Temecula HVACR students have a true role model in Instructor Aparicio
As a Marine Corp veteran, Oscar Aparicio knows first-hand how difficult it can be to re-enter society after military life. The struggles are very real and on many levels. “Most of what you use in the military you can’t really use in the civilian world,” he says. “We’re a different breed and need to be talked to in a certain way.”
As an instructor for the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) program on the Temecula campus, Oscar sees his post-military students move in and out of the dual life they live and are trying to balance.
Adjusting to civilian life can feel like an obstacle course as veterans attempt to get back into the work force, fit into a classroom setting, or just communicate effectively with others. Many of them fall back into using language that was a short-hand of effective communication among a team of Marines who lived in the moment and were always ready to give their all.
In the HVACR classroom, it’s often fairly easy to spot a student who is coming off recent military service. “They’re trying to transfer to civilian and using profanity every other word,” says Oscar. It’s a common language shared by the brotherhood. “They’ve got to realize that if they’re looking for a job, they have to be more professional with things. Some of them have a problem admitting a mistake or being personal with others.”
The noise-level in the classroom can be unnerving to someone trained to move quietly and respond quickly to sudden sounds.
These students, in particular, are why Oscar is an instructor at San Joaquin Valley College. He has been where they’ve been. After seven years as a Marine, he was given a combat-related medical discharge.
“I was never really interested in teaching,” Oscar confesses. But he was pursuing his own post-military Bachelor’s degree and noticed that there were very few veterans in the community college classroom. “I felt like some people and voices were missing; there was a void. I didn’t have that brotherly feeling.”
After earning his degree, he went back into the HVACR business where he had worked for a couple of years before his military service. His strong reputation for industry skill and knowledge got around and he was invited to interview for an instructor position at SJVC.
“This program attracted veterans, and I want to help veterans,” he says. “I get to be with veterans; I get to teach them something, and I get to help them get back to their lives.”
Oscar lays it all out there for his students. “I have a more direct approach,” he says. “It’s a strong back-and-forth. They read how to do it, I demonstrate it, and then they do it.”
But he doesn’t leave it there. Oscar gets to class a few hours early every day, just in case one of his students needs extra help. There are no classes on Fridays, but Oscar is there. Just in case.
“He’s super dedicated,” says Alejandro Lopez, HVACR student and military veteran. “He takes it to another level. Oscar really takes his time to make sure you’re getting taught right.”
The devotion Oscar gives his students comes back to him. “Alejandro pretty much knows everything I know now, and he’s back in here supporting me with new students now.”
It’s not all about the industry education that happens in the classroom. Oscar wants his students – veterans and civilians – to know that they have his support. “I want them to have self-confidence, not only in the HVACR field, but in everything in life. I give them a project that will challenge them and I keep pushing them and telling them they have to believe in themselves. It’s not about whether it comes together…it’s when.”
“Oscar cares about my education, is always early, has endless patience and conducts himself professionally,” says Garrett Hamilton, HVACR student. The support is always in place.
But the magic doesn’t always work. “Sometimes people just don’t want to break out of their habit or a military mindset,” says Oscar. “It’s a ‘You can’t tell me what to do’ authority vs. control. I tell them, ‘I just want you to get what you came to this school for. And I will push you toward that.’”
If things get a little sideways, Oscar shares some wisdom with his students about the power of an apology. “If you mess up, just say ‘so sorry.’ Chop, chop. When I say it (chop, chop), they just laugh.”
Oscar helps his students breathe life into their career dreams. And he nurtures every breath. “At the end of the day, they are my number one priority. If they have issues and can’t talk to someone else, talk to me. If someone acts bad or acts out, I’ll try to help you. But if they can see me happy and energized, I’ll use that to try to make their day just a little bit better.”
Oscar knows what it is like to have someone you can count on to replenish your spirit, bolster your energy, and support your dreams. “I might be my students’ support system, but my wife is my support system when I’m home,” says Oscar. He and Jessica have two children, Noah (6) and Nia (3). “I listen to my students and hear their complaints, and my wife is there to listen to me.”
A kindergartner, Noah is especially proud of his dad being a teacher. “Did you give someone a time out?” he will ask his dad. Oscar is a firm believer that encouragement is far more effective than punishment.
“The military helped me to be a leader and my B.A. (degree) helped me with leadership,” he says. “I want to be myself, and a role model for students. If I could inspire someone to be a better them, I would be honored.”
Once a Marine, always a Marine. The mission to serve is ever-powerful.
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