Achieving Liftoff

Raymond Haug was caught in a cycle of addiction, homelessness and prison. With the help of scholarships and a campus community, he transformed his life and found a calling in mechanical engineering.

The last time Raymond Haug got out of prison, in June 2016, he had no friends or family waiting to pick him up. He had no new clothes to change into. All he had was his state-issued prison sweatsuit, a brown鈥痯aper bag with his housing voucher paperwork, and a faint glimmer of hope.

A prison guard dropped him off at Everett Station, where he sat on a bench out front and reflected on his years of homelessness, addiction, crime and incarceration. Fighting intense shame and doubt, he considered the monumental goals ahead of him: Stay sober and get an education.

Then he stood up and walked to Everett Community College (EvCC) to apply for admission.


Seven years later, Haug has transformed his life. He recently earned his 天美影视传媒 undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, completing two SpaceX internships along the way. He鈥檚 now a transportation engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation, and he鈥檒l begin the UW in fall 2024. His wife, Althea, just completed her master鈥檚 in teaching at the UW. They have two young children.

Respected by his professors and peers, Haug earned several scholarships that made his education possible at EvCC and the UW. 鈥淭he scholarships have meant more than anything to me,鈥 says Haug. 鈥淭he awards make me feel like I do belong in school. It鈥檚 helped me live the life I鈥檓 living now.鈥

Ray in machine shop wearing safety glasses

Raymond Haug, 鈥23, in the Mechanical Engineering machine shop

But 鈥淥ld Ray,鈥 as he calls his past self, will always be part of him. Because of his prison time, Haug has never been approved for an apartment rental and was repeatedly turned down for jobs. When he used a computer at the EvCC welcome center to apply, he half-expected security to escort him out.

鈥淐oming from the world I did, recovering from addiction,鈥 he says, 鈥渕y brain still tells me I don鈥檛 deserve the life I鈥檓 living.鈥

鈥淭he scholarships have meant more than anything to me,鈥 says Haug. 鈥淭he awards make me feel like I do belong in school. It鈥檚 helped me live the life I鈥檓 living now.鈥
ray haug portrait

Haug shares his story to remind others that 鈥渃hange is possible.鈥

When he started college, Haug felt he had to hide his past. But when an EvCC professor, seeing his talent for math and chemistry, urged him to apply for a job in the tutoring center, Haug had to sit down with human resources and go over every detail of his history of addiction and crime. It was painful and nerve-wracking, but he impressed HR with his commitment to recovery and academic success. He got the job 鈥 and saw the value of sharing his story.


When Haug was 5, his father died of a drug overdose. As a teen, Haug was in and out of juvenile detention. At 15, he was sleeping under Montlake Bridge. He held up cardboard signs on the street corner and worked odd jobs. But as his heroin addiction progressed, he turned to crime, receiving the first of several robbery sentences when he was 18. So began a brutal cycle of incarceration, release, relapse and re-incarceration.

Years later, when he found himself locked in the same solitary-confinement cell during two consecutive sentences, something clicked: 鈥淚 decided that if I was going to get it together, I had to do so in prison 鈥 not when I was back out on the street.鈥

In a drug treatment course in prison, Haug learned of the (PPEP), a nonprofit that helps connect the formerly incarcerated with postsecondary education. A 2018 study funded by the Department of Justice found that people who participated in correctional education were 48% less likely to return to prison within three years. But it wasn鈥檛 just that for Haug. It was the prospect of reinventing himself, discovering talents he didn鈥檛 know he had.

PPEP helped him get his college financial aid application in order. Then he was released.

Motorcycle parked in front of a fence

Haug鈥檚 custom-built motorcycle


Before long, Haug was living in sober housing, volunteering with Narcotics Anonymous (NA), enrolled at EvCC and working as a tutor. He also taught himself how to fix up cars and motorcycles. One day in chemistry class, Haug showed his professor photos of a motorcycle he was building 鈥 a fully custom hardtail bobber.

鈥淗e was like, 鈥榃hy aren鈥檛 you an engineering major?鈥欌 remembers Haug. 鈥淏ut I had never heard of engineering. I didn鈥檛 know what it was.鈥 As Haug discovered all that engineering entailed, he was excited to make it his major.

