Charting a Course
Marine Repair Technician grads find the skills to map their own futures
By Shawnda Schelinder | Photos by Marie Ketring
With a highly specialized degree like marine
repair technician (MRT), one might assume the career field would be narrowly
defined as well. But, as these Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College graduates
demonstrate, there are plenty of opportunities in the sea.
For MRT graduate Steve Witt, his degree took him to one of the most scenic
locations on Lake Superior. Witt, a marine machinery technician for the National
Park Service, punches the clock at Royís Point, just north of Bayfield, Wis.
Although Wittís family had owned a sports recreation shop in the region, he
wasnít sure if that was the field for him.
"I got out of the military and didnít quite know what I wanted to do," Witt
says. "So I took an aptitude test through the VA and it kind of placed me a
little higher on the mechanic side. And they said thereís a great program at
WITC in Ashland."
Starting out, Witt admits he didnít know much about the marine industry.
Throughout the course of the program, he learned
everything instructors Tim Edwards and Todd Larson could teach, from bow to
stern. "I absorbed it like a sponge, I guess," he says.
Part of the curriculum at that time included an internship, which Witt served
with the National Park Service.
"I worked one full summer here at the park," Witt says. "And I kind of
figured thatís what Iíd like to do. I got hired back after I graduated to work
on the grounds and trails and assist the marine mechanic at the time here." When
the former machinery technician suffered a sudden heart attack, Witt stepped up
to fill the position.
Now an average day for Witt is anything but average. From maintaining a fleet
of 14 boats to performing routine maintenance on all of the lawnmowers,
generators and other machinery, each day is different, which Witt appreciates. Being on the shores of Lake Superior is an added bonus.
Across the bay on the southern shores of Lake Superior, Chad Buckmasterís
story is not so dissimilar from Wittís. Aside from the fact that both young men
graduated from the MRT program in 2005, Buckmaster, like Witt, wasnít entirely
sure of his path when he applied to the MRT program. Nor did he know much about
the marine field.
"I entered it when I was 25 years old," says Buckmaster. "I needed a life
change. I was starting a family, and I needed to get a real job, something I
"Actually I started the class knowing nothing about marine," Buckmaster
admits. "Then I graduated knowing almost everything I could possibly need to
After graduation, Buckmaster worked for a couple different recreational
equipment repair shops in the region. But his career goals changed course when
his childhood friend lost his job in 2009.
When Darren Hudson was laid off, he and Buckmaster decided to open their own
business. Hudson had graduated from Century College in Staples, Minn., from its
construction and forestry John Deere program. He had also completed a welding
course at WITC-Ashland. So a shop that specialized in servicing recreational
equipment seemed like a good fit.
"We put our heads together and figured in our lifetimes itís either now or
because we were both starting our families," Hudson says.
Hudson set about securing federal and state grants and a small business loan
from the City of Ashland. In September 2010, Hudbuckís 4 Season Repair opened
its doors on Highway 2 in Ashland.
The two had built the business from the ground up, and the first year wasnít
"Are we going to close the doors or are we going to get some customers?
Thatís what it was. It was kind of scary," Hudson admits. But a year out of the
gate and the business is still in the black. Buckmaster and Hudson enjoy the
work and take pride in their business.
Both Witt and Buckmaster credit WITCís MRT program for opening doors that
they never knew existed. Although the training was specific, it provided them
with the skills to take their knowledge a step further and ultimately to
For more information about the Marine Repair Technician program,
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