With grown children and a 30-year work history, Jim Leach might be eyeing retirement plans. Instead the 48-year-old Hesperia resident is looking at a brand new career path.


"I've stopped everything in my life, and I put all my focus on this," Leach said.


That new focus began in January when he enrolled in the industrial technology program at San Joaquin Valley College in Hesperia. At SJVC, Leach has learned about programmable logic controllers, power transmission systems, fluid power systems, motor control and electric theory.


"We learn to operate, maintain and install. You name it, we do it," Leach said.


More than 30 years after dropping out of high school as a 10th grader to work in construction, Leach has a new appreciation for school.


"I love it now. You can't get me out of here."


Upon graduation, Leach will be a candidate for a variety of positions including hydraulic technician, production supervisor or maintenance technician.


"The job opportunities in this area are so broad," said SJVC campus director Melanie Blackwell. "We've grown so quickly all of our classes are full right now."


Besides industrial technology, SJVC has programs in other technical field, medical programs such as dental hygiene, physician assistant and veterinary technology, and business programs in health care administration, human resource administration and many others.


Leach's road to opportunity ironically began as another path ended. Three years ago, Leach was laid off from his county job as a heavy equipment operator.


"I didn't know what I was going to do."


So his 23-year-old son, who was attending Victor Valley College, led the way.


"He told me, 'If I can do it. You can do it,'" Leach said.


Leach visited the local campus on Mariposa Road and checked out financial aid opportunities. After enrolling, he started going to class in January for the first time since he was a teenager.


"I came to school scared to death."


Leach credits the staff with creating an compelling, inviting environment. Instead of struggling, he is thriving and has a 3.7 grade point average.


"This is by far the best school I've been around. People are so friend. I know everybody. It's a big family."


In fact, Leach is so excited to be back in school, that he can't get enough. When he's finished with his certificate program he hopes to work toward a bachelor's degree.


"I love being here more than home right now."