By Linda Schmid

Jason Taylor had a great time growing up in the small country town of Bunloa, Pennsylvania. It was a one-stop-sign town where everyone knew everyone else. It was quiet and safe, and he and his buddies hung out at the Monogahela River.

School was OK, but what Taylor really loved was martial arts. He worked odd construction jobs and worked on masonry crews taking mixed martial arts classes until he went professional. It was a dream come true!

While Taylor enjoyed the career he had chosen, the reality is that this is the kind of career that doesn’t last long. One day the competition is too much for a 30-year old body and it’s time to move on. When that time came, Taylor had no degree or formal training to fall back on. It left him feeling like he still didn’t know what he wanted to do when he grew up.

One thing he did know; he wasn’t happy where he was. He was in his mid-thirties, working a janitorial job at the community college. Taylor wanted a family of his own, but he didn’t feel financially secure enough to start one. Further, he wanted a job that required more brain work; he’d already had a career that was all physical and he didn’t want to repeat that pattern.

Starting Something New

One of the guys Taylor worked with was in the heating and cooling trade. He saw what Joe did and he thought he would like to try it. Realizing that the Community College of Allegheny County with its HVAC program was only about 15 minutes away, he decided that this might be the way to find better opportunities.

While he talked himself into going back to school, he was still apprehensive because he figured he would be the oldest guy in class. The student population, however, turned out to be a mix; some males, some females, different ethnicities, and a guy in his late fifties who was picking up a second career.

Classes were three nights a week and they were very hands- on. He found himself looking forward to them. The students worked with furnaces and different equipment, taking it apart and putting it back together. There were lectures and book work too, but Taylor loved actually putting the knowledge to work.

A Degree In the Trades

He came across the mikeroweWORKS scholarship on a bulletin board in one of his classes. He didn’t qualify for many scholarships, and as an adult paying his own way through the two-year program, he thought it was a great opportunity.

Taylor’s final two classes prior to graduating with an associate of science degree in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineering Technology were virtual because of the new stay-at-home policies brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Happily one of the classes was public speaking, something not overly affected by virtual learning.

His degree gained him a new position at Penn State Greater Allegheny as a Maintenance Mechanic A. In early 2022, he accepted a position as Building Technician at Chatham University, Eden Hall Campus, home to the Falk School of Sustainability and Environment. This community is dedicated to sustainable living and the modeling of sustainable approaches to energy, water, food and agriculture, air quality and climate, and the interaction of natural and built systems. It is cutting-edge sustainable technology: thermal, geothermal, solar, and more. Taylor is excited about the possibilities and looking forward to see what comes next.

Jason with his family: wife Brianna and daughter Aria. A new addition is on the way, son Evan.

Life Impact

Even more exciting, Taylor is making his life dream come true. He is now married and the proud father of a 7-month old baby girl.

“You know, a four- to six-year degree is not for everyone. It’s very important to illustrate that people can get a great education for much less and you can get hired in the trades the day after you finish trade school,” Taylor said.

“The life I have now, my great career and my family… All of this was made possible by me going back to school and getting my HVAC degree, which was partly made possible by  my scholarship,” Taylor said. “I am grateful to the mikeroweWORKS Foundation.”  RB

As a result of a collaboration with mikeroweWORKS Foundation (, Rural Builder is featuring profiles of Work Ethic Scholarship recipients in each of its issues. Over 1,500 scholarships have been awarded to trade-school students who value hard work and taking personal responsibility. Rural Builder applauds these students and wants to acknowledge their choice to apply their talents to skilled trades. Thank you, mikeroweWORKS Foundation, for your continuing efforts to close the skills gap and “reconnect the average American with the value of a skilled workforce.”