When the COVID pandemic hit, Mario De La Cruz was one of many restaurant servers that was laid off. He took it as a sign that it was time to start something new, and at the age of 40, he enrolled in UEI College’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) program in Oceanside.
“I wasn’t nervous or excited. I saw it as a challenge,” he said. “I am 40 years old. I’ve been serving since I was 20.”
In the first week of classes, Mario said he was overwhelmed. He felt like one of few students who didn’t have any electrical, mechanical, or construction experience.
“My instructor told me, don’t worry about it, just ask questions. That’s why we’re here,” he said. “It was really good.”
“Mario was a great student,” said Adrian Bowen, one of Mario’s instructors. “He came to lab and paid attention and listened. He also took notes. He did his homework and read the material provided. He had an instructor who also works in the field and knows what to teach his students to make them successful in the field.”
Mario set a goal to be mindful and pay attention in class. He quickly rose to the top of his class.
“It felt really good. It was an accomplishment to be at the top of my class,” he said. “I expect that from me. I’m not surprised. I’m trying to be the best person I can be and that’s why I was able to go far. I could say it’s for my kids or my family but it’s just in my nature. That’s who I am. That’s who I’ve always been.”
When it came time to find a job, Mario didn’t hesitate. He took the test for his EPA certification as soon as he was able to and began applying for jobs even before he graduated. He was able to receive multiple job offers as soon as he completed the program.
“Take advantage of every single moment,” he said. “There are a lot of students who go to school to be on their phones and not pay attention. There are other students, like me, who pay attention to every single class. We try to go above and beyond and try to better ourselves and not waste time. You just need to push yourself and at the end of the day, you’ll get the prize.”