By Autumn Gardia
Director, Special Projects & Grants

Jose Perez never thought he would be someone who could attend college. “I never thought I was a school person,” Perez said. “I liked the introductory shop skills class I had in high school, and then my high school shop teacher took us on a tour of Merced College’s Welding, Mechanized Agriculture, and Industrial Technology programs. It interested me. My dad also encouraged me to become a mechanic.”

Other factors influencing Jose’s decision to attend Merced College included the proximity of the college to his home, the cost of attending a private trade school which he decided was too expensive, and the passion he saw in the Mechanized Agriculture Technology instructor’s eyes.

“Mr. Fishman was so energetic, and I could see that he really loved what he was doing,” he said. Perez completed his certificates in Compact Power Equipment, Diesel Technology, and Mechanized Agriculture in spring 2015. Upon completion of his certificate, he participated in a paid internship at Foster Farms, which was set up through the College’s Workplace Internship Network (WIN) office.

“I was able to apply the theories I learned at school and in the lab. I was working on hydraulics, electrical systems, and mechanical systems on a daily basis,” he said.

Perez admitted he was a little scared when he first started the internship. “I had some automotive work experience from when I was in high school, but I didn’t have any diesel or agricultural equipment experience. The internship helped me to build confidence.”

Prior to completing his 90-day paid internship at Foster Farms, Perez had already made the decision to continue his education while continuing to work.

“I felt like the doors were open to me to continue school. I was getting good grades, and I realized to get those grades all I needed to do was study which was something I hadn’t done a lot of in high school. I also had teachers who pushed me, told me I was smart, and encouraged me.

“Mr. Fishman even took me and a few other students to a college competition where I competed in equipment operation and wood construction. We competed against students attending universities like Cal Poly.”

In addition to being a full time student, Perez was a peer mentor for other Mechanized Agriculture Technology students for two consecutive semesters.

“I was asked to become a peer mentor the first semester after I finished my certificates. As a peer mentor, I worked with students in the lab with theory application, electrical, and anything engine related. It felt good, because students would come back and say that they learned how to do something because of the way I taught them. I could communicate with some of the students in Spanish which helped them to understand the concepts better.”

Perez is currently continuing his education at Merced College and is on track to graduate in spring 2017 with Associate of Science (AS) degrees in the following areas: Advanced General Agriculture, Diesel Technology, and Mechanized Agriculture Technology. He also serves as an Ag Ambassador and works part time as a mechanic at Belkorp Ag where he services John Deere equipment.

Perez’s future career goal is to teach Mechanized Agriculture at a community college, which he plans to accomplish after pursuing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Agricultural Education.

“I looked at my family and how we have struggled due to a lack of an education. I want to make a change for my future and to be able to teach something that I enjoy,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to prospective students who are thinking about pursuing a Mechanized Agriculture certificate or degree, Perez said, “If you have a feeling or even think you want to give it a shot, go for it. It is knowledge you are going to need not only in your career but also as your work on your own car, and you can get paid well to work in this industry.”

Students who are interested in pursuing Career Technical Education (CTE) Fast Track certificates in Automotive Technology, CAD Mechanical Design, CISCO Academy Computer Networking, Diesel Equipment Technology, Mechanized Agriculture, and Welding Technology can contact CTE Counselor, Araceli Gonzalez, at 209-384-6173 for more information.

Paid internship opportunities are also available to qualifying students who complete certificates from any one of the CTE Fast Track programs.

Caption for photo: Jose Perez works to remove and install a new steering cylinder on an 8360R John Deere tractor. Here, he is removing the right and left side front dual wheels in order to access the steering cylinder.

This article originally appeared in the Campus Digest, January 2017 issue.

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