Photo: Marino Fernandez (center) celebrates with the first two Automotive Technician graduates at FCC Hialeah.
Automotive Technician Instructor in Hialeah Enjoys Mentoring Students Beyond the Classroom
Since he was a young boy, Marino Fernandez enjoyed taking things apart and seeing if he could figure out how to put them back together again. Sometimes these efforts took new and imaginative turns.
“When I was little, I would always take apart my toys,” Marino said. “Even with the GI Joes, I would take them apart and switch their heads, bodies and legs. It was my idea of fun.”
When he got a little older, his attention turned to larger and more complicated toys. By 13, he started working on cars, a hobby that quickly managed to dominate his interests and one day led him to wander into a local high-performance automotive shop.
Day after day, he kept going back until, after several weeks, the shop’s owner decided to take Mario under his wing and offer him a job.
Marino was just 14.
“I was going there every day, and I started doing things around the shop and learning more about what they were doing,” he said. “After six months of me volunteering, the owner said, ‘He’s always here, he’s helping out and eager to learn. Let’s start paying him.’ Either way I was already there, so getting paid wasn’t a bad thing.”
The shop’s owner became an early and significant mentor for Marino, one who gave him a full education in automotive technology before Marino even became a legal adult. This solidified his lifelong passion for the automotive field, a path that led him from high-performance technology and race-day pit crews to working on consumer automobiles, schools buses and even semi-trucks.
This journey came full-circle just over a year ago when Marino accepted a position as an automotive instructor at Florida Career College’s (FCC’s) Hialeah campus. It’s a turn he said he never would have expected, but one that’s proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
“There are moments when there are a lot of headaches,” Marino said. “But, then you get that one student with one accomplishment, and you realize it’s worth it. There’s such satisfaction in making a difference and helping change somebody’s life. That’s forever.”
Establishing an Automotive Career
Marino was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. He moved to Miami with his family when he was still just a kid, and that’s when he started growing an interest in cars and engines. When at 14, he started working at the high-performance shop, he said its owner became his best and most thorough instructor in everything automotive.
“The guy that trained me, he’s a really, really good technician,” Marino said. “He was in magazines and stuff like that. He pretty much taught me everything on how to work on and tune vehicles.”
Despite the thorough, real-world education, however, Marino realized that as he grew into a young adult, he’d need more than experience to get noticed in the world of high-performance vehicles and race cars. He needed a record that showed he received certified automotive training, so he entered an automotive technician program.
“Actually, I did it more to have that piece of paper saying that I went,” Marino said. “Pretty much everything that the teacher was explaining, I already knew it because I already had years of experience. It was more a review. So, I spent a lot of time just helping out the other students.”
Marino continued working in the high-performance automotive space into adulthood, building and tuning race cars for quarter-mile tracks and circuit races. He also regularly worked on race-day pit crews, which meant he spent a lot of time on the road.
This was ideal for him while he was single, he said, but once he became a family man with two little girls, he wanted to spend more time at home. That’s when he left the high-performance world to work within the more traditional, consumer- and corporate-based automotive technician world.
A Personal and Professional Mentor
Marino said he never actually pursued teaching as a career path. He was recruited by Florida Career College, he said, to teach part-time at the Hialeah campus while still working at an auto technician at a local car dealership.
As fate would have it, however, a full-time opportunity opened up and, by then, he had established a positive reputation throughout the Automotive Technician Program.
“I was teaching night classes at first, and when students heard about me and learned about my style and the way I do things, everyone wanted to transfer to nights because they wanted me as a teacher,” he said.
What attracts students to him, he believes, is that he shows respect for each and every student from day one. To him, every student is an automotive technician from the first moment they step foot in his classroom.
“I don’t talk to my students like they’re students at all,” he said. “I treat them like technicians. Everyone calls me by my first name, and in the classroom, I’m their manager. I’ll train you the proper way, and when you go through nine months with me, you’re going to know what’s going to be expected of you the first day you step into the shop.”
Marino also believes in creating strong relationships with his students by being accessible as a teacher and mentor. In some cases, these relationships last long after graduation.
“A lot of [former students], when they’re in the field and they have a problem, they call me,” he said. “They say, ‘Whenever you have a chance, I’m going to be diagnosing this or that. When you have time, maybe you can guide me through?’ And, if I have time, I’ll definitely help them.”
But, the very best part about his job, Marino said, is helping students realize their own value both as an automotive technician and as a person – especially those who have turned to education and technician training as a second chance it life.
“Even helping solve problems over the phone and hearing their satisfaction … it’s super rewarding,” he said. “A lot of them, they didn’t know they could do it. And, from now on, it’s just going to get better for them.”
“Marino is a natural leader. He is a doer, an Instructor with a willingness to see greatness in all his students,” said Charles Castillo, Executive Director at FCC Hialeah. “He is a humble person, a great man, and an amazing Instructor.”