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Alumni Spotlight: Theodore O’Neill

As part of our ongoing series that highlights NHTI alumni, the following blog post is written by Theodore O’Neill, EET graduate in the class of 1978.

alumni spotlight: Theodore O'NeillI think many people can point to events in their life that became a pivotal point.  I’ve had three, and one of these was my experience at NHTI.

Growing up, I had role model in my life: my grandfather, an electrical engineer. But my home life was bit of a disaster, and there was no support for that goal or college in general. To make matters worse, my high school, though one of the best public schools in Massachusetts, either provided me no guidance or was just as happy to be rid of me. The day after graduating, I packed up my car and left home.

My parents had me start work in a machine shop when I was 14. Today, that’s a violation of child labor laws in all 50 states. But by the time I was 18, on the day I left home, I could get a job anywhere as a machinist, which I did. I didn’t have any money to pay for college so I had to find a way to work and go to school. This led me to Northeastern, which had an electrical engineering work study program, or so I thought.

In the fall of 1975, after I had been accepted, I took a math exam and flunked it. They put me in the Electrical Engineering Technology program, which I had zero interest in completing because I didn’t want to be an EET. I realized I was way behind in math to even start an EE program. I was more than a little upset that I was in this position at all.

A personal family disaster soon after starting at Northeastern led me to drop out. By this time, I was working and living on food stamps. Someone in social services told me about Pell Grants. I was dating the woman who would become my wife, and we frequently visited her parents, who lived in Franklin, N.H. On those trips north, we drove right past NHTI. After investigating the school, I thought it just might be the way for me to get back on track, and now I had a way to pay for it. I would accept that I had to start over and get my EET first, but NHTI’s EET program had an almost automatic in to the EE program at UNH.

At NHTI, I took every single math class offered, essentially doing what I should have done in high school. I found I really preferred a small school, and the faculty took an interest in me and that was a huge help. I thrived in the attention-filled environment, and it changed my life.

I did go to UNH, but I didn’t graduate with an EE degree. All that math really helped me there and through my whole life. I ended up with a BA at New England College and got a full academic scholarship. I worked my way up in finance at a major Fortune 500 company, started working on Wall Street, and never left it.

I don’t know where I would be without the help of the great faculty at NHTI.  And my thoughts about being an EET?  Turned out I really liked that, too!

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