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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Military veterans find comradery in HVACR program

May 14, 2019

Temecula HVACR program student Alejandro LopezAmong all the programs SJVC provides, Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) is one that attracts many military veterans.

“From the first day of class, during introductions, I noticed how many students were veterans,” says Alejandro Lopez, who is on target to graduate in August from the HVACR program on the Temecula campus. “You can tell by the way they talk; it’s military lingo and pretty blunt.”

Alejandro recognized that familiar energy the brotherhood projected. “I knew that we were going to be helping each other out.”

He also knew what it took for them all to be sitting in class – focused, yet on alert.

“Just going into that classroom is hard,” says Alejandro. “Being among strangers, in a group, not knowing who you’re surrounded by. The military teaches you to be wary. Most of us have served in combat and have some issues with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); but we don’t really talk about any of that.”

Alejandro had tried community college, but it didn’t work out.

“I was looking around for colleges that taught HVACR and stumbled upon SJVC,” he says. “As soon as I went there for the interview, I knew it was really nice. I was walking around and some of the students told me that the instructors really cared about you and would come in on off days, if you need it. If you’re willing to learn, the doors are open for you to come in and learn.”

The classroom sizes were much smaller and quieter than what he had experienced at community college. Smaller class sizes also meant more teacher/student one-on-one time.

PTSD can make college life more difficult for ex-military students. Some have difficulty focusing, retaining what they’ve learned, joining discussions, asking questions, requesting help or handling confusion. Some may push back against authority figures, or they may have anxiety issues that are triggered by a noisy classroom, loud conversation or the stresses of homework, class performance and exams.

“The hardest part is just taking the first step – going back to school,” says Alejandro. “Most of us haven’t been in school in a long time. And it’s hard being around people that you don’t know.”

But veterans are used to gearing up to do a hard thing. That inner strength and can-do attitude kick in.

Alejandro had his own struggles. “Honestly, I know I have a deficiency and just had to make sure that I could pretty much hold the knowledge. I tend to forget things, and some of the knowledge I found very difficult to remember.”

Alejandro compensated for this issue by infusing his studies with repetition. “I do things over and over again, and then teaching others how to do it really helped me out.”

“Countless times he will be giving lessons about HVACR to the newer students,” says Oscar Aparicio, HVACR instructor. “Students have so much respect for him that they know if I’m busy with another student, Alejandro can help them. He is unselfish and trustworthy, and students try to mimic his every move.”

Not only has Alejandro conquered his information retention problem, he has become absorbed with finding new technology and problem-solving information. “I look up better ways to improve the steps to fix something,” he says. “I learned on a You Tube video how to evacuate an AC unit in less than 20 minutes instead of 2-3 hours.”

“Alejandro researches new and exciting HVACR equipment and tricks to teach his fellow classmates,” says Oscar. “He doesn’t stop on knowing how to do a procedure, he finds ways to improve it.”

Alejandro puts in the time. His wife Laura and their sons Donnie (13) and Adrian (3) makes sure his study time is protected. “My wife is very attentive to that,” he says. “She tells the kids, ‘Don’t get near him, he’s doing homework right now.’ She knows I have TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), so it takes me longer.”

Their whole family is more than willing to make the sacrifices necessary to give them a more successful future.  Those sacrifices paid off.

Alejandro maintains a 4.0 GPA and has earned the Perfect Attendance Award, Academic Excellence Award and the Inspirational Involvement Award. “It really did catch me off guard when they called me up to pick up my award,” he says. “Honestly, I felt really good. I really got an award for them (family).”

His family is everything. “I did this to give my kids an example to follow,” says Alejandro. “And, it’s connecting with them. My son (Donnie) has made great improvements on his grades and he’s striving to do better and focus in school.”

Alejandro will complete his HVACR program in August and is already reflecting on what this experience has meant to him. “It has taught me many great skills,” he says. “The best part is being able to read things much deeper and understanding it more. Then spreading the knowledge. That’s the best part of it.”

Spreading the knowledge could very well translate into teaching in Alejandro’s future. “I will probably go into the field (HVACR) for a bit more, then start trying to pursue teaching,” he considers. Might SJVC fit into that career vision? “I like the tempo here; it’s really nice. It would be really good to teach here.”

Alejandro has already made a great start in that direction.

Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended SJVC can be found here.

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