Originally published June 23, 2016
By Daniel Perez
Fernando Garcia experienced a lot of ups and downs – literally – during his spring 2016 semester at The University of Texas at El Paso, and the junior mechanical engineering major would have it no other way.
Garcia, born and raised in Juárez, Mexico, came to UTEP at the urging of his father to learn what he could and benefit from attending an American institution of higher education. He balanced his studies with a full-time injection molding job in Juárez, but when that job was eliminated he had to scramble to find a job to help pay for college. As a foreign student, his options were limited.
A family friend suggested he apply for a new internship offered through the University’s Facilities Services, which often hires work-study students to help with payroll and accounting. The department recently created an internship where students could apply what they learn in the classroom. As the spring 2016 semester started, the need was with UTEP’s Elevator Shop, the only in-house elevator maintenance office in the University of Texas System.
Impressed with Garcia’s GPA, work history and maturity, staff in Facilities Services hired him. For the past four months, Garcia has worked alongside the experienced elevator shop technicians for 19 hours a week doing daily preventive maintenance and anything else necessary to keep the University’s 84 elevators working properly.
“I know this will look good on my resume,” Garcia said before doing a series of visual and manual checks on one of the elevator cars inside the University Library a few days before his internship ended. “Before this I didn’t know anything about elevators. Now this is something I may want to pursue (professionally).”
His days started at 8 a.m. at the Physical Plant on Sun Bowl Drive. The crew reviewed the overnight reports and added the day’s additional duties. The team is led by 20-year Navy veteran Frank Ortiz, who learned to maintain elevators aboard vessels such as the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (jump jet aircraft carrier), which had 24 floors.
Garcia worked with different members of the four-person team that had a combined 60 years of experience. Regardless of the job, the team promoted and required attention to safety, professionalism and customer service.
“This was a great program,” said Ortiz, who has spent 23 years at UTEP and plans to retire in January 2017. “It provides young people with the tools they will need to face real-world challenges. It helped us and it helped (Garcia).”
The intern said he took the job seriously and was eager for more responsibility to include working – and on occasion riding – on top of a slow-moving elevator car like James Bond or Buzz Lightyear.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said as he crouched down to check the car’s electronics. He also is familiar with the elevator’s numerous safety redundancies such as hydraulic buffers and shock absorbers that will prevent freefalls. “I’m not claustrophobic or scared of the dark.”
Raul Duran, lead elevator mechanic, said the hands-on perspective that Garcia gained during the semester will help him if he ever designs an elevator system.
“Most engineers only see things on paper,” Duran said. “It’s different in the field. Now he knows what is needed.”
The idea for the internship came from Luis Morales, associate director of Facilities Services. He wanted to help UTEP students use the knowledge they are taught, and build their resumes and reference network. He said he will use the same line of thinking to hire work-study students for business operations such as accounting, payroll and human resources.
“These kids come to us ready and willing to work,” he said. “They offer us extra sets of hands that are very helpful. We offer the kinds of training that will help them professionally.”
Morales is looking for additional funds to continue or expand the program. He would like to hire other engineering majors to work on HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), building maintenance or electronics projects they may face as professionals.