“I’m Luke, a student in BioE and a business owner of a small plumbing company. My wife, Meagan, and I have been married about 3 years. She graduated with a nursing degree from Lake Washington Tech last fall, so during most of the BioE program, we were both in school full-time, supported by my plumbing business. We also run a nonprofit outdoor adventure company called Peak Adventures. For about ten years I’ve been taking groups of college students and young adults to go out for hikes, white-water rafting, or any kind of cheap deal I can find that gets you out of the house.
In high school, I studied a lot of tech and programming. I wasn’t really a good student, mostly C’s, and I didn’t care about really excelling; school was boring. But I was in the science club and I liked building stuff, so I knew I wanted to go into engineering. Back then I thought I was going to do computer/material engineering to design hardware components for computers, but I couldn’t afford college out of high school.
I started working some random jobs after high school. I worked at a camp for a while, which was probably my favorite job in the world. I worked in the dining room serving tables, and then ran the high-ropes course and the climbing wall in the summer. In the winter, I hung Christmas lights for the camp. Once seasonal work dried up, a coworker knew a guy who was looking for plumbing apprentices, so I got into plumbing. That first company I worked for was a hack-shop, though I didn’t know it at the time. I got fired for talking back to the manager’s son, but it was a blessing because the quality of the next plumbing company showed me how bad they were. I was with that company for 8 years and was able to work through all the different aspects of plumbing. They had me digging ditches the first year, just paying my dues while I learned all the parts. They then moved me to putting pipes in the wall, and after that I had a couple years working on all the stuff you see outside the wall– the toilets, the sinks, etc. Finally, I worked for a couple years fixing the other guys’ mistakes. I got a really complete training in plumbing.
Eventually I wanted to go back to school. I talked to my boss, and he couldn’t accommodate my class schedule. So during my first year, I worked as a night janitor at a church and started taking classes at community college. I moved into my car to afford school. I managed to reduce all of my expenses — food, gas, insurance, etc– down to $450 a month. Everything else went to tuition and books.
The second year, I was able to talk my boss into taking me back on, just one day a week and in the evenings, but it helped a lot. It paid double what the janitor job offered, which allowed me to work less and focus on school more. As I got further into college, I was able to group classes together and have two days a week available to work.
But as I was looking into going to UW, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue working for the company. My boss actually helped me go through the paperwork of setting up my own company. I didn’t get accepted into BioE the first year I applied, which was disappointing, but it gave me an extra year to prepare. At that point I was still going to school full-time, working for my boss 2 days a week and running my company in the evenings. That was a rough year. I was taking extra engineering classes while I waited for spring to roll around so I could apply to BioE again. I got accepted into BioE in the middle of winter quarter.
Meagan and I eloped and moved in together that spring as I started core classes in BioE. At the end of that summer we had a big wedding up by Stevens Pass at a cabin. Meagan and I did everything from making the food to putting the venue together. It was amazing. We created an amphitheatre next to the river with mountain peaks in the background. We made benches from tree logs, and laid down sod for a meandering grass aisle. There were lights floating above the dance floor, hung between the trees. Our whole family helped set up the place, and it was incredible. We flew in a couple from Sweden to perform the ceremony; they are the most gracious and loving couple I’ve ever met.
I started fall core the week after the wedding. Core was really rough. During fall quarter I averaged one and a half all nighters each week to study enough to understand it all, and work enough to survive. There were days where I’d wake up early to squeeze in some work before morning classes, then rush off to another job, then rush back in time for an evening class, then study with people until long after the building locked up. I woke up in the morning and was going nonstop until I fell into bed at night, We were just barely scraping by financially, and most days I hardly got to see my wife unless she came to Foege with Chinook. It was really rough as a non-traditional student working full time.
There was a lot of sacrifice. My granddad died last fall, and the last few years I’ve been so focused on school and work that I haven’t been able to see him. I regret not spending more time with him, since it’s something I’ll never get again. The amount I had to focus on school was also really hard on my marriage. While I focused on school, close friends have moved away, and I’m probably not going to see them for years, if ever again. I have a few friends that are still around that I’m trying to reconnect with and basically start life back up. I’m realizing that I haven’t really been living life the last seven years, just surviving.
There’s not really any time to relax. Quitting was a tempting idea, and I frequently had thoughts of suicide. I’m really not sure if it was all worth it, only time will tell. There really isn’t a way to do it all well. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable. I don’t think working while studying BioE was the best way to do it, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I did it because I wasn’t willing to get burdened with a ton of student loans that I’m paying off until my future kids are in high school. Even though it pushed me to my edge, it’s the only way I could do it, and I don’t think it’s a safe method for everybody. Rough years.
Everything’s kind of coming together now. The last couple quarters have been a little easier. I don’t have to take as many classes and Meagan’s working now so we’re not on the edge of financial survival anymore. I don’t have to say yes to every job that comes across the desk anymore. I’m able to actually relax and breathe, and that’s a luxury I haven’t experienced for such a long time.
If you’re looking at coming into BioE, work ahead of time to try to take everything you can off your plate, so when you get into the program you can focus on core. Transfer in all the classes you can, and spend some extra time with friends and family before you get in.
If you’re already in BioE and realizing that it’s harder than you anticipated, realize that you can understand everything and do well without getting straight A’s. The real value in education is the knowledge, not the grades. Once you’re out, people look at your projects and how well you understand the stuff. That’s what really matters, not whether you got a 3.6 or a 3.8. BioE pushes you really hard, but they accept you because you have the ability to succeed. Don’t worry about the grades. And take breaks, you need breaks for sanity’s sake.”