Veteran U.Va. Carpenter Inspires Others With His Return to Classes

December 22, 2010

December 22, 2010 — For more than 30 years, Phil Kleinheinz has carried a hammer to work – in Ohio, in Florida, and for the past five years, as a carpenter with the University of Virginia's Facilities Management division.

He began working in construction to pay for college, but the demands of his jobs as well as the lack of support or benefits to pay for education spurred him to leave school in 1983, before earning a degree.

His 26-year detour from college ended in 2009, thanks to U.Va.'s personal education benefit. Kleinheinz, now 50, used his $2,000 annual benefit to return to classes through the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program in U.Va.'s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Kleinheinz has rekindled his love of education and become a model student, inspiring his classmates and coworkers with his dedication to improving himself and others through education.

His 3.94 grade-point average since resuming classes was recognized at a Nov. 6 ceremony in the Newcomb Hall ballroom, where he was inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society (open to students in the top 15 percent of their class) and awarded one of two $1,000 Golden Key scholarships. That was soon followed by his second Osher Reentry Scholarship, worth $1,600. Both scholarships will help pay for books and tuition for the spring semester.

Kleinheinz is practical and pragmatic, but also enjoys thinking deeply about things and is a gifted writer, said adjunct faculty member Charlotte Matthews, one of his instructors in the BIS program. Solid, steady, grounded and even-keeled, always offering encouragement and support to his classmates, Kleinheinz is a quiet leader who naturally draws the respect of his classmates, she noted. During class discussions, he was a spark that catalyzed his work groups, "an absolute model student," she said.

Hailing from a small town outside Youngstown, Ohio, Kleinheinz took computer engineering classes at Youngstown State University from 1978 to 1983, while working full time in construction, but "my idealism ran headlong into the harsh economic reality of trying to support a full-time college career with a minimum-wage job, and I was unable to finish," he explained.

Kleinheinz followed construction opportunities to Florida, and migrated within the state from 1983 to 2005, including a stint doing finish carpentry for yacht interiors. At one point, he was a project manager on a 43-story condominium building.
He relocated to the Charlottesville area in 2005 in hopes of working at U.Va., and was soon hired on as a carpenter. He does "fantastic work," frequently drawing praise from his customers throughout the Health System, said his supervisor, Otis Hackett.

Kleinheinz has become a leading evangelist within Facilities Management for both the personal education benefit and the general benefits of education. "It's a great opportunity," he says. "Everyone I talk to, I try to get them to sign up for something." He exhorts them, "It's part of your pay; use it!"

Many of his coworkers had to drop out of high school and learn a trade in order to help support their families, he said. So far, he has persuaded three coworkers to pursue GEDs, and four others are now taking classes at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center and Piedmont Virginia Community College. To further support them, Kleinheinz makes himself available as a tutor before work and during lunch breaks.

As long as the personal education benefit is offered, Kleinheinz plans to use it, "which hopefully will be until I retire. I may be 65 and taking viticulture classes."

"We would like to see more employees take advantage of the BIS program with their U.Va. education benefit, since it's a great fit to earn a bachelor's degree while working," said Suzi Dougald, manager of student services at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. BIS classes meet once a week, at 4 p.m. or 7 p.m., and most U.Va. supervisors are very supportive, she added.

With 15 credits already behind him, and plans to take two classes (six credits) per semester in spring, summer and fall, Kleinheinz intends to finish his BIS in 2012.

He aims to build on his construction management experience to become a U.Va. project manager, ideally working on historic preservation projects around Grounds. "I would love to one day work in the Architect of the University's office," he said.

To that end, he is scheduling graduate-level classes in architectural history, preservation and archaeology. In one of his first BIS papers, addressing U.Va. Grounds, Kleinheinz quoted Brian Hogg, U.Va.'s senior historic preservation planner. This spring he's taking Hogg's graduate-level class on "Historic Preservation at U.Va."

— By Brevy Cannon

Media Contact

H. Brevy Cannon

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications