Lineman student overcomes challenges and sets an example while pursuing goals
During a one-year stretch, Cole Riffle attended class in the Electric Utility Line Technician program three days a week, worked nearly full-time at a grocery store and cared for his mother as she battled – and beat – cancer.
As if that wasn't enough, he served as the glue of his class cohort, tutoring and mentoring several of his classmates, and found time to assist in recruiting efforts at the Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology campus.
"That's the way our mom raised my brother and I, to help people when they need it," Riffle said. "I always want to help; it's in my nature. If I see somebody struggling, I'm there to pick them up. That's how I've always been and always will be."
Riffle, 20, went to Lathrop High School and Excelsior Springs Area Career Center, where he was a standout student. Before leaving the latter school, he received Student of the Year awards in SkillsUSA, electrical trades and for the entire Career Center.
Riffle opted to pursue a career in line work as he trained to become an electrician at the center.
"When we heard about future opportunities, working as a lineman came up," he said. "One of my instructors did some research and found the program at MCC-Business & Technology and helped me enroll."
The instructors in the program emphasize the importance of safety every day, including a lesson taught in the beginning: Stay focused on your work.
"She (program coordinator Susan Blaser) told us you've got to set aside what happens at home when you do this kind of work," Riffle said. "If you don't, it puts you at risk because you're not paying attention to what you're doing."
Riffle had to embrace that message quickly when his mother developed colon cancer. When he wasn't in the line yard or working at a local grocery store, he was taking care of his mother.
Despite a hectic schedule and the stress of worrying about his mom, Riffle thrived in the program, even becoming a mentor to several classmates when they needed it.
"I basically had to focus on what I was doing in class. That's what you have to do to be a lineman," he said. "It was very, very hard to put what was happening with my mom aside during class, but it can be done."
Riffle's mother eventually won her fight with cancer after months of recovery. After a doctor removed several inches of her lower intestine, the cancer went into remission during the spring.
As he'd learned from his mother, Riffle continued to help her and others, tutoring classmates in math and computer courses, as well as electrical concepts. He often would receive a text from a fellow student and drive to meet and help them.
"Our mission at MCC is preparing students, serving communities and creating opportunities," said Dr. Jackie Gill, president of MCC-Business & Technology. "It is incredibly rewarding to see a student like Cole who not only excels in the classroom, but also helps us meet those directives."
When he wasn't helping others, attending class or working 35 hours a week, Riffle often assisted MCC-Business & Technology staff at recruiting functions. He represented the Line Technician program at the iBuild Showcase and when the campus hosted hundreds of grade-school students from the Kansas City school district.
"Cole is perfect representative for our program," Blaser said. "He is a great student and is always willing to lend a hand when needed. He will be a very successful lineman."
Riffle has a few more classes to complete before receiving a certificate in Electric Utility Line Technician. He currently is pursuing a job in the field and hopes to work at a local utility company such as Kansas City Power & Light.
His brother is a student at MCC-Maple Woods.
Alumnus changes career, reaches new heights as lineman
Five years ago, Brandon Orr worked in retail management. Today, he works as an apprentice lineman at Kansas City Power & Light (KCPL). To say the Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology alumnus has changed careers would be a bit of an understatement.
"I'm originally from Los Angeles, and my wife and I were looking to get out of the crazy race of L.A.," said Orr, who received an associate in applied science in electrical utility line technician in 2014. "We looked at places we wanted to live and found the perfect property and moved out here in 2012."
Orr and his wife, Lisa, settled into the small community of Cameron, Missouri, which has a population of a little less than 10,000, compared to nearly 3.9 million in Los Angeles.
Orr continued to work as a retail manager after the move but began looking into different careers. He chose MCC-Business & Technology after researching several schools in the Kansas City area.
"When I was young, my neighbor was a lineman, and he asked me about going out and trying it when I was younger," he said. "It wasn't of interest to me at the time, but I figured I didn't want to live with regrets, so I started looking into it.
"I spoke to someone in the human resources department at Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, and she referred me to MCC."
Orr's career change came with a lifestyle change. When he applied to and interviewed for admission into the lineman program, he weighed more than 300 pounds.
"At that point, I started to get in shape, physically prepare myself. (Program coordinator Susan Blaser and instructor Ed Budy) had given me a pretty good idea of what the program would entail," Orr said. "I did a lot of running and cardio exercises that simulated a stair climber, which was close to what I'd be seeing in the field. I decided if I was going to do this, I was going to be committed and give it 100 percent."
Orr lost more than 30 pounds before the cohort began in June 2013 and estimates that he lost at least 50 pounds during the yearlong program. By the end of the program, he was the lineman student of the year.
"I was not in the condition of most of my peers, but I think my dedication and wanting to succeed helped me push through," Orr said. "There were days when I went home and thought, 'What am I doing, why am I doing this?' But once I got comfortable and confident, it was easier to get through it."
Blaser said Orr's dedication served him well and will continue to as a lineman.
Brandon was a student that always gave 110 percent on everything," she said. "He pushed himself to do his very best, yet was always the first one to help or mentor fellow students who needed it. He has started his apprenticeship at KCPL, and we have no doubt that he will be a successful, hardworking, safe lineman.
Orr worked for a contractor for about a year before beginning a lineworker apprenticeship at KCPL six months ago. He credited MCC-Business & Technology for jumpstarting his new career.
"The people we work for are surprised how much we know, and that's because we have a great experience in the lineman program at MCC," Orr said. "The biggest things I got out of this program are instructors who were great mentors and great connections in the field.
"You can go to almost any school to learn the tactics that they teach here, but MCC is the only place that has this kind of preparation. I never felt rushed. I had support. It was a wholesome experience. There is no other place like this."