Are you a college student who sees the gap between what you're learning in school and what you'll need to succeed in your career?
I know how that feels. I can assure you...
- If you want to get on top of your school work, or even just survive your current classes...
- If you want to feel in control of your finances, or even just understand them...
- If you want to launch your dream career, or even just figure out what your dream is...
...then the Intentional Academy is the place for you.
I am Tony Ferrar and I help students close the gap between what college teaches and what the world demands.
Long Story Short
In high school, I bombed calculus. As I went off to college at Virginia Tech I had no idea what I wanted to study. I was sure, however, that I didn't want to study Science, Math, or Engineering! I began my freshmen year as a Philosophy major. "I think therefore I am...bored!" I am sure Philosophy is a fine subject, but it didn't connect with me at the time. I changed my major to Communications. Through a series of events that semester, I found myself changing majors again... this time to Mechanical Engineering!
Fast-forward 14 years and I have just completed my first year as a full-time Professor at a university in the Philadelphia area. I've researched jet engines, alternative energy, groundwater pollution, and even a cancer treatment! My true passion, however, is teaching and mentoring students.
You see, the 14-year gap in the story I just told you was filled with a lot of failures and a lot of triumphs. I've failed classes. I've gotten so overwhelmed with work that I was sure I'd never get it all done. I've dug myself deeply into debt. I've had trouble finding internships (and full-time jobs). At one point or another, I hit rock bottom in each of these areas of my life: studies, time-management, finance, and career.
Thankfully the story doesn't end at the bottom. Intentionality has transformed my life in each of these areas. I went from unmotivated, aimless student to a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering. I went from late nights battling deadlines to having time for fun, friends, and family. I went from drowning in $100,000 debt to taking control of my finances and paying off over $62,000 in 18 months. I went from spreadsheet-crunching intern to propulsion engineer and professor (and now life coach!).
My dream is to help you realize the same transformation. That's why I am here, and that's why I've built this website. What follows is my story, in greater detail. I'll tell you about how I hit rock bottom in each of these areas:
- My Studies
- My Time
- My Money
- My Career
As I clawed my way back, I realized that each problem stemmed from the same source: a lack of Intentionality. I was not seeing things for what they were, or using them for what they were worth.
At the end I'll share 3 ways that I can help you, for free.
To Your Success!
Tony Ferrar, PhD
Short Story Long
I've had the honor and privilege of working as an instructor and researcher at some of the finest engineering universities in the world. I earned my bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. My research projects improve jet engines, nuclear reactors, groundwater pollution, and even cancer treatments. My sponsors included the US Air Force, Oak Ridge National Lab, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, GE, Rolls Royce, Electric Jet, and NASA.
Along the way, I've also had the opportunity to mentor countless students to help them discover their passions, lower their stress, and improve their grades. They've gone on to land killer internships, graduate school acceptance letters, and full-time jobs!
As a university professor I continue living my passion by helping my students succeed in all areas of life. But that's not enough: students are in the same pain at every school. I can reach more people by distributing my mentoring experience online.
Three Ways I Win Every Day
- Unlike many of my colleagues I work a reasonable number of hours each week while maintaining a high impact at work. I don't work nights, I don't work weekends. I'm rarely stressed and often accused of smiling too much.
- I am one of very few people I know who is in complete control of his finances. I am not worried about money.
- I am working my dream job, having turned down countless opportunities to work for highly prestigious (and paying!) organizations.
But I wasn't always winning, in fact at times it felt like I wasn't even in the game.
Finding My Major
As a child, I was "good at math" and attended a specialty high school. Of the 100 people I graduated with, 92 went straight straight to college for STEM programs. I, on the other hand barely passed calculus senior year. My only goal in college: A degree in anything but engineering!
So I headed off to Virginia Tech as a philosophy student. It didn't take long for me to lose interest: the writing, the reading, the "therefore I am's" just didn't connect for me. I decided to change majors to Communications.
Communications was a step in the right direction. I enjoyed public speaking but I HATED writing "news" articles. Articles. Press releases. Speeches. I was growing weary and restless all at the same time. Then two things happened in the same week.
First, my 14-year old Jeep broke down. I found myself out in the student lot fixing the @#!%$ thing at night to avoid security. I became extremely intimate with my Jeep's exhaust system, clutch, and universal joints. I started to think about how I would have designed the parts differently to make things easier.
Second, a group of students came down the hall carrying a widget they made in shop class.
"What major do you take that class for?"
"Do you write articles?"
And that was it. I decided to switch into mechanical engineering at the exact moment that, statistically, two thirds of my high school classmates were switching out.
