May 09, 2013 8:15AM
Kelsey Trotnic spent many evenings in her dorm room this past year thinking about spark plugs. It’s not the sort of thing one expects of a college coed about to embark on a career as an elementary school teacher.
Trotnic, an elementary education major from Parsons, will graduate from Pittsburg State University on Saturday and in the fall will teach fifth grade social studies and communication arts at Carl Junction, Mo.
Over the past year, as she completed her work on an education degree, Trotnic operated a thriving business selling rare antique spark plugs on e-Bay. She used the money she earned to finance a student-teaching experience in Australia.
“At first I didn’t think I was going to be able to go on the trip because of the cost,” said Trotnic, who expects to graduate without the typical student debt. “I started raising money in April (2012) and I didn’t have to make a commitment until the fall, so I thought I would see how much I could put together.”
To launch her enterprise, Kelsey turned to her father, Rick Trotnic, who runs Trotnic Recycling in Parsons.
“He’s a big collector,” Kelsey said of her father.
Kelsey began by giving her dad $800 of her own money to invest. He bought an old grain truck, which Kelsey sold for $1,200. She reinvested her earnings in some antique engines and sold those, but her mainstay quickly became hard-to-find spark plugs that her father found and bought on her behalf.
“My dad probably has 1,000 in his collection,” Trotnic said. “I only sold duplicates of ones he already had.”
Trotnic quickly found buyers around the world. She enlisted her fiancé, Nate Roy, a technology and engineering education major from Webb City, Mo., to clean the spark plugs while she worked the e-Bay account and packaged and shipped the spark plugs to the buyers.
“We would do this in my dorm room,” Trotnic said. “I was probably the only college student in America sitting in my dorm room with a bunch of old spark plugs.”
Trotnic was successful, selling more than 300 antique spark plugs at prices ranging up to $200 each to collectors and people who were rebuilding antique engines.
This spring, Trotnic spent five weeks as a student teacher in Australia. She said the international experience she had was well worth the hard work she put into raising the money.
“I know I will have students in my classes who are from different countries and different cultures,” Trotnic said. “(Now) I know what it feels like to be in a different culture.”
She added that she would like to develop an Australian unit in her new classroom and that she collected a lot of material for that unit on her trip.
Trotnic said she couldn’t have accomplished what she did without the help of her parents and fiancé. She said she is also thankful for scholarships, which paid for her tuition, allowing her to apply the money she made from her Internet business to her international student teaching experience.
Back in the U.S. and preparing for graduation, Kelsey is also planning her June wedding. After that, she said, there will be a couple of months before school starts and she will begin earning a salary.
“I probably should be thinking of what I can sell to make some money before school starts,” she said.