After dropping out of high school, Jorge Maldonado jumped around from job to job for years but when he grew tired of working long hours for minimum wage, he found a solution at UEI College.
“I didn’t finish high school because I was gang related,” Jorge said. “Finishing high school was very hard for me considering there were people waiting for me on every corner… I did construction for ten years. I was a foreman. I ran a crew. Then I fell off a ladder, they fired me. I started working for a vending machine company and was working 110 hours every two weeks… I just got tired of it. In my head the only thing that was going to make me happy was to go back to school and learn an effective trade that is booming in the industry right now.”
It was that thought that led Jorge to UEI College’s Huntington Park campus and the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Technician program.
“Being 41 and going back to school was pretty intense,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, the first month I thought about quitting. There were nights I wanted to walk out and leave… My teachers just pushed me… I’m a father as well. Having a 13-year-old, I don’t have time to play around.”
After a few months in the program, Jorge said something clicked. He respected his instructors, fell in love with the work, and was excited about what a future in the field might hold.
“My teachers knew I was always hands on. I was the first one up there. I wanted to learn,” he said. “For them to tell me take this apart and put it back together, it was cool. I never backed down from any of the hands on. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could.”
“I really enjoyed having him as a student,” said Jose Zalapa, Jorge’s instructor. “He really helped me motivate and influence the rest of the class. I could see the light go on in some of my students again. Part of my job isn’t just instructing them but constantly motivating them too. Just to keep letting them know there is light at the end.”
Jorge became so focused and motivated that he decided to take his HVAC licensing exam before he graduated the program. He passed with flying colors and was able to find a job in the field before graduation. He now works for a company that helps businesses become more energy efficient.
“It feels amazing. I love my job,” he said. “I love getting up in the morning. Comparing it to my last job, where I was there for four years, I hated waking up in the morning. There were days I would wake up and say ‘Eh, I’m going to call in sick.’ With this job, I love it. It feels good to be told ‘You’re one of our top producers.’ I took everything I learned from my teachers and put it to use.”
The biggest motivator throughout the program, for Jorge, was his daughter. Today he’s proud to show her all he was able to accomplish by getting his education.
“If you’re not going to do it for yourself or your family, there’s no point. You are not going to go far,” he said. “I watched so many grown men quit and then have to wait a month to take the course over. I had no time for that. I said it from the beginning. I needed to do all of this in one shot, and I did it. I loved it.”