Hands-on experience in heavy equipment camp has students leaning toward CAC

June 15, 2009

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. – Dangle the lure with the right kind of bait, and the fishing can be an awful lot of fun.

For the first two weeks of June, Central Arizona College lured high school students from as far away as Colorado and California to its Signal Peak Campus for a chance to drive big trucks in the dirt and delve inside a diesel engine to see what makes it work.

But the Heavy Equipment Camp for Operators and Repairmen isn’t a place parents stick teens to keep them out of trouble during summer days. The program serves as a test drive for future careers and an enticement for earning a college degree or certificate at Central Arizona College.

“This was a real-life experience for these high school kids who now may be interested in a career in heavy equipment operation,” Garrett Hurt, CAC’s professor of diesel technology explained. “They operated just about every type of equipment normally found on a job site. This was a working camp where they also had lots of fun.”

The pair of weeklong programs served as an introduction to Central Arizona College’s diesel and heavy equipment operations program that is offered at the Signal Peak Campus.

And, for participants like Sheldon Harvey of Chinle, Ariz., it gave students a preamble to college life and living away from home.

“I chose to come to this camp because I am interested in the heavy equipment program at CAC,” Harvey said. “This August I will start school at CAC - which I am looking forward to. While in camp, I made new friends, ran awesome machines, and got a closer look at what I am going to be facing in August. It was a learning experience to be there and also an eye opener to what the life of an operator is like. At the end of it all, I had a great time at camp and am very excited to come back to CAC in August.”

It is no surprise that the eye-opening experience caught Harvey’s attention.

“By the end of this camp, participants became aware of what it takes to be an operator or repairman, and where their career could lead in the future,” Hurt explained.

Oscar Maderjo of Morristown, Ariz., has one more year of high school, but coming to the camp gave him an opportunity to peer into the future.

“It was a good opportunity to see if I want to make a career in heavy equipment operation, but it did not require me to sign up for the whole program, which is a long time commitment,” he explained.

Maderjo learned about the camp several years ago during a career day at the University of Phoenix Stadium where representatives of Central Arizona College pitched their program. He was lured to the campus this year and liked the respect the instructors showed the students.

“I was treated like an adult,” Maderjo said. “They gave us some training on the machines and let us learn on our own. We could operate them as long as we wanted.”

Originally he was leaning toward attending Eastern Arizona College, but the Wickenburg High School student is being drawn south following his weeklong adventure in Pinal County.

“I like the campus and the instructors, and now I have a goal of attending CAC,” he said. “I'll be graduating next year and I'm looking forward to coming back to Central Arizona College.”

Maderjo’s parents, Chris and Martha Mueller, also were impressed with Central Arizona College, and were extremely proud of their son after he took first place in the excavator competition, second in the backhoe competition, and tied for first overall during the heavy equipment rodeo competition that capped the first week of camp on June 6.

“We really like the campus,” they said. “We were treated very well by the instructors and enjoyed the heavy equipment rodeo competition.”

Maderjo was familiar with some heavy equipment from running machines on his family’s small ranch and from a friend who has a grader business, but CAC instructors greatly expanded his knowledge.

“Oscar spoke highly of the instructors who taught him a lot that he didn't know,” the Muellers said. “Like most kids, Oscar has been looking for a career, and it is hard for kids to set goals when they don't know what they want to do. But now he is focused on heavy equipment operation and attending CAC.”
Dominic Cristarella traveled all the way from Escondido, Calif., to attend the camp at Central Arizona College. He wanted to further his knowledge of heavy equipment operations.

“My friend has been coming for the past three years and told me about the camp,” Cristarella said. “He asked if I wanted to come along with him this year. The staff was very friendly and helpful. I learned a lot about heavy equipment and it was a lot of fun.”

The camp has paved another avenue for the Californian who may look at Central Arizona College when he finishes high school.

Brian Black of Mesa, Ariz., had a similar experience to Cristarella’s.

“I chose this camp because I wanted to get a better feel for the heavy equipment program,” he explained. “It was an awesome time and I will be back next year to help out or actually take the camp. I am really glad I attended because I learned a lot and made a ton of new friends.”

Even though the CAC camp draws participants from out of state, this year has seen record levels of Pinal County students attending the program.

“I have had more Pinal County students this year than in all of the previous camps combined,” Hurt said. The camp featured 30 total participants – 14 during the first week followed by 16 during week two. Of the 30 campers, 22 called Pinal County home – including 15 of the 16 during the second week.

High schools students from the Pinal County municipalities of Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy, Florence, Gold Canyon, Kearny, San Manuel, Winkelman and Valley Farms attended the camp.

Jordyn Avelar was one of the participants who traveled from Winkelman in the eastern section of the county to the Signal Peak Campus so he could experience the heavy equipment program.
“I love heavy equipment and I have loved heavy machinery since I was a little kid,” Avelar said. “I am coming to CAC just for my HEO certification. It is definitely a career choice that I am pursuing.”
Rafael Galdamez of Casa Grande also has expressed an interest in the profession and Central Arizona College.

“I chose to come to camp because I have a passion for heavy equipment,” Galdamez said.” I knew about it last year since I came to this camp before. I don't just think it is cool - it is awesome. We get hands-on practice with the machines. We don't just study in the classroom; we get out there and fix the problem.”

For more information about future heavy equipment camps or CAC’s heavy equipment program, please contact Garrett Hurt by phone at 520-494-5310, or by e-mail at garrett.hurt@centralaz.edu.


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