While most girls her age were playing with Barbies, Yolanda (“Yoyo”) Rodriguez was trying to figure out how things worked — pulling them apart and putting them back together. As she got older, she began building things and enjoyed helping her grandfather, a Chicago landlord, with maintenance projects. That led to her career choice: HVAC.
“My grandfather was the one who actually tipped my cup toward HVAC,” Rodriguez says. “He’s like a one-man band; he does everything. I’ve worked with him on a couple fix and flips. He taught me how to put up drywall, how to do floors, how to do plaster, how to do the piping and plumbing, and how to pretty much look at the HVAC side.”
Coyne College took care of the rest of Rodriguez’s foundation in HVAC. “[Going there] was probably about the best decision I’ve ever made,” she remembers. At Coyne, she learned the basics in brazing, refrigeration, using gauges, troubleshooting furnaces and boilers, and more. She was a tutor and took advantage of everything she could. It was the people, though, who made the difference. “They were willing to help me even in my struggles.” Her other grandfather died while she was at school, but the teachers were there for her during that difficult time. “They were willing to work with me and push me to achieve my goals. It felt like family. I was fortunate that they helped me,” she says.
Yolanda Rodriguez graduated as valedictorian of her class in December of 2017 and went to work for Johnson Controls in January. “It’s very different and not what I expected,” she says. Johnson Controls sets up computerized heating and cooling points that help make commercial buildings more energy efficient. “We set up the computer so the buyer or user can apply the software and use it on their own.” It’s a PLC (programmable logic controller) integration system that uses computer schematics to control all rooms from one place. “It’s interesting because I never learned PLCs in school,” she says. “It’s new, but the HVAC side applies to it because you have to know how everything functions — the sequences of operations to make sure everything is flowing properly.”
Although Rodriguez has been a professional in the field for less than six months, she has learned — and continues to learn — a lot. She is confident in her abilities, although that was not always the case. “I used to think at first that I had to try really hard to be accepted by men or be an equal,” she says, “but I got over that fear when my classmates started to see what I was capable of.” Now, in her current job, she sees other females out in the field, which is reassuring. “A lot of companies have told me they want more women on board. It looks good for them and they believe it will also help their employees.”
“I feel confident in where I can go with HVAC,” Rodriguez says. She has a “grand plan” about what to do in the future. “I would really like to own a restaurant, and the whole deal with the restaurant is that I would like to own farmland and start growing my own crops to use in my restaurant.” Because of her HVAC experience, Rodriguez says she could learn to grow plants using solar panels, wind, and greenhouses. Her plans don’t stop there. She would also like to have a grocery store and be able to sell organic produce from her farm. If possible, she’d like to supply poorer areas and countries with quality produce. “With my HVAC background, I can keep the produce fresh still while it’s being sent.”
For Rodriguez, having a grandfather who was able to recognize her interest and potential in HVAC, and give her early opportunities to try it out, was fortunate. Others may not be as fortunate. For them, Rodriguez has some words of encouragement. “It doesn’t matter what career anybody wants to go into as long as they’re very passionate about what they feel and they’re doing the things that they love,” she says. “Do whatever you have to do because the only person that’s going to stop you from getting to that point is yourself, and the only person who’s going to get you there is yourself.”
Yolanda Rodriguez is clearly following her own advice. “There’s still a whole bunch of things I can do with HVAC,” she says. “I’m 23. I don’t want to be one of those people who sits down and thinks about all these things and only keeps them as dreams; I want to turn my dreams into reality.”
Has Yoyo Rodriguez inspired you? If you like working with your hands, have a mechanical aptitude, and are looking for a career with a tremendous future, becoming a heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration technician could be a perfect fit. According to O*NET Online, the projected growth of HVAC jobs through 2026 is much higher than average. With the diploma you will earn at Coyne College in less than a year, your chance of job placement will increase significantly.
For more information about a career in HVAC, contact Coyne College today.