Conditioned to Conquer: RCC ‘Go-Getter’ Defies Setbacks in Search of Chill Career

When life put him in the hot seat, Ignacio Marin kept his cool.

In just 10 months, the Riverside City College student went from commuting to class on public transit to cranking up a career in commercial A/C. And now that his income is flowing, Marin is entitled to blow off some steam.

“A year ago, I was on the bus to take classes because I didn’t have a car,” recalls the 21-year-old Air Conditioning and Refrigeration student, who employed his RCC connections to land a new job at Pacific Rim Mechanical. “I just recently bought myself a truck.”

The opportunity came thanks to an RCC professor, who gave Marin a stellar recommendation and helped him network with his new employer.

“Within a matter of a couple of weeks, I was already working for them [while] I was still taking classes,” says the grateful student, hired by the commercial HVAC firm last July. “It’s a really good feeling for sure,”

Kfir Mendelovitz remembers the first day of class, when Marin admitted that he wasn’t a “regular” learner who excelled in English and math. As the RCC professor recalls, “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. In this trade, you’re going to work with your hands, get out there, and make some killer money — as long as you apply yourself.”

Marin took his teacher’s pep talk to heart. Though one of his youngest students, Marin is also a hard worker and a “go-getter,” according to Mendelovitz. As the professor says, “It sparked something in me to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I think you might be ready to go into the field.”

The program benefits from partnerships with several companies in the area, and about once a semester, Mendelovitz puts together a hiring committee. Along with Marin, three other students were picked up by Pacific Rim Mechanical, and, according to the professor, “all four of them are still working at the company, and they all are shining.”

To hear the employer tell it, the new workforce pipeline from Riverside City College has been “a blessing.”

“Right now, everybody in California, we’re all having the same problem,” explains Nicholas Aranada, Service manager at Pacific Rim Mechanical. “It has really made things a little easier for us in the hiring process, having that relationship with RCC.

“As we’re growing, we would love to keep it up.”

Marin was one of the first apprentices Aranda picked up from the community college, and he says the student definitely won’t be the last. “He’s a hard-working kid, always willing to go the extra mile … and he’s a real team player, which makes our life easier.”

Always humble in success, Marin says it’s due to his professor’s dedication that he’s come so far in such a short time.

“He knows his stuff,” says Marin, who felt amply prepared for the rigors of the real world. “He really cares about our future, and he really cares about this program … That’s honestly one of the things I admire about him.”

In engaging the program, Marin was quickly disabused of the notion that HVAC was all about residential air conditioning. In fact, it wasn’t long before he fell in love with the commercial side of the trade through hands-on exploration. 

“Within the first couple of weeks, I was already tearing down furnaces, tearing down AC units … working on the welding, and all that stuff,” says Marin. Looking back, he’s grateful for the experience because “that’s what I’m doing in the field almost every day.”

At RCC, Marin works on the same equipment that he now fixes in the industry. Having experienced extensive hands-on training in RCC’s cutting-edge facilities, he realizes how fortunate he was to find his program.

In fact, RCC has industry-standard chillers, boilers and cooling towers that are likely not to be found at a private school, according to Mendelovitz. Nevertheless, the community college program remains affordable at about $4,000, compared to a whopping $30-60,000 for an average HVAC trade school.

“Those guys are paying an arm and a leg for an education,” says Marin. “I’m getting the same quality education — honestly, even better.”

The “air apparent” also credits the versatility of the RCC program for opening industry doors on which he never would have thought to knock.  Now, Marin is passionate about his new career, where a big part of his job entails maintaining hospital systems. “No ifs, ands, or buts” about it, the budding HVAC professional says, “hospitals need healthy, fresh air.

“It’s always an issue trying to keep the air conditioning going — You’re talking almost 24/7.”

Pacific Rim Mechanical is one of the largest mechanical contractors in Southern California, but it feels like a small company, according to Marin, which suits his RCC roots perfectly. And because of his top-notch training, he’s been able to progress at a breezy pace.

“In a matter of eight months, I’ve worked on stuff that people who’ve been in the field a long time haven’t worked on,” reflects Marin. “There’s so much you can do within the industry, and you can always learn.”

That potential for growth is why Marin is still studying at RCC, where credentials are stackable. He hopes to earn all of the HVAC certificates, as well as an Associate of Science in HVAC Commercial Technology at Riverside City College. After graduation, he plans to stay in touch with his alma mater.

“Honestly, I recommend this program to all of my friends,” says the Tiger for life. “One of my main goals is to come back and teach at RCC … once I get a little bit more experience in the field.”

Indeed, Marin might be starting a family tradition, as he is encouraging his father to enroll in the HVAC classes in the fall. According to Mendelovitz, “His dad is thinking about learning HVAC because Ignacio is making more money than he is!”

The professor isn’t just blowing hot air. In fact, Mendelovitz says that RCC grads can command anywhere from $22 to $28 an hour, with that figure climbing as the professional gains experience. As the professor boasts, “I have some technicians that have been in the field over ten years, and they’re averaging anywhere from $55 to $70 an hour.”

It’s a high-paying, lifelong career that students can kick start without a four-year degree or college debt. And their timing is perfect, according to the professor, who insists that the regional industry is “hurting” for HVAC employees.

“There have been so many people that retired with their knowledge,” explains Mendelovitz. “It’s opened up the doors to so many students.

“You can get right on in with these commercial companies and not just make a livable wage but actually be able to purchase a house and a new car.”

Motivated students like Marin are racing toward new careers, and they aren’t even waiting for graduation to get started. Mendelovitz says he receives about five emails a week looking for potential employees.

“Pretty much everyone is getting a job,” the professor tells his students. “People need you, and they’re willing to pay top dollar and will continue to train you … If you want to work, there is a line of places waiting to hire.”

For Marin, busy keeping hospitals cool while he learns more about commercial HVAC, success was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He cites the high pay, high demand and unmatched job security. But it’s not just the financial rewards that have him walking on air.

“I went into air conditioning because of the money,” says Marin. “But I ended up loving what I do.”

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