Gerry Raino, electrical engineering professor, encouraged his students to apply for a Tools for Tomorrow® scholarship sponsored by Grainger, a company that supplies maintenance, repair and operating products to businesses in Illinois as well as around the world.
The Tools for Tomorrow® scholarship, designed to help students pursuing degrees in the industrial skilled trades realize their educational and career goals, was launched in 2006, thanks to a partnership between Grainger and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Since its inception, the program has offered more than 500 scholarships to 100 community colleges nationwide.
Johnston was awarded the $2,000 scholarship in 2012 – and as part of the program, he was invited to meet the country music band Florida Georgia Line before their concert on June 15, 2013 in Tinley Park, Ill. He will also receive a customized Westward tool kit as part of the scholarship.
Johnston said getting to meet the members of Florida Georgia Line was something he will never forget.
“I was pretty excited to get to meet them in person,” he said. “It was pretty cool to see the band. It was interesting to see what they were like, up close and personal.”
But Johnston’s success with Grainger didn’t end there.
After receiving the scholarship, Johnston was encouraged to apply for Grainger’s Industry Innovators Contest. Grainger selected Johnston as a top 10 finalist, and an online vote secured him a spot in the top five. This helped win Johnston, along with the other four finalists, a free trip to Orlando, Fla. to attend Grainger’s Customer Show in early 2013.
In April, Johnston applied for an entry-level maintenance position with the company’s new distribution center in Minooka, Ill. Johnston was offered the job and began working there shortly after graduating from JJC in May.
Johnston said he would like to continue working for Grainger, with the goal of eventually getting promoted.
“Grainger is a great company to work for from what I’ve seen so far,” he said. “They take care of their employees. For the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve enjoyed going to work every day.”
To succeed, Johnston thinks JJC students should apply themselves and put themselves out there.
Jeff Bradford, an industrial maintenance professor at JJC, said Johnston is very conscientious, a hard worker and a quick learner. He is proud of his former student, and knows he will go far.
“I’ve been working with Mike for a couple of years here, and he’s one of the stand out students,” Bradford said. “He’s a guy I’ll remember years down the road.”
If it had not been for JJC, Johnston said he would not be where he is today. One of the best experiences about being a student was getting to learn in an interesting and fun environment. He also enjoyed learning from many influential professors in the Technical Department.
“All the faculty are very accessible from what I’ve experienced in the Technical Department,” he said. “They go out of their way to make sure you’re going to have everything you need to get what you want out of the program.”
For more information about the JJC Technical Department, log on to www.jjc.edu/academics/divisions/career-technical/technical.