UNOH Grad Testing the Future of Transportation

Posted on Wednesday, June 24, 2020


UNOH Graduate Rob Ison working at TRC

Rob Ison’s eureka moment came in the dead of winter when he was switching out a car fuel pump at a customer’s home.

“It was so cold my breath had frozen my goatee and I bumped it on something and I looked down and saw a chunk of my beard had fallen off,” he remembers.

It was 2012, and despite nine years as a mechanic in Columbus, Ison hadn’t been able to find a decent-paying job since he’d been downsized from a car dealership during the Great Recession. To make a living he was a mobile mechanic, fixing cars in driveways or on the street at people’s homes no matter the weather.

“I thought, there’s got to be a better way,” says Ison, now 39. He decided to take his career – and his life – to a new level by enrolling in the high-performance automotive technology program at the University of Northwestern Ohio.

He says that’s where he gained the skills, drive and vision to snag a dream job as an engineering technician at the Transportation Research Center Inc. (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio.  TRC is North America’s largest, most advanced independent automotive testing facility and proving grounds, has been an acknowledged leader in transportation research and innovation since 1972.  The facility offers the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers, systems makers, and other transportation innovators a full range of engineering, research and testing capabilities as well as compliance and certification testing. 

Ison works at TRC’s SMARTCenter, where the world’s most creative automotive technology inventors test and evaluate their work on a 540 acres complex that include high-speed straightaways, intersections and cityscape roadway simulations.

“This is as cutting edge as it gets,” says Ison. “Some days I might be working on equipment worth millions of dollars, helping engineers prepare and complete their tests and making sure they get good data. I’m working towards the future and the hours I put in are making sure we get good data to make people safer. I love the idea of that.”

Although Ison can’t discuss specifics of what or whom he’s working with, he said the technology includes equipment for a variety of advanced driver assistance systems including self-driving vehicles.

“You never know what we’ll be testing, what kind of new equipment I have to learn – it’s a technician’s dream,” Ison says. “I can’t imagine a better position or a better team to be on. It’s a close-knit group of like-minded people who work hard and strive for the same goals.”

He credits UNOH with expanding his skills and giving him the confidence to be hired at TRC four years ago.

“I wouldn’t be part of the most elite, advanced mobility group on earth if it wasn’t for UNOH,” he says.  He said as he obtained his associate’s degree he gained a trouble-shooting skill set that has been repeated over and over again until it’s become muscle memory.

“I learned how to break things down to the component level, a dissecting approach, where you’re working backwards and forwards,” he says. He says he has honed his diagnostic ability, which he calls his greatest asset, until it’s become a sixth sense.

Admittedly, working full time at an auto parts store and then driving 80 miles away (160 round trip) to take night classes at UNOH for three years wasn’t easy, Ison says. He also was taking care of his grandfather, Clay Ison, who raised him and who he lived with in Columbus.

“He’s the person I draw my inspiration from,” he says. “He worked as a truck driver for Wonder Bread and he was just a guy who never stopped. Those are the shoes I’m trying to fill.”

He was grateful that his grandfather, who died in 2019 at the age of 81, was able to see him graduate from UNOH and go to work at TRC.

Ison hopes others will draw inspiration from his career journey.

“You can’t be afraid of change,” he says. “You have to open that door. The only person that’s going to stop you is you. You have to figure out your goal and take a whole bunch of tiny steps that lead to something greater. I owe a lot to UNOH. They opened the door for me for sure.”

Category: Applied Technologies

Keywords: Rob Ison, High Performance, College of Applied Technologies

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Last updated: 06/24/2020