HVAC Provides a New Opportunity for Migrant Student

Jonathan Carbajal has early memories of living in Mexico with his family and helping his single mother run the family business. They sold food from a cart on the street and at just eight years old, Jonathan knew his mother paid a fee to the local cartel to allow them to run their business in peace.

He also knew how important it was to work hard to have enough money for their family. He would help his mother prepare food at their home, attend school, and sometimes on the weekends he would also work at local restaurants.

When Jonathan’s family immigrated to the US, he was 14 and driven to work, but he was encouraged to go to school first.

“When I arrived in the US, I thought I was ready for a job,” he said. “It was not like that. I came as a refugee. A judge took our case. The judge told us to go to school. He said here no one can work until 16 or 18. But I came with a different mentality. I asked my mom to buy me chocolate or gummy worms that I could sell in the parking lot or out of my house and I was helping my mom with the money I had.”

Jonathan did still attend school like the judge had told him to, but after high school he was eager to start working. He found warehouse jobs that would hire him quickly but after a few years, he wanted more. He was drawn to UEI College’s Ontario campus.

“I went into UEI like 10 times. I was scared to start because I thought if I get fired from my job, I won’t have enough money to pay for school,” he said. “I had a lot of doubts. My mom was always there, pushing me to do that. I sold my car and bought a cheaper car and took the initiative to go back to UEI. I had been so many times, the people there knew me.”

Jonathan enrolled in the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Technician program. Right away, his drive to succeed served him well. Even when things got difficult, he focused on his goals.

“I had to face the furnace,” he said. “I had to face everything I doubted about myself. I was able to do it. I saw other students, my age or a little bit older than me, getting good jobs with really good pay with a truck. I thought if they can do it, I can do it. That motivated me.”

“Johnathan Carbajal is one of the most influential students to ever enroll within classes at UEI,” said Joseph Cook, HVAC Department Chair at Ontario. “He came to this country just a few years ago not knowing how to speak a word of English and had very little education; however, now, he has persevered to be an honor student and top of his class. He is truly an inspiration to us all. He is a team player and an excellent role model for the students.”

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Jonathan graduated with honors and was the first in his family to do so—but after graduation, he learned it can sometimes be difficult to find an entry-level position. He felt confident in his training, but many companies wanted to hire a technician with more experience. He found an opportunity to speak to the manager of one company and convinced him to take a chance.

“I told him I don’t want a job. I already had a job. I wanted a career,” he said. “That’s why I took this chance to go to college. I asked him to give me a chance because I was hungry. I was eager to learn something new in my life. I told him if he gave me a chance to start in the company, he would see who I really am. He gave me the chance. I told him to give me two months and if they didn’t like the way I was working, to fire me. Now I’m going on six months with them and I’m moving up in the company.”

Jonathan’s advice to other students is to keep pushing forward.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Everything requires a sacrifice and you’ve got to try. Enjoy the challenge. If you like a challenge, you will love HVAC. HVAC is a challenge and something new every day.”

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