(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Inspired to go to college by advice he received while in an unemployment line, Leo Guajardo studied aviation maintenance at Texas State Technical College and graduated in 2010. Now, his career as a TSTC instructor is helping the students he meets in the classroom make their own dreams come true.
“I had to do something different,” said the Freer native when discussing the beginning of his college journey. “I was laid off in 2008, and there was a man I met in the unemployment line who asked me, ‘What makes you different?’”
The question not only inspired Guajardo to enroll at TSTC, but also encouraged him to try a different career route as an aircraft airframe technician.
“I actually heard about TSTC through the workforce, and I needed to go into something that made me more marketable,” he said.
Ultimately it was a phone call from TSTC lead Aviation Maintenance instructor Tom Cross that changed his life.
“I maintained relationships with my instructors, and Mr. Cross called me about an opportunity in Harlingen,” he said. “They needed some help in the aircraft airframe toolroom, and I worked my way up from there to becoming a full-time instructor. He’s not only a colleague, but also my friend and mentor now.”
Currently Guajardo is an instructor for half the courses required to complete both the Aircraft Airframe Technology and Aircraft Powerplant Technology programs at TSTC. His success is measured not only by his accomplishments, but also by the accomplishments of his students.
“Having the ability to help other people succeed is so rewarding,” he said. “I see my face in the faces of my students, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Guajardo relishes the anecdotes that his former students tell him once they are well into their careers.
“I had a student use the airline miles he received from his job to fly to Germany to eat at a restaurant he saw on the Food Network,” he said. “He flew there to eat and flew right back the next day. I’m living vicariously through my students.”
Ely Cortina, a soon-to-be TSTC graduate, appreciates the impact that Guajardo has had on her time in college.
“He really knows how to connect with all his students,” she said. “We all come from different backgrounds, and our points of view reflect that. But Mr. Guajardo knows how to speak to us as individuals, not just as a classroom.”
The lessons Guajardo gives to his students extend far beyond the chapters in a book.
“During lectures, he also went over life skills that he believed would ensure our success not only as future employees, but also as functional citizens in our communities,” Cortina said. “He’s much more than an instructor; he’s an amazing mentor as well.”
While Guajardo has impacted the lives of his students, he also reiterated that his students have had a profound impact on him.
“I’m fighting alongside them all the way to the finish line,” he said. “We have small class sizes, and I get to know them and their families. It becomes a relationship that is so beneficial, and it truly is a support system that we build here.”
To learn more about programs at TSTC, visit tstc.edu.