Aviation Maintenance Technology grad overcomes lifelong quitting habit
When Mariela Alvarez started the Aviation Maintenance Technology program on Fresno’s Aviation campus in 2010, she had lots of self-doubt. “I am usually the person who would quit whatever I started,” she admits. “I started Vet Tech (Veterinary Technology program), and I quit on that. My mind just wasn’t totally there.”
Mariela’s dad used to build model airplanes with the kids, and she always wanted to know more. “That’s when I knew I was interested.” She watched her brothers work on cars, but that just wasn’t her thing. “I wanted to do something bigger!”
SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Tech program – located at the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport – offered her that chance for something bigger. Students’ hands-on experience includes taking apart and putting back together a Cessna 150 and 172 in their expansive hangar.
But would it be different this time for Mariela? Her mom, Elina, developed a wait-and-see approach to her daughter’s career education commitment. “She didn’t have trust in me because I always change my mind a lot. She wasn’t being negative; she just didn’t want to jump ahead and tell me I was doing so good,” says Mariela.
“At one point, I did want to give up and thought it was maybe too much for me,” she says. But this time had to be different. “I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
There were two people who did more than encourage her, they pushed her pretty hard.
“Cloudy (her boyfriend of several years) encouraged me to keep going and not to stop,” says Mariela. “He said I had gone this far and why not finish it.” He made another point that helped her stick with it. “He said I would be one of the only girls out there (in the aviation industry) and I could inspire more girls to go into it.”
A second persistent voice came from Jason Alves, Mariela’s Academic Dean and an Aviation instructor. “Mariela seemed shy and unsure of herself around the male-dominated student body,” he says. “I made an extra effort to make sure she did the projects, as required, and not allow anyone to ‘hold her hand.’ She sometimes got frustrated with me, but eventually, she made it through the program.”
Mariela remembers the strong impression Mr. Alves’ on-the-job stories made on her. “He talked to us about how it was when he was in the field,” she says. “He motivated me to make sure I always did things by the book, and own up to any mistakes I make; don’t fake signing off on something,” she says.
Mariela says that Mr. Alves provided her with the role model she would try to emulate in her profession.
She graduated from the Aviation Maintenance Technology program in September 2011…and lost her energy to complete her training by taking the Power Plant and Airframe license exams. Those licenses were the ticket she would need to work as an Aviation Mechanic.
Time passed. Mariela went to work in the fast food industry. She knew it was a dead end.
“I was disappointed when she finished the program because she did not return to take the FAA licensure exams,” says Alves. “With a little encouragement, she finally returned and took her exams.”
Mariela earned her Power Plant license in 2013 and her Airframe license in 2014, then went to work as an aircraft mechanic for a small company.
Mariela learned that being a female in a mostly male industry invited some initial doubt about her abilities. “They would test us to see what we knew,” she says. “When they saw that we knew what we were doing, they started trusting us with bigger jobs. It was always that way in the beginning.”
Her son, Mikah, was born in 2015 and she and Cloudy settled into family life. From them, Mariela is inspired to push herself even harder in her new career.
After just a year of experience, Mariela applied for and got an aircraft mechanic position with American Airlines in Los Angeles. She is responsible for taxiing planes into hangars and providing needed services, such as “hydraulics, oxygen bottles, tires, avionic work, APU auxiliary power units or anything needed on its wings,” she says.
“I was amazed to hear she got a job with a major airline so soon after getting her license,” says Alves. “From the shy, quiet girl six years ago in my class, she has become one of the most successful students I have had, and it is all because she finally believed in herself.”
She may not be finished yet. Mariela has her eyes on possibly working for the FAA in their investigations department. “I would provide checks on everyone – supervisors, mechanics; anyone putting their hands on the planes.”
There is no doubt that, with her new-found confidence, Mariela can make that happen.
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