As the oil boom threatens to turn to oil bust across South Texas, Del Mar College is offering a new program to accelerate students who are lacking their General Education Development certificate into a career path where workers are always in demand.
The new program enrolls five Del Mar students and allows individuals to take GED and HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning technology) courses concurrently. The requirements for minor credit courses retroactively make the HVAC courses, which are considered career and community education offerings, count toward a college-level certificate or associate degree once the participants obtain their GED certificate.
For students like Rebecca Castillo, a 32-year-old single mother from Taft, the program offers a second chance at a career, an education and the ability to provide for her family.
“This is my chance to prove to myself and other people that I can do this. I want to show everyone that women can do the same thing that men can do. I’ve got five kids trying to head to college,” Castillo said. “They love the fact that I’m in class, and I’m here. I’m an inspiration to them.”
The best part about the program is that students can apply for grants to help pay for the cost of their tools and supplies. Castillo and 23-year-old Illiana Sepeda, a married mother of one and fellow GED/HVAC student, received their tools and supplies for free thanks to a grant through the GED program. After completing the program, both students can keep their tools.
“I am doing this because this is something different,” Sepeda said. “I plan to get a certificate so I can have this kind of experience behind my belt.”
Castillo said having her GED and going straight to a college class is something she never really expected would be in the cards for her.
“Now that I’m here, it is all hands on. I can do what a man can do. I hope we can make a difference with other women who want a career, a future or their own business. It’s empowering. We are the only women in the program and I just want other women to know that they can do this if they really want it.”
Ben Gregory, associate professor of air conditioning at Del Mar College West Campus and a former oilman, was once a student at Del Mar.
“Anybody can get into this field,” Gregory said. “The beauty is our industry isn’t affected by the ups and downs or economic swings, especially now as the oil business is crashing.”
Gregory was a four-year degree student in the oil business when the bottom fell out in the 1980s. After 11 years of working 60-hour weeks in a job he did not enjoy, he came back to Del Mar College to pursue an associate’s degree in HVAC.
“I was looking for an industry not affected by these economic fluctuations, and HVAC was the way to go,” he said. It’s been smooth sailing ever since.”
HVAC classes are offered in the mornings and evenings with a cap of 15 students per class to maximize the attention each student receives. A first-level HVAC certificate takes three semesters to earn, a second-level certificate takes four semesters and an associate degree takes five.
The new program offered by Del Mar College is not specified for just men. If women want to do this than they can do this.
“We want to see more women in this program,” Gregory said. Anyone who is interested in doing this should be able to have the opportunity.”
To learn more about the program, contact the Industrial Education Department at 698-1701.