I found myself in calculus again. This time something clicked and I aced the class. Third times the charm! I stayed for summer school to catch up and graduate "on time." I finally found the motivation to lean in and do the work. It never came easy, but it came.
"I've never outsmarted anyone in my life, but I've outworked an awful lot of people." - Tony Ferrar
I made it through calculus but the classes only got more difficult. The hard-core engineering courses started to stack up. For a while I managed to push through. Just when the rush of accomplishment came on, a new semester began and my not so carefully constructed walls came crashing down.
Bottoming Out in My Studies
I found myself sitting in a 300 person lecture hall. The professor filled chalkboard after chalkboard with diagrams and derivations. He'd fill a board and slide it up. Thump. Fill a board and slide it up. Thump. We sat there furiously scribbling down the notes, trying not to miss any important ideas that would be on the test.
The bubble-sheet tests determined my entire grade. I could work an entire problem correctly, but make one calculator error at the end and miss all of the points.
My strategy for the course mirrored that of my classmates: read a pirated copy of the solution manual for homework problems. Who has time to work homework problems that aren't even graded?
It turns out that working the problems for yourself is a crucial element of learning this type of material. When it came time for tests and quizzes, I couldn't solve the problems on my own! I am sure I could have read and understood the solution to the test just fine. Week by week I watched my grade slip farther and farther down until one day I realized I needed to score OVER 100% on the final just to earn a passing grade.
Not only did I fail, but I failed a prerequisite course for EVERY class I was to take next semester! I spent a few long hours in the advising office and determined I had two options. Both began with repeating (and passing) Engineering Dynamics as a part-time student in the coming fall semester. Next, I could
- Take 18-19 credits per semester, plus summer school, and graduate "on time" in four years of total time spent at college, OR
- Take 12 credits per semester, but stay for an extra year.
There were no other options. I looked around at other students. It was no secret that a single semester of 18 credits was brutal. Four in a row was academic suicide.
Welcome to the five year plan. Lesson learned: I never opened a solution manual again.
I knew things had to change. It was time for me to adopt a new a approach to school. Rather than viewing each class, assignment, and test as a chore to be completed, I viewed them as "door openers." My job was to open as many doors in my life and then to walk through them when the time came.
Bottoming Out in My Time-Management
The rest of undergrad followed "standard procedure." I made great friends. We worked hard together to do well in our classes. I worked summer internships. I did some undergraduate research that ultimately led to my decision to stay for graduate school (the freshmen beauty that I started dating may have been part of the equation... now she's my wife!).
Graduate school presented a huge load: Research is a full-time job. Classes are a full-time job. I worked. And worked. And worked! As I did this, I was pulling farther and farther away from the most important person in my life.
"Because Tony always puts 100% in everything he does he became consumed with graduate school. He survived putting one fire out at a time with no long term view. Along the way he lost sight of life's other priorities. There was nothing outside of graduate school, outside of the next issue or deadline. The rest of his life was placed on a shelf with him saying "it'll be there, so I'll deal with it later." I didn't want to be another check on a list that he might get to later, if ever. "Conversations" ensued (you know the kind where I talk and he listens) and thankfully that led to a turning point for us."
I knew things had to change. My time was terribly mismanaged. My efforts were scattered in all the wrong places. Because the work load was so intense I gave myself permission to work late and often (because how else do you make it?) and was dreadfully inefficient with my time. I was slow making progress and in the meantime I was losing the relationships that were most important to me.
So I started reading, a lot. I read every book or blog about time management that I could get my hands on. I worked hard at adapting these ideas, usually written for professionals, to meet the unique needs of a college student.
Finally, it clicked. I'm not saying that I never worked late again. But it was no longer the norm. I never worked a weekend again. Instead, we took up rock climbing and went camping 26 weekends in one year!
Bottoming Out in My Finances
Let me start with the most important lesson that I learned:
"You cannot out-earn stupid!" - Dave Ramsey
How do I know? I've gotten pretty great at earning money. As an undergrad, I landed internships that paid 25% more than the average. As a graduate student, I took on extra responsibilities to earn double the average salary. As a post-doc, I out-earned my counterparts by more than double (all things I'll teach you about on this website). As a professor, I have continued to turn extra responsibility into incredible income. Keep in mind that I've learned my lesson with time management and continue to accomplish all this while living a balanced life.
Through hard work I had far more money available to me than those around me at every stage of this journey. Yet several of my friends graduated debt-free and I had accumulated $100,000 of debt when I finished my doctorate.
