Mesa Community College alumnus Diego Santos is thriving at Empire Southwest, a top-performing Caterpillar dealer, the leading global manufacturer of the massive equipment that builds the world. He says community college offered an affordable start in higher education and a supportive opportunity to fit classes into a full-time work schedule.
“I had looked at the cost of education at the major universities and realized that I would have to eat ramen noodles for the next three decades of my life in order to afford it,” said Santos, who is the first in his family to earn a college degree. “MCC tuition was a fraction of the cost of universities and, with smaller class sizes, I could be more involved.”
DEGREE AND CREDENTIALS
He was taking automotive courses with an eye toward engineering when he decided to join a friend who was in the ThinkBIG apprenticeship program, a partnership between MCC and the Valley’s Caterpillar dealer, Empire Southwest. The program combines classroom with practical learning of the technology behind today’s high performing earthmoving machinery. Graduates receive an Associate in Applied Science degree and are fully credentialed Caterpillar Dealer Service Technicians.
“I loved the program,” Santos said. You learn the material in the classroom and get to apply the knowledge hands-on in multiple shops. You gain valuable on-the-job experience, plus you earn a degree. A lot of vocational schools have very high tuition with little to no possibility of earning college credits.”
Admission into the ThinkBIG program is competitive. Interviews are held annually between January and March, with classes starting in August.
Since graduating from the ThinkBIG program, Santos was selected for a management program.
He said, “I love it. I thoroughly enjoy management, juggling 85 things at once, developing and creating a career path for others, and adapting methods and mindset in the constantly changing workplace.”
As a leader, Santos says he makes a point to schedule time for developing the team so he isn’t just putting out constant fires and missing the big picture growth.
He added, “As management, ensuring that you are constantly providing the best value and growth for your clients and team can be tough, but we always collaborate toward the main goal. My main priority is for my team to make it home safely to their families every day. With all of that, you have to have fun and have a good attitude.”
Post MCC, Santos earned a bachelor’s degree in management from ASU and is working on his MBA to eventually achieve his original goal of a degree in management and mechanical engineering because, he says “it’s a pride thing.”