HVAC scholarship boosts woman’s new career
Alexis Rodriguez joined the ranks of women entering male-dominated industries when she enrolled in Palm Beach State College’s Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration program last fall. Now, after receiving the Hilmor Retool Your Future Scholarship, nothing can stop her.
Hilmor, a leading manufacturer of HVAC/R tools, started its scholarship contest in 2014 to help the next generation of HVAC/R technicians. Rodriguez, one of six 2018 winners nationwide and the only female, received a $5,000 scholarship, which covers nearly all the costs of the HVAC/R program as an in-state student. She also received a Hilmor tools starter kit valued at about $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago for the 2018 AHR Expo, the world’s largest HVAC/R industry trade show. In addition, the PBSC program received a complete set of Hilmor tools.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, and I thank Hilmor for that and Mikayel,” said Rodriguez, who credits Mikayel Ishmael, PBSC student development advisor II, for telling her about the scholarship and encouraging her to apply.
Rodriguez now sees a world of possibilities ahead. Yet before discovering HVAC/R, career satisfaction eluded her.
“I’ve had quite a few careers, including my own carpet cleaning business. However, my passion is troubleshooting and fixing things rather than sitting at a desk. I get a fulfillment out of that and a lot of joy.”
Then, upon reading about the HVAC/R program on the College’s website, something clicked.
“I figured it’s recession-proof, and eventually I want to open up my own business. With the combination of my customer service skills and knowing how to work with my hands, I think I have the potential to be successful.”
She’s interested in making clean air quality the focus of her business and hopes to volunteer her HVAC/R expertise in the wake of natural disasters. “I want to help people with the skills I’ve learned. That’s something important to me.”
Pete Goodman, an HVAC/R instructor at PBSC for 10 years, notes that this is the first time he’s had a woman enroll in his class, and he’s glad she did.
“Women are very capable of doing this job,” Goodman said. “Alexis is in the top 3 percent of the class. She’s doing some extraordinary things here and learns fast. She’s taken on something that’s usually been an all-guy role, but there are a lot of women getting into air conditioning now, and I think she’ll enjoy it once she gets out there, and she can branch out to other fields, too.”
While Rodriguez looks forward to working in the HVAC/R field, she’s not done with school. After completing the program in December, she’ll finish her Associate in Arts degree at the College. Next will be a bachelor’s degree. She is contemplating different options but leaning toward a degree in electrical engineering. “Mr. Goodman is very good at teaching electricity and opening that door, and it really sparked my interest.”
According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 2 percent of HVAC/R mechanics and installers are women. However, this still represents an increase over prior years, and organizations like Women in HVACR are supporting women’s success in the industry. According to the BLS website, mechanics and installers earned an average annual salary of $47,080 in 2017, and the profession is expected to grow 15 percent through 2026, much faster than the 7 percent average. Learn more about PBSC’s HVAC/R program and explore other nontraditional career options.