My Story - Gerardo Oka
Oka grew up observing and helping his father, who owns a repair shop in Oka's native Lima, Peru. In fact, before coming to California, Oka spent 10 years working as a mechanic alongside his father. As he grew older, however, Oka felt it was time to pursue even further experience--and most importantly, certification--in his automotive specialty. Only a few select programs in the U.S. offer Chrysler's College Automotive Program (CAP), which provides technicians with specific corporate training on Chrysler and Jeep vehicles, and Cerritos College is one such institution.
After spending the past two years at Cerritos College, Oka, of La Palma, graduated in summer 2007 from Cerritos College's CAP Program with certification in servicing Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles. He says he found early on that Cerritos College's Automotive Technology Program was the best program on the West Coast.
"The best class was the one that focused on drivability and fuel systems," said Oka.
Oka, 29, came to the U.S. on a student visa and began legally working part time at Long Beach Chrysler Jeep with Tom Bonnstetter, who urged Oka to pursue a certification program at Cerritos College. Oka enrolled at Cerritos College as an international student. CAP allows students to take advantage of a work-study program, and that's just what Oka did. He continued working part time--after qualifying for curricular practical training--at Long Beach Chrysler Jeep while attending the program, which provided him with even further specialized training in servicing Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep products
Oka has enjoyed his instructors while at Cerritos College. Richard Aragon, CAP coordinator, and Kevin Taylor, have both served as his instructors during his two years at the campus.
"When he told me his background, I was impressed," said Aragon.
"I've never had an international student in my program before, and I know Gerardo met some roadblocks in wanting to study here. But he kept at it and never quit. I2ve never had an applicant to our program show so much enthusiasm."
Now that he's finishing the Chrysler corporate program, Oka plans to pursue an optional practical training and become a full-time technician at Long Beach Chrysler Jeep.
And, he might add, a wealthy one, since senior automotive technicians can eventually earn more than $100,000.
Oka says he's drawn to Jeeps because they're "in a category of their own."
"They're the original SUV, and the first vehicle to have a 4x4," he said.
Not long after Oka enrolled in the Cerritos College CAP program, he visited Huntington Beach Chrysler Jeep. He walked right in and asked to speak with the service manager.
"After they talked to me for a while and learned about my experience with Jeeps, they wanted to hire me," said Oka.
"But they wanted me full time, and I would have had to quit the CAP program. I didn't want to do that--I wanted to finish my education."
Aragon added that he thought this was a wise choice on Oka's part.
"It's nice that he was offered a job--it happens often with gifted students," Aragon explained.
"But he hung in there with his education, and now. No one can take that away from him."
In spring 2007, Oka finished the semester at the top of his class. He was honored by Cerritos College's Automotive Technology Program as the "Most Outstanding Student" for his overall academic achievement. He earned the highest grade point average of 3.93.
Oka says he's been pleased with his experience as a student in the college's auto program.
"Cerritos College has really good teachers, especially in auto tech," he said.
Most of all, Oka is proud to be finishing the program, and he looks forward to becoming a master technician--completely, and most importantly, certifiably, versed in the nuances of Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles.
For more information about the Cerritos College Automotive Technology Program, visit www.cerritos.edu/advtranstechctr.