Full of drive – that’s the best way to describe Irvine Valley College (IVC) student Wilfredo Perez. The 22-year-old Perez chases after his goals with enthusiasm and a laser focus. It’s that kind of effort that went into researching his community college options. He wanted a college where he could take courses that meet the general educational requirements for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Perez recalls what initially stood out about IVC was the staff’s attentiveness.
“During my search for the right community college, I noticed that IVC was the most responsive and would always be available to answer any questions,” Perez said. “I felt that IVC would be the right place for me since the staff clearly prioritized helping their students, and this let me know that it would be the place that would allow me to grow the most.”
Perez had been attending UCI, where he enrolled after graduating high school in San Diego in 2017. He had planned to triple major in political science, economics and psychology. Two years into his studies, Perez’s passion waned. He discovered mechanical engineering and knew that was his calling and decided to switch majors. Perez said because UCI students who enter directly from high school are expected to complete all degree requirements within five years, he was encouraged to transfer to a community college to take courses to satisfy the general educational requirements for his new major. Then he could transfer back to UCI to earn his degree in mechanical engineering.
That’s when the community college search began, and Perez picked IVC. In the transition, Perez found himself out of housing and work (he had worked on-campus jobs at UCI), and without a car to get around or personal computer on which to do his school work. With his parents and siblings living in Mexico, Perez had no family nearby to help. One of his friends let him stay at his apartment until he could get on his feet.
Perez had a bike to get around – rain or shine – and on the first day of classes, he pounded the pavement at a local shopping center, inquiring about job opportunities at store after store. He landed a 30-hour-a-week job at Dunkin’ Donuts, which came with a steady paycheck and a 4 a.m. wake-up call six days a week. To get around his lack of a personal computer, Perez spent long evenings at the IVC library using the computers to complete his course assignments until he could afford to buy his own computer.
During this challenging time, Perez recalls how his IVC professors were a major help, passing on information about internships and scholarships, as well as professional advice. In July 2020, IVC awarded him a National Science Foundation S-STEM scholarship, which is based on financial need, and that has helped cover some of his school expenses.
“They really reached out to me and wanted to help me out,” Perez said. “To be honest, if it weren’t for all the IVC staff and all my professors, I wouldn’t be where I’m currently at.”
It was engineering Professor Dr. Zahra Noroozi who gave him a lead on an internship at a medical technology company, where he landed a position as a mechanical engineering intern. Dr. Noroozi described Perez as the student every instructor hopes to have in their classroom.
“He has such a positive attitude, and he truly appreciates every opportunity that life presents to him,” she said. “He is also perseverant and hardworking. I feel grateful that I had a role in shaping his future, which will undoubtedly be bright!”
Perez worked as an intern for three months before the company had to let him go due to the pandemic. Until he finds another job in his field, he’s honing his business skills and paying his bills by purchasing and re-selling items through eBay and Facebook Marketplace
When he’s not in class, studying or working, Perez is constantly looking for opportunities to expand his knowledge and skills. He attended the 3D EXPERIENCE World 2021 virtual event and is taking an automotive internal combustion course online for an upcoming project. He recently purchased a 3D printer to explore manufacturing and is pursuing industry certifications for SolidWorks, a solid modeling computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering computer program.
He plans to earn an associate degree in science for the three semesters of courses he has taken at IVC. His experience at the college has prompted him to expand his aspirations: While his original plan was to return to UCI for a degree in mechanical engineering, Perez has applied to MIT for the fall semester.
“I am trying my luck in applying to MIT since their engineering program is renowned, as well as their ability to help their entrepreneur students carry out their projects, transforming ideas into successful businesses,” Perez said.
He said he owes much of his success to his IVC professors who have and continue to help him with academic advice and opportunities to improve academically and professionally.
“The IVC faculty enabled me to become stronger and reach new heights,” he said.
Learn more about IVC’s School of Integrated Design, Engineering and Automation.