Northeast State student wins essay contest, $5,000 scholarship

Mark Sanders did not plan to become a displaced worker.

At age 45, he faced the harsh reality of job displacement. But rather than becoming a statistic, Sanders enrolled at Northeast State Community College to find a new path. He also decided to enter the Hilmor Tools Annual Retool Your Future essay contest for a chance to win a scholarship.

“I knew I had to retool my own future,” said Sanders, a Kingsport native. “(HVACR Instructor) Ricky Black told me about the Hilmor essay contest so I wrote something.”

Sanders submitted a 250-word essay to enter the Hilmor contest this spring. The judges were duly impressed with what they read. Sanders was selected as an essay winner taking home a scholarship worth $5,000 provided by the company.

“Honestly, I entered hoping to at least earn a new tool because all the entrants to qualified to win that,” he said. “Winning the scholarship was a big surprise.”

Mike Oddo (left) from Hilmor and essay winner Mark Sanders. (Photo courtesy of Hilmor)

In the straightforward essay, Sanders wrote of his concern about how he planned to support his family after the layoff. But the essay also read of how Sanders planned to bounce back and succeed.

After 17 years working full-time in manufacturing, Sanders found himself out of work when the company relocated his factory out of the country and eliminated his job. He pulls no punches about his frustration with the loss of his job, a fate dealt with by many blue-collar American workers over recent decades.

“The thing that made this possible was all of the manufacturing plants we’ve shut down here,” said Sanders. “It is too late for me, but maybe these jobs can come back for the younger people.”

Sanders said he and his fellow co-workers received an extension in salary from the date of their layoffs. With the clock ticking, Sanders needed little motivation to set about reclaiming a spot in the workforce by earning a college degree.

Sanders plans to use his Hilmor Scholars scholarship award to earn his associate degree in Mechanical Technology with a concentration in HVACR technology. He expects to graduate from Northeast State in May 2018. His ultimate goal is establishing his own HVACR company.

Sanders essay below is reprinted with permission:

“Retool;” it is an important concept for my life.  For the past 17 years the majority of my job responsibility has been retooling a production line at Ball Corporation for changeovers. “Retooling” was the first job in the process.

In October of 2015, Ball announced the Bristol plant was closing and moving to Mexico. Suddenly “retool” had a brand new meaning. Instead of retooling machines, I would have to retool my life.

At first, the news was devastating. Would we be able to make it?  I am a 45-year-old man with no post-secondary education and a family to support.  I have often regretted not continuing my education.  Now is the time to fulfill that dream.

For me, HVAC is an easy choice (my father is a HVAC tech). I know being a HVAC technician is a stable profession in this area. The weather in Northeast Tennessee, with its hot humid summers and cold snowy winters, should provide a long line of customers for the rest of my life.

In just the few weeks I have been in school, HVAC has already begun retooling my life.  I now sleep like a normal person; no more shift work.  I spend more time with my daughters (getting math help).  I have even had the opportunity to assist in some heat pump installations. “I am excited to see what the future holds. I know for sure, HVAC is my future, and I cannot wait to get started.”

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