After years of procrastinating about finally finishing school, Ruben Hernandez started to notice he was headed down a bad path.
“So many of my family members are involved in gangs and end up going to prison,” he said. “I have two young boys and I wanted to be the person to break the chain and show them no matter how much you mess up in life, you can always turn it around.”
Ruben had had a love for cars since he was young and after talking about it for years, his wife was growing impatient with his excuses. He decided it was time to show her he was serious and enrolled in UEI College Mesa’s Automotive Technician program. His family was surprised.
“At first I got the typical ‘You’re not going to finish. None of our family finishes what they start, you’re not going to succeed,’” he said. “At first it was hurtful. It was upsetting. But I used that pain to motivate me to push me further and further into what I want to do. I got more than half-way through and they changed to you’re going to get it done.”
Doing well in the program has not only changed his family’s opinion of him, but Ruben said it’s changed the way he views himself as well.
“Honestly, I used to despise who I was as a person,” he said. “I despised who society saw me as. Now society will see me as a new man. I’m a brand-new person. I’m chasing my dreams. I’m going to succeed.”
‘I had never had that before’
While he has enjoyed the program, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Several months into his courses Ruben’s cousin was murdered and his grief almost caused him to give up. What kept him coming was the support of his instructor, Daniel Tellez.
“He checked on me every single day,” Ruben said. “He called me every single day. He wouldn’t let me miss class. He was just there. I never had that before.
“It made me feel wanted. It made me feel encouraged. It made me feel so supported and more motivated than ever because I couldn’t let him down.”
Mr. Tellez said he connected with Ruben right away. Ruben recognized him from his years of working on custom cars and their similar backgrounds, coming from broken homes and rough upbringings, bonded them.
“I’m living proof that he can do what I’ve done. We both came from the same place,” Mr. Tellez said. “I’m proof that he has options. Now he’s ready to take on the world and I know he’ll do it. He’s got the confidence, he’s got the drive, he’s getting the skills. I don’t worry about him whatsoever.”
‘It’s worth every second of it’
Ruben was raised around cars. He recalls as a young child being handed a wrench by his grandfather and then not being allowed to leave the garage until the problem was fixed. Over the years it became a passion.
“It was my way of finding peace,” he said. “It was the only time where I wasn’t being judged or being down-talked by my family. It was the only time I felt like I wasn’t hated by the world. I learned it at a young age and just fell in love with it.”
Ruben came to UEI knowing a lot, but he said he’s learned a whole lot more.
“I learned easier ways to get things done, compared to the way I naturally knew how to do them,” he said. “There was stuff I learned that I didn’t even know yet. It’s been extremely helpful the whole way through.”
In the future Ruben has been plans to open his own shop and make his family proud. For anyone in a similar situation his advice is simple:
“If you’re curious you should give it a chance,” he said. “It’s worth every second of it. The way the school is set up is amazing.”