Though his college journey hasn’t followed a straight line, Jonathan Gallegos, a mechatronics student at Daley College, says he’s now found his calling.

As a first-generation high school student, Jonathan felt like he had to figure everything out on his own. He was encouraged to attend a four-year university after graduating from Farragut Career Academy, but he didn’t get the support he needed at that university to succeed. Instead, he withdrew from his classes and jumped into the workforce.

Jonathan started as a machine operator in a factory, which he enjoyed, but he wanted to earn a higher salary. He learned about the maintenance field while working that job and decided to go back to school to get an electrical certification.

“Once I became familiar with electrical, I wanted to know more,” Jonathan said. “I came to Daley College and started learning about robotics, pneumatics, and hydraulics.”

Jonathan discovered Daley after seeing a Facebook ad for a grant program from the Calumet Area Industrial Commission. The grant would cover his tuition at various community colleges, including Daley.

“I looked at Daley and saw they had a new manufacturing building. That really interested me,” he said.

Jonathan participates in 3M’s Clash of the Grinders competition.

Jonathan decided to pursue his associate degree in mechatronics. He’s enjoying his classes and says the support he gets from instructors is motivating. One instructor, Charles Thompson, even encouraged Jonathan to participate in 3M’s “Clash of the Grinders,” a weld grinding skills competition. Jonathan competed against 11 other metalworking professionals and came in fourth place.

“It was the greatest experience,” he said. “3M is a global company, and in the maintenance field, we use their products all the time. It says a lot about me that I was able to compete against others who are focused solely on welding.”

Jonathan is currently working as a multi-craft technician, where he’s able to put the skills he’s built in and out of the classroom to use. He plans to graduate with his associate degree in May 2024, which would set him up for a manager-level position in the industry.

“I wish I would have done this sooner, but it’s never too late,” he said.