Aspiring opera singer Clinton Ewell went off to the University of Arizona at age 18 determined to pursue a music degree. A semester in, he knew he had made a mistake, both in his choice of major and his choice of school.

“Very quickly I discovered that majoring in music was not going to be my thing. What was previously a joyful extra-curricular activity had turned into a job,” Clinton said.

Defying his own and his family’s expectations, Clinton left school, returned to his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., and joined the workforce. “I worked a couple of jobs during that time, learned a lot but was never really fulfilled with what I was doing. I was working for the sake of having an income. That’s what motivated me to return to school -- not having that sense of fulfilment.”

After a nine-month break, Clinton enrolled at Yavapai College, where his father, Clint, is Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services. His plan was to gradually delve into math and science courses – which he had enjoyed as much as music in high school. He eased back into school with a Computer Numerical Control, or CNC program at YC’s Career and Technical Education Center. The technology training ignited an interest in engineering and he loaded his schedule with pre-engineering, math and science classes.  

“After I hit that roadblock I started experimenting, trying a lot of different things. One of the advantages of coming to YC is I could experiment and try those things in a more cost-effective way,” Clinton said.

While at YC Clinton kept his affinity for music alive -- performing in the musical “Into the Woods.” He  indulged his ping-pong prowess as a member of the Tri-City Table Tennis Club and was a member of Phi Theta Kappy honor society. He graduated with honors and an Associate of Applied Science degree in pre-engineering in spring 2017.

Clinton’s academic success continued at Arizona State University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2019 with a bachelor of science degree in robotics engineering. He expects to earn an engineering master’s degree this spring from ASU, where he is a graduate research assistant in the university’s Luminosity Lab. His scientific contributions in the Luminosity Lab have helped advance automated vehicle and industrial exosuit projects.

Clinton isn’t done flexing his academic muscles. He plans to enroll in law school next fall, having acquired a keen interest in helping scientists, engineers and innovators navigate intellectual property laws and technology policy. “Seeing how the success of technology projects can have an immediate impact on quality of life really motivated me to study law,” he said. “I’m really excited, particularly because it’s going to be so different from engineering. I think it will be engaging.”

 Looking back, Clinton said he believes Yavapai College “played a crucial role” in preparing him for engineering school and for real-world technology research and innovation.  Touting the quality instruction, individual attention and hands-on learning at YC, he said he would recommend anyone seeking career training or an academic degree start or restart at a community college.

At YC, Clinton said he found a more supportive education community. “I’m glad I came to Yavapai College instead of going back to a four-year environment. It helped me find what area I wanted to focus on.”

A phenomenally successful student in his own right, Clinton provided even more tangible proof that starting at a community college can take you far. “At ASU many of the highest-performing students are transfers from community college,” he said.