Hamlet, N.C. - First-generation college student Douglas Ferrell is about to start his career as a relay technician with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, a global leader in protective relay systems.
Ferrell, of Wagram, is a student at Richmond Community College in the Electric Utility Substation & Relay Technology program. Graduating with his degree in May, Ferrell has had several job offers from other companies, but he accepted the position with Schweitzer in February.
“Schweitzer’s microprocessor relays are the primary equipment found in relay cabinets or rooms, meaning that I will be working directly and learning from the company most central to the protection system,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell got experience in this field when he interned with Duke Energy last summer.
“The internship probably caused me to become more anxious about getting back to working in the field. I want to apply what I have learned and expand upon it professionally in the workforce,” he said.
Ferrell did not take a direct route to this career choice. After graduating from Scotland High School, he joined the Marines and served for five years as an unmanned aerial systems technician.
“At the end of my contract, I decided to start using my GI Bill immediately and got a two-year degree in Business Administration from Sandhills Community College,” Ferrell said.
However, Ferrell heard about a unique two-year program at Richmond Community College that was preparing graduates for high wage careers in the utility industry. He also heard that it required a lot of math.
“I thought it would be a good challenge, especially because in high school math was my weakest subject,” Ferrell said.
He enrolled in the program in January 2020. Since being back in college, he and his wife, Kathleen, have had a third child.
“Being a parent, I’m lucky that I have my wife to help take care of everything at home,” he said.
Because of scholarships and financial aid, Ferrell has been able to focus on his studies without having to work a full-time job on top of going to college. He did apply for a campus job through RichmondCC’s Career & Transfer Center, and he works in the Registrar’s Office as an administrative assistant.
“The campus job has helped me to pay the bills, spend time with my kids and focus on studying,” he said.
Ferrell is glad he made the decision to come to RichmondCC and enroll in the EUSRT program.
“It’s given me better opportunities than I would have had with just a business degree or using only my training from the Marines,” Ferrell said. “I do feel prepared to enter this line of work, but no matter how much studying and preparation I do here at the school or even in the office, I know there will be unforeseen problems that I will do my best to mitigate. But I will always refer to my Marine Corps training to ‘Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.’”