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Raul Vega and Lauren Heyden
November 15, 2022

After nearly 40 years of quality career education, there are enough Irvine Valley College success stories to fill a book. And while these passion-to-paycheck tales tend to share certain plot elements: a Laser-focused determination, an independent spirit… they don’t always start out on the same page.

Whether working in show business or running their own business, IVC grads are proving the power of accessible, accelerated career education every day. And with 21 hands-on pathways available in accounting, early childhood education, music production, health sciences, business, technology, and more, students are finding more ways to succeed than ever.

Take Ingrid Mariano, an early childhood education student at Irvine Valley College. After a career in diverse fields like biology, geology, and theme park management, Mariano knew she was destined for more.

“When I decided to make a career change, I reflected on a part of my life that has been so meaningful for me …. babysitting six children in my family,” explains Mariano. “Taking them on educational outings, or just staying home and watching nature documentaries was so fulfilling for me.

“That’s when I was certain that my next career would be in early childhood education.”

Donna King, early childhood education professor and Department Chair of Human Services, helped guide Mariano to her perfect career match. Acknowledging the passionate student’s love for nature and dedication to her education, King connected Mariano to a teaching gig at the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach.

Now an IVC graduate, Mariano says the early childhood education program provided her with a sturdy foundation for her career. “I was given an amazing toolkit for my career by my professors [and] I have made valuable friendships with my fellow classmates,” she reflects. “They have become wonderful sources and knowledgeable resources.”

The one-on-one focus from faculty is what helps IVC students shine, according to students like Mariano. With committed instructors pushing students to be their best, the motivation to rise to the challenge comes easy.

“I would not have been able to get into Bob Cole University without the help and the guidance from everybody at IVC,” says composer Raul Vega, a proud Irvine Valley College grad.

Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’re probably familiar with Vega’s Oscar- winning work. As a digital instrument creator for legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, Vega has more than 30 film and TV credits to his name. Vega’s body of work includes contributions to the scores for award-winning films like Interstellar, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, and 2022 Academy Award Best Original Score-winner, Dune.

Before the blockbusters, Vega spent two years at IVC building his musical basics as he prepared to audition at Bob Cole University of Music at California State University, Long Beach. He worked closely with his professors and says their guidance, knowledge, and support continuously inspired him.

“[My professors] all really kind of helped me cultivate the confidence and the freedom to play in the way that was really, really helpful and encouraging,” says Vega.  

To this day, the Tinseltown tunester still stays connected to his IVC roots. He often visits campus to help inspire students and share his experience and advice with fellow Lasers.

“[IVC] is really my musical beginning and end,” Vega philosophizes.

From the screen to the stage, the success stories never stop. Another IVC alum, Claudia Lopez, knew that attending college would push her way outside her comfort zone. But with a dream career in show-biz at stake, she was ready for the challenge.

Originally from Mexico, Lopez worked in video production on the rodeo circuit and in support of Lucha Libre shows. After the global pandemic caused live events — and her work — to come to a screeching halt, Lopez started thinking about the next stage of her career.

When Lopez discovered the Live Entertainment Technician program at IVC, she knew it would be a perfect fit. The program focuses on hands-on learning for all aspects of live entertainment, from rehearsal and performance procedures to managing backstage crews, costume designers, directors, and performers.

When it was time for Lopez to take on the role of stage manager for IVC’s production of Fame, she was hesitant but knew it would sharpen her skills.  

“The role was very difficult and demanding,” says Lopez. “In the end, I was so grateful of taking on that challenge.”

Now, Lopez is letting her career take center stage. She recently completed an internship with the University of California, Irvine’s opera, The Impresario, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. As her career grows, Lopez looks back at her time at Irvine Valley College and offers some advice to current and future students.

“If you take advantage of all the possibilities … you can grow a lot. My case is an example,” she reasons. “If somebody goes to this school and takes all of the opportunities that the college gives them, they will grow a lot and open many doors in their life.”

For Lauren Heyden, taking advantage of those opportunities proved vital for her career success. Through the accelerated certificate program for Sustainability and Resource Management, she learned about policies and procedures of waste resource management, best management practices, community and educational programs, and additional information on zero-waste fields.

“It’s always been my main motivation to just be making a positive impact,” says Heyden. “As an individual, I know I do what I can, but if I can work for a company, or do something that’s on a larger scale, that impact is so much bigger.”

Through an internship at a local Santa Ana distillery, Heyden helped implement measurable results by incorporating recycling practices, creating signage, and diverting organic waste from local landfills. Her work was so impressive that her professor, Trevor Blythe, offered her a position at his Orange County environmental consulting firm.

After completing her certificate program, Heyden stayed at IVC to pursue a transfer degree in geography as she continues to work in her field full-time. Through comprehensive coursework, a tight-knit group of faculty and students, and the resources in her program, she has managed to find everything she needed to build a successful career.

“I personally think IVC is a really great school, and I highly recommend [this program] to anybody that is interested,” touts Heyden. “If you put the effort in, I think a lot of positive things could come out of it.”

For IVC students looking to launch a career, the possibilities are incalculable. For Andria Radmacher, IVC’s fast-focused business courses meant the difference between an entrepreneurial spirit and a successful small business. Today, the IVC grad runs her own bookkeeping and accounting firm.

Reflecting on her time at IVC, Radmacher says her fundamental accounting classes were the most valuable: “I think when you find those core subjects you’re interested in, they’ll be useful forever.”

Since graduating from IVC, Radmacher’s firm has seen immense success. She recently opened her first physical office, allowing her team and clients to meet face-to-face. Her business also operates online, so she can continue her passion for travel while managing her business from anywhere.

The IVC alum’s advice for aspiring business owners? “If you can master that skill of constant, perpetual improvement and learning… you’ll always be on the cutting edge.”

For Irvine Valley College’s diverse roster of successful career education grads, it’s never the same path… but it’s always the same story:

Says Vega: “[IVC is] my home really, when it gets down to it.”

Looking to write your own success story? Explore IVC’s Laser-focused career pathways in 21 in- demand fields at