I used school loans to eat out, buy computers I didn't need, and even go on vacation. When I was frustrated that my beater cars kept breaking down I took out a zero-down loan on a brand new car. When I moved into a bigger townhouse I financed couches, a dining room set, and a full bedroom!
Even with all of the borrowing I still found myself short of cash. I was so broke that I kept the insurance money from a fender bender to eat. I drove that truck with duct tape holding the headlights on for 5 years.
My minimum monthly payment on all of these things after graduating was over $1500/month! Just think about that a minute. That's about half of your take-home pay if you make $50,000 a year.
Add in the remaining living expenses and there was no room for fun.
I knew things had to change. I couldn't spend the rest of my life paying for past purchases. I decided that I wouldn't borrow another dollar. More than that, I decided that I would get out of debt as quickly as possible. Again I hunted for the leading resources and learned how to manage my money properly. We've paid off $62,000 in the the last 18 months!
Bottoming Out in My Career
As an undergraduate I experienced the typical career challenges that have become so common:
- I stood in line after line at internship fairs, hoping that somehow I would be the one that the recruiter remembered after our thirty-second conversation.
- I worked internships sorting data in spreadsheets, wondering how this could ever improve my resume and lead to a full time job in engineering.
- I spent weeks preparing for a career fair, only to leave with no job prospects.
After my PhD I accepted a two-year post-doc at the University of Florida. I had everything planned out: do a year of great research while I published all of the work I did in graduate school and then apply for jobs the Fall that began my second year. One problem: the funding for my position dried up and I found myself on the job market a year ahead of schedule.
I freaked. A month earlier we found out that we were expecting our first child. With no job and a baby on the way we started to wonder how we could pay for medical expenses, let alone what my career was going to look like.
I called everyone I knew and had formed such great relationships with during grad school. I applied to 100 jobs. I got two responses: (1) we would love to bring you on, but don't have an opening or the money to create one, or (2) silence.
For the jobs I found online and applied to I got ZERO phone calls. This was a heavy blow considering my credentials and how hard I worked to get where I was.
Bottom line: no one beats a path to your door, no matter how impressive your resume.
Looking back I know exactly what the problem was and I'll be happy to teach you about it. For now I'll just say that (1) you're not entitled to a job, and (2) being true to yourself is crucial.
I knew things had to change. I did some deep reflection, read some books, changed tactics, and applied to 25 more positions. I got 26 phone calls, one of which led to my dream job one year ahead of schedule!
My Transformation Can Be Yours
My life has completely changed in each of these areas. I went from unmotivated, aimless student to a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering. I went from late nights battling deadlines to having time for fun, friends, and family. I went from spending completely out of control, drowning in debt, to taking control of my finances. I went from spreadsheet-crunching intern to propulsion engineer and professor (and now life coach!).
Three Ways I Can Help You for Free
Along my journey I found my dream: showing students how they can achieve the same transformation in their lives. You CAN have the life of your dreams. You CAN have passion and hobbies and fun while succeeding as a student. You CAN feel in control of your finances. You CAN land a job that you are passionate about.
Odds are that if you're reading this, you're new to my site. I think that the best place to start any new relationship is through generosity. We may not know each other, but make no mistake: I care about you and want to help you succeed. Here's three completely free ways that I can help you:
- Connect with me on social media and ask a question. I run these accounts myself and I will respond.
- Read the posts on this site. I share my newest ideas here based on what real students are currently going through. I focus on all aspects of college, career, and life success.
- Get my free eBook, Break Free | 4 Tactics Top Performing Students Use to Eliminate Stress. This quick read will help you get started on your new path by freeing up your precious mental energy to focus on what really matters.
You get all three of these free benefits by joining the Intentional Academy. This is a work in progress, but you will receive special benefits if you register now as a Founding Member. The membership site goes live in the near future. As the Academy takes shape you'll be invited to act as a "board member" to provide input on the foundation of the Academy. You'll also gain early access to new material, priority enrollment, sneak peaks, and more! Don't wait, because when the community goes live, this offer evaporates.
Just fill out the form below to claim your benefits today. As a special thank-you, I'll give you a copy of my White Paper: Lifelong Learning and Graduate School, as a free gift today.
My Top Posts
You may find some of my most popular posts helpful to getting started:
- What's Intentional Learning? Why is it Key to My Success?
- Two Ways to Recover from the Not-Ideal Week
- Distraction Costs You Free Time - Here's How to Kill It
- Sanctified Busyness
- The Two Most Important Topics for Your Blog
- Getting it Done? or Getting Better
- Who's in Charge Here? Budgeting Your Time
- Why Time Management Doesn't Work for Students and Teachers