How highly does Lorenzo Vilches regard Cuyamaca College? Enough to endure an 80-mile commute taking more than two hours daily from his home in Borrego Springs to the Rancho San Diego campus.
“You do what you have to do,” said Vilches, 23, who is building an educational pathway leading toward a career in the design, development and manufacture of race cars. “I’ve been lucky enough to meet with and learn from some very good professors. The ability that students have here to approach the faculty, get to know them and learn from them is invaluable.”
Vilches earned an associate degree in June 2019 in automotive technology and is now tackling a second degree in engineering. He’s already taking the automotive technology skills he’s learned at Cuyamaca College with him to his job at a repair shop, where he is helping with everything from changing tires to replacing transmissions. But he isn’t done yet; Vilches is planning to transfer to a four-year college or university after securing his second associate degree.
A first-generation college student with a 3.7 GPA, Vilches was one of 500 Grossmont and Cuyamaca College students who received a scholarship from the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges this academic year.
“Lorenzo is the kind of student that makes me love teaching,” said physics instructor Miriam Simpson. “What makes Lorenzo stand out is his ability to know his own abilities and limits and make realistic decisions about how to succeed.”
Vilches opted to attend Cuyamaca College on the advice of an auto shop instructor at Borrego Springs High School who noted several of his former students had landed good jobs after enrolling in the college’s award-winning Auto Technology program. Cuyamaca College offers a General Motors-sponsored ASEP degree program, which trains students in all systems of GM vehicles, and a Ford-sponsored ASSET degree program, which trains students in all systems of the manufacturer’s vehicles. One of only three in the state, the college’s Ford ASSET (Automotive Student Service Education Training) is recognized as one of the best training programs in the world.
Vilches was also lured by the school’s engineering program, which offers the first two years of a typical four-year program leading to the bachelor's degree in engineering.
“I have always had a fascination with understanding how components work together in an assembly,” Vilches said. “Whether it is a lighting circuit that is composed of a battery, current-carrying conductors, a light bulb and a resistor; or whether it is an internal combustion engine with multiple sensors and emission systems keeping explosions/combustion in an acceptable range to propel a vehicle from one point to another. It is that fascination with first understanding how something works and then refining it in multiple dimensions or being able to find a solution for a task by replacing an old design with something completely different that gives me satisfaction.”
Living in Borrego Springs and going to classes at Cuyamaca College posed a challenge. His first year and a half, he lived with a brother in Ramona and commuted from there. After he was able to save up enough money, Vilches moved to an apartment in La Mesa. But with money getting tight and expenses becoming more of a burden, he was forced to move back in with his parents more than a year ago.
Said Vilches: “It’s not been easy, it has not been without challenges or without stumbles, but it has been rewarding, it’s allowed me to continue to grow, and simply, it’s well worth it.”