From Surfing Dreams to Skilled Trades: Elijah's Journey to a $10,000 Work Ethic Scholarship from the Mike Rowe Foundation

Oceanside HVAC Student Tapped for Scholarship from Mike Rowe’s Foundation

When Elijah Chamberlin graduated from high school in his native Laie, Hawaii, he didn’t have a future career in mind. He contemplated college, but the country was still wrestling with the aftermath of the pandemic at the time. Going off to college didn’t seem like a good idea.

“When I graduated from high school COVID was still a risk, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “So instead of college, I thought I would give real estate and property management a try, and I got my real estate license.”

While the real estate industry had a lot of potential, Elijah’s desire for a more hands-on career led him to consider going to a trade school. He was inspired by family members who worked in the skilled trades.

“My father is a contractor and I have an uncle who does HVAC, so I started to think about that, and ultimately that’s what I decided to do,” he said. “I wanted to experience life away from home for a while, like what you’d get with going away to college, so I looked for opportunities. I love to surf and I wanted to go someplace where I could still do that.”

With his mind set, Elijah embarked on a journey to master a skilled trade that would redefine his professional trajectory in Southern California, where surfing is very popular. The interdisciplinary nature of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) work requires a diverse skill set. That was appealing to Elijah, and he found UEI College in Oceanside, where he enrolled in the HVAC Technician program.

“I like how HVAC is different trades combined into one, like a ‘jack of all trades’. There’s electrical, plumbing, refrigeration, heating/cooling systems, and thermodynamics,” he said. “HVAC requires a lot of problem-solving too, which I enjoy.”

“I love it here at UEI. The instructors and staff really care about you and the program is great,” Elijah added. “I’m very happy I ended up here.”

Elijah’s excitement in learning a trade at UEI College reached new heights when he received the news that he had been selected for a distinctive scholarship.

TV personality Mike Rowe is well known for his work on the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs and the series Somebody’s Gotta Do It, originally developed for CNN. In 2008, Rowe created the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to ‘launch a national PR campaign for skilled labor.’

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation created the Work Ethic scholarship program that aims to ‘assist those individuals who are not bound for a four-year university.’ 

“I have nothing against four-year schools, but from what I can tell, our country is not suffering today from a dearth of four-year degrees – we’re suffering from the growing scarcity of skilled tradespeople. Last I checked, the number of skilled workers leaving the workforce was nearly three times the number who enter. That math is very bad news for all of us, and this program is designed to train those individuals who want to join the next generation of skilled workers,” Rowe said in a post on Facebook. “We’re looking for hardworking men and women who will keep the lights on, water running, and air flowing. People who will show up early, stay late, and bust their asses to get the job done.”

“UEI told us about the Mike Rowe scholarship and Mr. Debondt encouraged me to apply, so I did,” Elijah said. “I love Mike Rowe. I watched his show Dirty Jobs growing up and thought it was the coolest thing.”

The scholarship application process is rigorous, and applicants must take Rowe’s 12-part S.W.E.A.T. Pledge, which stands for “Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.” It’s a collection of beliefs Rowe wrote that outline the importance of work ethic, personal responsibility, and a positive attitude that ‘we believe every worker can benefit from embracing it.’ 

When applying for the scholarship, students are asked to submit a video about what they would offer as a 13th statement of the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge. Elijah submitted a video with his application, in which he said:

“I promise to be the person that I would want working on my home, car, property…. Because when you hire a person to fix or build something for you, you want to be able to trust that person and know that they are doing their absolute best work, not taking shortcuts, and paying their full attention to the work that they are doing. If we promise to always be these people, we will leave each job knowing we did exactly what the customer needed and that all of the problems have been solved. There is a huge demand for tradesmen and tradeswomen in this world, but we don’t need any more half-focused, sloppy tradesmen doing the bare minimum to get by. We need to be experts in the fields we pursue.”

To Elijah’s surprise and delight, he was notified that he was selected as one of the recipients of a $10,000 scholarship from the Foundation.

“I thought the scholarship was $1,000 but then I saw in the email it was $10,000 and I almost had a heart attack,” Elijah said with a big smile. “I was shocked, and of course, very, very happy!”

“It is awesome that Elijah got the scholarship. He has been a great student and he is certainly worthy. He is driven and smart. I have no doubt he will do well in the HVAC field,” said HVAC Instructor Justin Debondt. “I applaud Mike Rowe for his work to promote the skilled trades and for this scholarship for deserving students like Elijah. It is really fantastic.”

“Thank you to Mike Rowe and the Foundation for this incredible scholarship,” Elijah said. “And I have to thank my instructor Mr. Debondt because I wouldn’t have gotten it without his recommendation. I will work hard to make everyone proud of me.”

Many people are already proud of Elijah.

“I am very proud of Elijah for his work ethic as a student. He works full-time while going to school, and that is not easy,” Mr. Debondt said. “He is a mentor and inspiration to other students.”

“All of us at UEI College are proud of Elijah for his continued success as a student, and proud that he represents UEI with the Work Ethic scholarship,” said UEI Oceanside Campus President Jaclyn Marquez. “Congratulations on this well-deserved honor.”

“Congratulations to Elijah. We commend you for your hard work, especially as you balanced full-time work and school, setting an example for your peers,” said President and CEO Dr. Fardad Fateri. “Your mentorship and inspiration to fellow students have not gone unnoticed, earning you the respect and pride of your instructors and UEI College. May your journey ahead be filled with continued success, learning, and the fulfillment of your aspirations.”

After graduation in March, Elijah says he will focus on finding a commercial HVAC position in the area and plans to stay in California for a while to gain experience.

“I’ll stay in California for a while but eventually I’d like to return to Hawaii and start my own HVAC business there,” he said. “I’ve had such a great experience here at UEI and I am very thankful for everything.”

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