The more Haug鈥檚 peers and professors recognized his talents, the more he opened up. He began applying for and receiving scholarships, sharing a little more of his background each time.鈥疶hen he told his story as a speaker at a scholarship breakfast. He remembers how it felt, with鈥痑 supportive audience listening to his every word.

鈥淚 was crying the whole time,鈥 says Haug. 鈥淚 was so grateful to be respected by my peers who weren鈥檛 from prison. The impact they had 鈥 all they had to do was tell me, 鈥榊ou鈥can.鈥欌赌

Ray talking with other students in machine shop

鈥淚 practically lived in the machine shop,鈥 says Haug, who quickly got to work making the most of his student experience at the UW.


As Haug set his sights on transferring to a university, he was awarded the , for students at Washington state community colleges who hope to complete their bachelor鈥檚 degree at the UW. Then he got the good news that he鈥檇 been accepted to the UW.

Haug was drawn to the University鈥檚 strong mechanical engineering program and the , a student organization that designs, builds and competes with electric formula-style race cars. He hoped that would be his launchpad to an internship that could set the course for his career.

Haug鈥檚 first year at the UW was in the midst of the pandemic, and while his classes were online, he 鈥減ractically lived in the machine shop鈥 with other students on the Formula team.

鈥淎s a transfer student, you have half as much time to start a relationship with your university,鈥 says Haug. 鈥淭he Formula team paid huge dividends and made me feel like a part of the school.鈥

It also paid dividends in experience, helping him land two internships with spacecraft company SpaceX, where he worked on the pressurized ground systems team. Haug brought his problem-solving to the forefront there, figuring out coding problems and helping install piping and control panels. 鈥淢y background fits into that divergent thinking they want to grow,鈥 he says. 鈥淚鈥檓 a good fit because I鈥檝e had to be so adaptive my whole life.鈥

鈥淐oming from the world I did, recovering from addiction, my brain still tells me I don鈥檛 deserve the life I鈥檓 living.鈥


Haug was thrilled to help build ships that go to space, but he鈥檚 equally committed to making a difference on Earth, helping others find their way to a brighter future.

Haug teaching his friend Wade how to use a mouth-operated computer mouse

One example: Haug engineered a mouth-operated computer mouse for his friend Wade, who鈥檚 paralyzed from the neck down from a gunshot wound. When Haug brought him the mouse, he stayed to help Wade apply to community college. Haug also plans to build Wade a mouth-operated spray-paint attachment so he can make his own art.

Haug has also enjoyed volunteering with NA and mentoring youth involved with the criminal justice system. Last October he spoke at a conference for , which works to include STEM learning opportunities in prison. 鈥淚t鈥檚 my responsibility to help,鈥 he says. 鈥淲hat鈥檚 the point of making it if I don鈥檛 help the person behind me?鈥

That鈥檚 why he continues to share his story. 鈥淎ll that I did in the past and all I鈥檓 doing now 鈥 they鈥檙e not exclusive of one another,鈥 says Haug. 鈥淪o I hope that when you see someone holding a sign on 45th Street, you know that that was me, and you鈥檒l remember that change is possible.鈥

Ray in cap and gown walking on stage, with his two children, for the UW graduation

Haug and his family take the stage at his 2023 graduation. Photo by Matt Hagen.


On June 11, Raymond Haug 鈥 holding his three-year-old daughter鈥檚 hand and his 19-month-old son in the other arm 鈥 strode across the stage to loud applause at his mechanical engineering program鈥檚 graduation. His daughter reached out and accepted his diploma for him. It was the first time Haug had ever walked in a graduation.

鈥淢y world was so small when I started going to college,鈥 Haug says. 鈥淚 wouldn鈥檛 have been able to predict where I鈥檇 be right now. I didn鈥檛 think it was in the cards for me.鈥

As a new engineer, Haug is grateful for everything he learned at the UW. His advice: Show up and stay open to possibility. 鈥淵ou don鈥檛 have to know if you鈥檙e going to be a lawyer, a doctor, an economist,鈥 he says. 鈥淛ust sign up for some classes. I promise your world will expand.鈥

Story by Jamie Swenson. Originally published September 2023.

Photo by Julia Barker.

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