Some people go to college to build career skills. Others go to build wall-climbing robot cars.
Irvine Valley College grad Christian Garcia did both.
Thanks to IVC’s high-tech Drafting Technology and Engineering program, wall-climbing robot cars are a snap. Just draw a 3D model of the framework with cutting-edge engineering software. Then, go to the lab, input your data, and either laser-cut or 3D-print your creation… Boom! You've got a road-rocking, handmade car-tank hybrid.
It’s that kind of applied learning that attracted Garcia to IVC and helped propel him into his dream field.
“It’s very immersive in this program,” says Garcia, who recently started a high-level and full-time drafting job at Schweitzer Engineering. He’s thankful to IVC for preparing him not just to transfer to Cal State Fullerton, where he is a part-time student, but also giving him the outstanding support to follow his ideal career path.
“A lot of the projects that I did in the program at Irvine Valley helped me develop a lot of soft and hard skills,” he recalls. From communication and teamwork to AutoCAD and building information modeling software, Garcia was more than prepared for his first job interview out of community college. “It made me a validated candidate for this position, and the company thought I was a great fit.”
Now, Garcia works as an electrical designer and drafter, using 2D software to make wiring diagrams, AC and DC schematics, and panel drawings. He works closely with utility companies to protect equipment and systems. Their goal: “Making power more economical, reliable, and safe.”
“Let’s say there’s a fault in the line,” says Garcia, referencing one of the everyday problems he helps to solve. “It might be dangerous to the equipment, or it could start a fire.”
The solution: getting information back to a CPU or circuit breaker and stopping the fault in its tracks. “A device like a relay would give instructions to a circuit breaker to cut the wire and isolate the fault, so it doesn’t harm the operator or the equipment, or start a fire.”
In California, nothing could be more crucial, and Garcia is proud to put his exceptional math and physics skills to good use. The IVC grad attributes his career success, in part, to one of his most inspiring professors, Matthew Wolken.
“Given Christian’s dedication to his work, I have no doubt he will succeed in his new position,” says Wolken, Department Chair of Integrated Design, Automation and Engineering (IDEA) at IVC.
Wolken, and all of the faculty at the IDEA school, are dedicated to developing business contacts and outreach for students. Wolken routinely shares job openings with his classes and encourages them to be active on his LinkedIn internship and employment groups.
"Professor Wolken advocates for his students to apply for jobs, to apply for drafting positions or other technical positions,” says Garcia, who says Wolken pointed him in the right direction, and even served as one of his references, when he began seeking industry employment.
“Christian is a great young man,” says Wolken. “I can’t say enough about his excellent character, intelligence, and engaging personality.”
According to the professor, Garcia is an ideal student who has worked hard “across multiple fields to maximize his potential.” Garcia also went over and above, helping Wolken with several important projects, including preparing students for certification exams. So when Garcia asked for help launching his new career, Wolken was thrilled to assist.
“I am extremely proud of his work both at IVC and at Schweitzer,” says Wolken. “He has spent more than one and a half years completing nearly all of our drafting and engineering classes at IVC, which is no small task.”
Wolken’s support and job reference made all the difference for Garcia.
“He is willing to vouch for your skill sets if he thinks you are ready to get into the workforce,” he says. According to Garcia, Wolken exemplifies IVC’s close-knit community, where professors are “willing to take that extra step to see you succeed.”
What Garcia found most inspirational about his professors was that they are also experts in the field. Engineering is a very demanding technical job, and access to highly knowledgeable instructors like Wolken can be a game-changer.
“They are not just teachers; they have been employed by engineering or technical companies,” says Garcia, who gained a cutting-edge advantage in the industry by learning from his professors’ experience. “The advice they give is priceless because they have personally practiced for many years what they are teaching.”
The hands-on nature of the Drafting Technology & Engineering program is what initially appealed to Garcia, and what ultimately catapulted him toward his educational goals. As he learned new things, he found he was able to apply the knowledge immediately into classroom projects.
One of those projects entailed flying a drone and using photogrammetry to create a topographical map, then inputting that data into AutoCAD.
“In the program, you can make roads, bridges, watersheds, pipe networking, and sewers,” says Garcia, who has also used the software to grade landscape, determine slopes, and track residential property lines. “You can draft it and show construction work or demolition plans, all that stuff. It’s hands-on.”
Those real-world projects not only stoked Garcia’s passion for the industry, they helped boost his credentials as he entered the competitive Orange County job market.
“By gaining familiarity with manufacturing and measuring equipment, the theoretical knowledge gained in our classes becomes more valuable to our students,” says Wolken.
IVC’s program allowed Garcia to explore many different interactive projects on a variety of tools, including CNC machines, laser cutters, and 3D printers. That kind of access to facilities is unusual in a two-year college program, and when he graduated high school, he put his acceptance to Cal State Fullerton on hold in favor of the dynamic and affordable opportunities available at IVC.
”At IVC, they offer classes that would be equivalent to sophomore- and junior-level at a four-year institute, at a price that is way cheaper,” says Garcia.
Not only did Garcia take advantage of the engineering basics like calculus, he also built critical skills in C++, programming languages and other software tools essential to a professional drafter or designer. It was these “higher-end” engineering courses that attracted Garcia, and he’s thankful that he chose the Irvine Valley College route.
At IVC, you start now!” says Garcia, who was happy to skip the prerequisites typical to an analogous four-year program"
By choosing IVC, he got practical experience right away, affording him confidence and clearer insight into the field. He also saved money, earning certifications in SolidWorks and AutoCAD without paying a thing!
”They are sponsored by the school, so it’s free,” says Garcia. “When you become certified through these exams, it shows employers that you can adequately operate these programs and machines.”
Wolken agrees that hands-on education is key to successful employment in the Drafting Tech industry.
“His interviewers at Schweitzer were impressed with his skills in schematics as well as mechanical drafting,” says Wolken. “I find that most employers are impressed when students show a working knowledge of multiple software programs.”
Garcia knows that the training he received at IVC launched him into career opportunities he might not have found otherwise, and he’s thankful that Wolken encouraged on his path.
“If I had gone to a four-year without that IVC program…” says Garcia, “…I wouldn’t have known a CNC machine, I would have never touched a 3D printer… I would have never developed various 3D and 2D modeling tools.
“The program is trying to kickstart your career.”
Find out more about IVC's Drafting, Technology, and Engineering Program.