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Ed Higgins, HVAC Program graduate
Agency News

Tragedy, Determination Helped One Man Turn His Life Around

November 02, 2020

In early 2012, Ed Higgins suffered a devastating loss. Already incarcerated and frustrated with himself, he learned that his best friend had died.

The loss forced him to focus, and he focused on the opportunity to learn a new vocation in Mike Warlikowski’s heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) class at Indian Creek Correctional Center (ICCC).

“His class gave me a reason to wake up every morning and a purpose. He helped me believe in myself and in turn, invest in myself by learning as much as possible. He gave me hope, when I thought it was lost to me,” Mr. Higgins said.

While learning the basics from Mr. Warlikowski, Mr. Higgins picked up valuable lessons brought by a VADOC collaborator, Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), especially their chief representative at ICCC.

“Without JCI and Jerry Hirsch, there would not have been the HVAC program that helped save my life,” Mr. Higgins said. JCI brought in an array of experts and equipment that helped Mr. Higgins tremendously.

A key element of his learning at ICCC involved a grasp of the basics. “The knowledge base that I built allowed for me to make quicker, direct correlations between theory and practice and also gave me an advantage to advance into more technical roles,” Mr. Higgins said.

That knowledge has helped him advance in his education and in his career. He recently graduated from Old Dominion University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He is now pursuing an advanced degree while working a very busy full-time job.

“I wear many hats at my company: project engineer, technician, consultant, etc. While I am in the office, I am reviewing designs, putting together submittals for upcoming work, risk assessment/mitigation, project planning, and anything else I can do to keep the machine rolling. I do take the occasional service call from time to time, but only when it is something extremely challenging and I am unable to assist one of my technicians remotely,” he said.

Everything started on that fateful day, now a solid eight years ago. “January 21, 2012, is the day that I can recall the tide of my life change direction. I was incarcerated at that time and found out that my best friend had died two days prior. I encountered death many times, and I feel incredibly selfish for saying so, but my best friend’s death gave me the spark that I needed to get myself together,” Mr. Higgins said. “I knew I had potential and I decided right then to find out how much potential I really do have,” he added.

Mr. Higgins lays the credit for his current success at the feet of his teachers, Mr. Warlikowski and all the benefits provided by JCI.

“I could go on at length for a great deal of time about the impact that Mr. Mike had on my life. I am a living testament to the type of person Mike is. Mr. Mike is an excellent teacher. He did everything he could to ensure that we were able to put our hands on the equipment and show us how the theoretical knowledge applied in the practical sense. He also let us make mistakes quite frequently and then had us fix them, which was the best type of learning.”

His teacher remembers Mr. Higgins for his discipline and persistence. Mr. Higgins “showed up early, stayed late, and did what was required of him. He is the epitome of someone who is driven. That has led to his great success,” Mr. Warlikowski said.

While Mr. Higgins is filled with gratitude, he is most grateful for some opportunities he did not get. “I am very grateful for the 26 companies that did not hire me when I was released from prison. They don’t know what they missed out on. With that being said, I am eternally grateful to Steve Bonham. He was the project manager at the 27th company that I applied to and he hired me the next day. Like Mr. Mike, Steve saw something in me, gave me a chance, and provided me the environment to hone and develop my skills. Not only was he a great person to work for, he is a fantastic mentor and friend.”

His best advice to others who may have had hurdles to clear is simple. “Under promise and over deliver. Show up to work early and stay late. Do not seek accolades or acknowledgement, give it your best effort every day and it won’t go unnoticed. Life is hard, but it is so worth it.”

Mr. Higgins is looking forward to advancing his education and in his profession. “For the short term, I am focused on making it through grad school. I will reevaluate my disposition on seeking a PhD at that time. In the near future, I would like to earn my professional engineer license and move into the research and consulting realm.”

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