Laureen Hurtado was enjoying the good life. She had a steady job, was making good money running equipment for a production plant near the home she and her wife, Gloria shared. Laureen had been in a community college nursing program for five years, trying to make the best of a lottery system that made getting the classes she needed a waiting game. Life was busy, but manageable.
Then, their world turned upside down. Laureen and Gloria separated and the next month Laureen lost her job. She moved out of California for four months, picking up janitorial work in a hospital, before coming back and reconciling with Gloria. Meanwhile they lost their house to foreclosure and went into a financial tailspin. As bad as things were, Laureen felt one spot of relief.
“Nursing was good money, but not something I really liked,” Laureen was surprised to realize. “That whole thing about people being sick; I was depressed the whole time I was working in the hospital.”
But Laureen’s natural talent of ‘putting things together and tearing them apart’ did not have a focus. “And there are 500 applicants for every one of those jobs,” she says. “I didn’t have any job skills; I didn’t have a degree, and that’s the first thing people ask you. What can you bring to a company besides just working.”
She remembered SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technician program in Fresno and thought that might be what she needed.
“I figured aviation because anyone can be a car mechanic,” she explains. “I wanted to work on something with more responsibility, more prestige and better for the job market. Not too many people can say, ‘that’s my job, working on planes.’ That’s the thing that did it for me.”
Her financial situation made going back to school unrealistic, but she made the appointment.
“Pam, the Financial Aid Advisor, told me about a veteran’s program that would provide job retraining financing, and I was really ecstatic about it,” says Laureen, who was a Marine Corps veteran. She was in!
Her first days in class were pretty overwhelming, and her first subject was Physics. “I thought, oh my gosh, I’m going to have to learn all of this! I didn’t feel I was going to make it,” says Laureen.
Two things helped her push through. Even though they were struggling to live on one income and trying to make a $20 tank of gas last all week, “Gloria supported me and encouraged me.”
Then, Laureen read a Student Spotlight on a SJVC social media site about a fellow Aviation student, Michael McGee, who was also struggling to hang on.
“He was like me, an older adult trying to find a good job for his family,” says Laureen. “He was applying for welfare, and I had the Vet Administration to help me out. I read other stories about students who were struggling and made it, and I just had to keep going and give it my best shot.”
Of all the things Laureen had gone through that kept her down and away from success, she knew her greatest obstacle was…herself.
“I have to remind myself every day – and I’ve been like this for as long as I remember – It doesn’t count unless you finish,” says Laureen. “I’ve always started something and never finished it. I’m at the point where I can’t do that anymore.”
Laureen polished off her Marine Corp discipline. She made the Dean’s List and maintains a 3.50 GPA. She inspired her son, Jose, to enroll at the Aviation campus soon after she did, and they enjoy a spirit of competition that has them constantly bumping each other from the academic top spot.
“Laureen is an outstanding student and mentor,” says Jack Macfarlane, Aviation Campus Director. “Both Laureen and her son, Jose, are progressing smartly through the program and I have no doubt that they will each contribute to the field of aviation in the near future.”
“This not just school, it is having my life back,” says Laureen. “I do get excited when I think about the future. The idea of being able to travel and not be stuck somewhere because you don’t know how to do anything else.”
She is philosophical about recent struggles. “If all these bad things hadn’t happened to me, I would not be taking things as seriously as I do now.”
Scheduled to graduate in September, Laureen is looking forward to earning her A&P license and a new career in a field that excites her.
“I just keep thinking that the possibilities are endless,” she says.