For First Time in a Long Time, Checota Scholar’s Present and Future Are Bright

After a challenging youth, Diesel and Powertrain Servicing graduate has high school diploma, technical diploma and great-paying job

Mark Feldmann,

November 29, 2023

I’m doing things now I never dreamed I would be doing... I’ve tried to put everything together and make my life better for me and my family. MATC and the Checota scholarship changed my life.

Anthony Owens MATC Diesel and Powertrain Servicing graduate and Checota Scholarship recipient

For so long, life was dark for Anthony Owens.

As a teenager in the 1990s, Owens hung out near 45th Street and North Avenue, a neighborhood he called one of the most dangerous in Milwaukee. He dropped out of school. He smoked marijuana and dealt drugs. He stole. He rolled with a nasty crowd.

“I became part of that neighborhood, if you know what I mean,” Owens said.

His future prospects boiled down to a short, grim list: living a life of crime, getting hooked on drugs, sitting behind bars or ending up dead. “I always just wanted to be better,” he said. “In the real world, no one wants to be any of those things.”

Today, thanks to Milwaukee Area Technical College and a full-ride scholarship from the Ellen and Joe Checota MATC Scholarship Program, Owens has a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED), a technical diploma, a job that pays him $33 per hour and big plans to open his own business.

“I’m doing things now I never dreamed I would be doing,” said Owens, who spent time in prison twice before coming to MATC. “Five years ago, I didn’t see any light. But now I’ve been on a really good run. I’ve tried to put everything together and make my life better for me and my family. MATC and the Checota scholarship changed my life.”

Finding the path

During his second stint in prison, Owens experienced an epiphany. “This ain’t the life I want,” he said to himself at the time. “The doors in front of me are locked and closed now. But they don’t have to be locked and closed forever.”

Owens started attending any and all educational classes and self-help courses offered in the correctional facility. By January 2022, he had taken and passed every test for his HSED except for the math exam.

Once released, Owens came to MATC. The work he completed in prison was applied toward MATC’s 5.09 HSED program, a competency-based option designed to be completed in one to two semesters.

“Anthony was extremely motivated to finish what he started,” said Holly Thielen, instructional chair of MATC’s HSED 5.09 program. “He had only the math left, and he just busted his butt for the last few weeks and got everything done.”

Moving further forward

Owens got his HSED in May 2022 and went right back to school, enrolling in MATC’s Diesel and Powertrain Servicing program. He worked part time at Hertz, detailing rental cars and went to class part time.

In the spring of 2023, he heard about the Checota MATC Scholarship Program from Erik Riley, his advisor in the college’s Manufacturing, Construction & Transportation Pathway. Owens applied and received a full-ride scholarship that paid for tuition, books, supplies, meals and transportation.

“Anthony showcased exceptional commitment and work ethic throughout his educational journey,” Riley said. “I observed his unwavering dedication to a full-time school schedule while managing work responsibilities to meet financial obligations. 

“Despite facing challenges, his positive spirit remained evident,” Riley added. “Witnessing students like Anthony triumph over obstacles and succeed is truly gratifying and inspirational to those who may share similar backgrounds and experiences.”

Owens earned his technical diploma in May 2023 and soon secured a job at GFL Environmental Inc. in Hartland. He services heavy-duty diesel vehicles used for waste removal and recycling collection at households, communities and businesses across the nation. He repairs, maintains and inspects GLF’s signature green trucks. 

Someday soon he plans to open his own maintenance shop and operate his own trucking fleet. To prepare, he is thinking about taking business management courses in the spring of 2024 at MATC. He also has a daughter who will graduate from high school in May 2024 – he’s going to encourage her to apply to MATC. 

“I love MATC so much, and I owe so much to them for what they have done for me. MATC teaches you skills that you can use the very day you leave the school,” Owens said. “I wish I would have had these opportunities 20 years ago. If I had, I never would have gone down the paths that I went down.”

Learn about MATC’s Diesel and Powertrain Servicing program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 28,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.