Kimberly Wooten

2019 HVACR Technician Graduate
Silver Wrench Award & Best Shop Skills
Service Technician at Santoro Oil in Providence, RI
When Kimberly was injured at work, she lost her job as a diesel mechanic.

Kim’s hand got caught in an engine belt of a bus. Even after she healed, the orthopedic specialist couldn’t provide a release for her to return to work. Her career of almost 10 years was over. She moved on, earning Licenses in Real Estate and Home Appraisal, and a Certification as a Home Inspector.  “I was looking for a spot where I fit in.”

During 2015-16, Kim filled a voluntary post on a regulating board in Rhode Island.

Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Kim to serve on the RI Contractors Registration and Licensing board. “I was a little apprehensive when the telephone rang and the caller said, ‘This is the office of Gina Raimondo; please hold for the Governor.’ Turns out I was the only female Home Inspector in Rhode Island and the Governor had a strong desire to place more female contractors on the board.”

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Despite all of her accomplishments, Kim missed working with her hands.

“When I was young, mom bought me a bike. Within a couple of days I had taken it apart. I like to see how things work—what makes them tick.”

For Kim, the loss of her career as a Diesel Mechanic felt like much more than losing a job.

“I lost my identity, and purpose in life. I really loved what I did.  Rescue trucks came to the garage for repair. Ambulances carry people. When you repair an ambulance, you know that, because you fixed it, that ambulance is saving lives. The work was very fulfilling.” 

Kim didn’t know what trade she wanted to train for, or that MTTI had an HVAC/R program.

Living in the next town, Kim regularly drove by the school. “I visited MTTI to find out what programs the school offered. I knew medical was not what I wanted. I have a technical brain. Looking at the list of programs, I saw that I could be a motorcycle mechanic, a marine mechanic, or a heating and air conditioning technician.”

Kim chose HVAC/R, feeling it would be a trade that would sustain her year round.

“Because I have a mechanical background, I believed I could do this. I wish more young people would learn a welding or a mechanical or HVAC trade. If they don’t, as senior workers retire, we’ll soon be out of tradespeople.”

Kim describes going back to school at the age of 48 as ‘something like staring at a mountain’.

“You know you have to start at the bottom to get to the top. Growing up in Alabama, my daddy told us not to let anyone tell us what we can’t do—show them instead what you can do.”

Kim says her experience at MTTI ‘couldn’t have been better’.

She praises her instructor, Ash. “He’s passionate about working in the HVAC/R industry—it flows over to his teaching. He’s excited to see people learning, and clearly wants students to succeed. When the students asked questions about heating or cooling equipment they were trying to fix at home, Ash was always happy to provide help.”

The students in Kim’s class ranged in age from right out of high school to mid-sixties.

“One of my classmates was starting over again in his sixties, after the Power Plant he worked at for many years closed. He did well; he was hired at the end of the program.”

Starting over herself, some of her younger classmates called her ‘Mama Kim’.

She became a role model for younger class members. Her instructor appreciated that Kim would ‘step outside her box’ to help other people in class with their projects. “I love to share what I know.”

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Kim felt confident in her abilities as she approached internship.

Although impressed with her resume, some companies she interviewed with didn’t offer a wage in keeping with her skills and training. Santoro Oil saw Kim’s value and in preference to just providing an internship, decided to hire her full time at the start of her internship. “They are a great company; I am very happy working here. When you get in with a good group of guys, who you can work with well, it’s fabulous.”

She rides in the truck with another Tech, Paul.

He has been surprised at how excited customers are that the company has a female on board. They hear from customers how nice it is to see a woman technician.”

Kim takes pride in her work.

“Recently, when temperatures have been below freezing, we would pull up in the truck and see people sitting in the car. They were trying to stay warm, because their home had no heat. After a short service call, customers have heat and are no longer freezing. I’m tired at the end of the work day—but I feel a real sense of accomplishment.”

Asked about her experience at school, Kim answered, “You’d be a fool not to go to MTTI.”

“Everyone goes out of their way to help their students. I received so much support at MTTI—from the Financial Aid Department, Instructors and Career Services. I could approach anyone at the school and say, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ They would stop what they were doing to help me out—you don’t run across that often.”

Before attending MTTI, Kim did check out other schools.

“MTTI is more affordable—what they offered was more attractive to me. The school is more ‘student-centric’—they are primarily centered on students’ education, not the price of tuition they are charging you.”

“Because of MTTI, I already have two licenses and a certificate in my pocket.”

“I’ve earned an EPA Universal Certification, and PJF Licenses in Gas and Oil. I’ve also gained the education hours toward my Pipefitter’s License. I will accrue the supervised work hours on the job to qualify for the exam.”

“Graduating from school, I haven’t come to the end—I’ve reached an end goal.“

“The reward for me is that, now when I get up in the morning, I get to go to work and fix something. I have an identity as a heating and air conditioning tech and a strong sense of purpose.  I believe in the saying that ‘if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ You’re not just working at a job—you are living your life with passion.”

Photo: Top Right – Kim accepting her Award for Best Shop Skills from HVAC/R Instructor, Asher Marshall;  Middle Left – Santoro Facebook comments from customers about the service she and Paul have been providing this winter.