From the Firehouse to the Classroom

By Beacon Staff

The list of titles attached to Ryan Pitts’ name seems endless. He’s a father of six, a captain at the Evergreen Fire Department, a part-time nurse, and a student and teacher at Flathead Valley Community College.

Now, he’s also a graduate and recipient of the Newman Civic Fellow Award, a national honor for college students who have served their community.

Pitts, 38, graduated from Flathead High School in 1994 and began working construction. He made good money and didn’t feel the need to go to college. Then he received his emergency medical technician license in 1997 and started volunteering locally as a firefighter and EMT. In 2001, he got a job at the Glacier Park International Airport Fire Department and a few years later, started at the Evergreen Fire Department, where he is now a captain.

In 2008, when the economy collapsed, Pitts found construction work was scarce and opted to go back to school to become a paramedic. He received his certification from FVCC in 2012 and since then has been working on his practical nursing license, which he received this spring upon graduation. Pitts has also taught basic EMT courses at FVCC since 2012. Balancing school, work and family isn’t always easy, Pitts said, adding that he and his wife once figured he was working 140-hour weeks. Despite that busy schedule, Pitts has kept a promise he made to himself and his six kids, who range from 12 months old to 14 years old.

“I never ever take work or school home with me,” he said. “When I’m home, I’m home.”

Though Pitts donned a cap and gown at graduation on May 16, he is not about to leave FVCC. After a well-deserved break, Pitts will be back at school in January working toward becoming a registered nurse. With that certification, he hopes to get a job in an emergency room.

Pitts said the last few years have been incredibly busy, but none of it would have been possible without FVCC, which he said aims to help non-traditional students like him. And he said it will all be worth it in the end.

“I’ve had jobs in the past where I hated going, but every day I’m at work now, be it as a nurse or on a fire, there is a direct connection with people when they need help the most and are at their most vulnerable,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. I get to spend 140 hours a week doing what I love.”

The 46th class in the history of Flathead Valley Community College celebrated its graduation last week. In an exciting and emotional commencement ceremony, a total of 422 graduates took the stage at the Flathead County Fairgrounds to accept their diplomas and toss their caps into the air. There were 365 associate degrees and 66 certificates awarded to those who completed the summer and fall of 2013 and spring 2014 semesters.

The latest class of local graduates was as diversified as it was determined. It featured nurses and entrepreneurs, welders and foresters — all rooted in their motivation to pursue higher education and expand their abilities two years ago in the wake of the recession.

Here are four graduates emerging from FVCC with exemplary stories to share.

Jonathan McKeffick: Sparking a Bright Future

Becca Wheeler: Forging a New Career Path

Hannah Brinton: The Final Bow

Ryan Pitts: From the Firehouse to the Classroom

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