Plumbing, Promise and Podiums: Two HBI Students’ International Builders Show Award Journeys

by Stephanie Zerweck

HBI Job Corps graduates Miguel Gastelum and Blanca Diaz-Medina were respectively recognized at the 2020 International Builders Show as National Association of Home Builders Chairman’s Award and Shirley McVay Wiseman Award for Exceptional Promise recipients. The Chairman’s Award is annually awarded to the most outstanding HBI program alumnus, while the McVay Wiseman Award is awarded to an alumna of the HBI training program currently working in the construction industry and having done so for more than a year at the time of selection.

Education at all Costs

Gastelum graduated in 2013 from the Plumbing program at the Fred G. Acosta Job Corps Center in Tucson, Ariz. Prior to that, he overcame significant challenges, including childhood homelessness, to achieve professional success.

Eager to learn and enter the field, according to his Job Corps instructor, Fabian Liera, Gastelum showed remarkable motivation, both completing his General Education Development (GED) diploma and finishing training in his trade by the age of 17.

Too young to yet to work in the field, Gastelum began training for Skills USA competitions, taking home first place in regional and state competitions. Then qualified to compete in the post-secondary national championship, he won second place against four-year apprenticeship opponents. However, he sacrificed the possibility of winning a first-place prize the following year in order to accelerate his career-start to be able to secure a home for his mother and two sisters.

Meanwhile, Diaz-Medina, later to become a 2015 graduate of HBI, was studying within her Electrical program at the Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria, Ore.

According to her instructor, Jim Kalmbach, while at Job Corps, Diaz-Medina was a stellar student—truly a standout in her trades training, her academic performance and her commitment to helping others, lending them a voice, an ear and a hand.

Described by Job Corps staff as “mature, capable and motivated,” Diaz-Medina used her academic abilities to tutor students in math, her bilingual fluency in serving as a representative on the Student Government Association Executive Council and her pleasant demeanor volunteering in the community.

“Blanca was shop foreman at the time of her graduation and took the lead on many Center projects,” said Jim Kalmbach.

Diaz-Medina relied 100 percent on the strengths of her skill and character in her leadership roles.

These same strengths of character helped see her through lifelong obstacles presented by her status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. One week shy of acquiring her commercial driver’s license while enrolled in Job Corps, Diaz-Medina’s driving permit was canceled, due to her immigration status. Rather than deter her, Diaz-Medina used setbacks as motivation to propel her forward into her electrical trade career.

A Foothold in the Field

Having now worked in the trades for roughly seven years, Gastelum has held positions with Brewer Enterprises, TAZ plumbing and Mr. Rooter—his excellent reputation following him to each company.

“Most companies will not allow anyone under 21 to drive their company vehicles, due to insurance coverage,” said Liera. “They all made an exception with Miguel. […] I have personally received my share of calls from various employers, asking if I have another Miguel.”

Beyond becoming one of the highest-paid technicians in the City of Tucson and holding “Employee of the Month” and “First Place in Sales and Customer Service” titles over the years, Gastelum has already achieved what he considers his most significant accomplishment to date. In May of 2018, he started his own business, MG Plumbing, after years of saving.

Like Gastelum’s road to success, Diaz-Medina’s has been marked by accomplishment—earning “Apprentice of the Year” awards in her position with SME Inc. of Seattle and her Construction Industry Training Council (CITC) of Washington apprenticeship at that same job. At the time of IBS 2020 Diaz-Medina was less than 400 hours shy of completing her Journeyman Apprenticeship. She currently works at Premier Power Electric.

With all these events building to a moment, as much as to their careers, Gastelum and Diaz-Medina took the stage to sounds of NAHB audience applause at the 2020 Orlando-based IBS event, accepting $1,000-checks and admiration of builders nation-wide, along with their awards.