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His career keeps on trucking

Photos and Story by

Michael Murphy, Student

Michael Murphy, Student

Hundreds of high school students from around the Portland metro area recently experienced the world of big engines – and even bigger trucks – at the annual Diesel Day at the Rock Creek Campus.

The students got an opportunity to tour the Diesel Service Technology program and the campus, while talking with industry professionals, PCC students and instructors. Industry partners such as Bobcat Skid Steer, Freightliner, Schneider National, Cummins Northwest and Halton Co., provided rigs, which were displayed for students to check out.

Climbing up into the driver’s seat of a large, yellow Caterpillar rig gave the students a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to be a driver. But to really know how great a career in the diesel service industry is, all students had to do was talk to PCC diesel service students like Michael Murphy. The 39-year-old is in his fifth term in the program where he plans to earn a two-year certificate and an associate’s degree.

“In the program, there is a lot of knowledge,” Murphy said. “The instructors have a lot of experience and they are able to draw from that and relate it to the coursework. I learn something new every day. The instructors are terrific. If you want to learn they’ll help you.”

The Tacoma, Wash., native sports a 4.0 grade point average and is on the President’s, Dean’s and Honors lists for academic excellence. His typical day starts at 5:30 a.m. with work at Schneider National and after a day of his studies at PCC, he doesn’t get to bed until 1:30 a.m.

“I know how to stay awake in class because I know this is something I really want to do,” he said.

This sort of dedication has propelled him into a valued role with his company. It isn’t surprising since he had the dedication to spend 10 years in the Army, serving in Desert Storm in 1990. He was in the communications department, coordinating television and radio broadcasts and handling public affairs duties. After his discharge, he got a job at a computer chip processing plant in the Portland area. But after 9/11, the economy went south and his company struggled. He was eventually laid off, but it didn’t take him long to find a new career that made him happy.

“I was happiest with a wrench in my hand under a car,” he said. “I’ve always had an aptitude for mechanics. In my off-duty hours, I always worked on cars. So, I started driving trucks for Schneider National five years ago. I figured if I could get my foot in the door with the company I might be able to eventually work my way into working as a diesel mechanic.”

Students at Diesel DayHis plan paid off. A position opened up in the company’s repair shop in Portland a year later and he started out at the apprentice level, mainly changing oil, doing lube jobs and fixing tires. But he realized if he wanted to move up the company ladder at Schneider National he’d need a new plan.

“To get ahead you need a formal education,” he said. “So I talked to my boss and we came up with this plan to get my schooling done and get a certificate.”

He loves the world of diesel engines because of the team atmosphere in the shop. Making people happy by fixing problems with the trucks gives him a sense of ownership with the company.

“I like the personal pride and satisfaction I get,” he said. “When a truck comes in and has a problem, I go in and diagnose it and make the repairs. The truck leaves and when the driver comes back after a few days he’ll tell me how great it’s running. That’s personal satisfaction because the driver is happy with what I did.”

Murphy, who drag races in the quarter-mile with his 1989 Mustang, will tell anyone who wants to listen that his career took off with PCC. Of course, that’s exactly what he told the high school students on Diesel Day.

“PCC has the best diesel program I’ve seen,” Murphy said as a few students hopped up in the Schneider National rig next to him in the PCC diesel shop. “This is the highest recommended program around. I learn something new every day.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Public Relations Manager at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic, Wo... more »