npc_building_confidenceBy Dennis Durband

“I like teaching and touching young students’ lives,” says Jorge Meza, an instructor in Construction Technology at Northland Pioneer College. “It is rewarding to help guide kids. I remember when others guided me and I want to pay it forward.”

Meza enjoys telling the story of how he developed this commitment to guiding young people. It began during his youth in Los Angeles in the 1960s. That was a turbulent time of riots and anti-war protests. A home in his neighborhood had burned down, and when a construction crew began to rebuild on the same site, he was captivated by the carpenters’ craftsmanship.

“That fire made a huge impression on me,” says Meza. “I saw how fast they rebuilt. They had it back up in two weeks! I would go to that house after school and look at the walls and was amazed at the work that was being done. That’s when I started thinking I wanted to build my mom a house one day.”

Meza did that and much more. After studying applied science at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, he began building homes and apartments in Hollywood Hills. It was during this time that his mentors began to build him up and apply the finishing touches to his career preparation. They were advanced carpenters “doing custom work and building mansions on the cliffs at Malibu,” he said. “I graduated from basic frame into more custom frame and building circular stairs and domes. I was willing to work for free, just to be around these guys, just to learn. I had good mentors who taught me and gave me hope for a better future.”

When he was 24, Meza and his mother and brothers moved to Pinedale, Arizona. He wanted to help them escape the worsening L.A. environment. From this point forward, he knew he wanted to help and guide others to a brighter future, too.

Arizona became a land of new opportunities for Meza. Using what his mentors had taught him, he finally built his mom her new home. He also met his wife in Pinedale, and they have since raised six sons and a daughter. The children are learning from their father’s examples of hard work and commitment, and four of the boys have already attended and excelled at NPC.

For several years, Meza taught construction skills to students on reservations. He served at NPC’s Whiteriver Learning Center and also at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta. In 2009, Meza became a licensed general contractor. Last year, he joined the faculty at NPC’s Painted Desert Campus in Holbrook.

Like those men who invested in his life years earlier, Meza is now the mentor who guides and molds young men and women at NPC for successful careers and lives. He is instructing 14 students in the NPC program this semester, and he wants to help them become role models in their families and communities.

Most of these students are young, and some are working toward their GEDs. One student is an Iraq War veteran. Others are working toward their college degrees. Students are given the freedom to build all kinds of useful things and to dream big. They’re even building a home in Holbrook that will be placed on the market. Program instructors take the students on field trips to introduce them to construction companies and make employment connections. Students are also prepared to compete in regional skills competitions to build confidence and earn recognition.

Meza says, “I want to be that one instructor who gives them a pat on the back and tells them they’re going to be all right. My goal is that they leave the program with confidence and the tools to succeed. My aim is to make positive young men and women.”

Meza also stays connected with his former students. “They call me a lot, and I run into them in town. They tell me what they’re doing. That’s the reward, and it’s satisfying. It makes my day to know that these young people are working and looking at a positive future.”

College teaching is rewarding, Meza says. “I’m really thankful for my opportunity to be here at NPC. I feel I can really make a positive impact on our communities, one student at a time.”