Tarrant County College students break barriers in many ways. For some, it’s surmounting personal challenges; for others, it’s about overcoming society’s expectations. In this month’s “What’s stopping you?” feature, TCC talks to three women finding success in career fields dominated by men.

Mel Chaparro Santillan
Student, South Campus
Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Technology (HART)

TCC: What drew you to HART?

MCS: It’s something that I have always been around. My dad has worked in heating, ventilation and air conditioning as long as I can remember. My brother works with him and even my mom has worked in the field before. She’s one of two women I’ve known in the industry.

TCC: Did anyone discourage you from your career goal?

MCS: I’ve always had very positive reactions to my career choice. My family and friends have all been very supportive. My husband thinks it’s really cool. TCC encourages women in the program, and many of the professionals I’ve met encourage getting more women working in this field.

TCC: Do you see the industry evolving in that direction?

MCS: The industry is growing very quickly and the workforce is aging. It’s hard work, and you can only do it for so long before it wears you out. If more women don’t go into the field, it will be difficult to keep up with the growth.

TCC: Are there challenges you’ve experienced as a woman in this area of study?

MCS: In my classes, the guys seem a bit apprehensive or uncomfortable at first, but they get used to it. The more I open up and act normal, the more they relax. Sometimes it’s a bit physically demanding, but everything has its trick—and it helps that my dad is on the small side too, so he’s shown me how to work around that. Success comes down to knowledge and applying that knowledge, regardless of gender.

TCC: What general challenges did you overcome to get to where you are today?

MCS: I’m one of the first people in my family to finish high school, let alone go to college. That has its own set of challenges. My commute is tough; I live in Johnson County so it’s a bit of a drive. The out-of-county tuition rate and the cost for tools are not the easiest on the budget, but I think it’s worth the education and the opportunity TCC offers. I’ve also been working full time while going to school. I take my classes in the evening and don’t see my family at all during the week.

TCC: What advice do you have for students in a similar position?

MCS: You have to tell yourself that it is something that you want to do despite the hurdles and the way people will look at you. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile and maybe prove yourself more—but if you’re willing to put in the effort, gender becomes a trivial thing.


Mel Chaparro Santillan will graduate this spring with her Associate of Applied Science and two technical certificates. She plans to eventually get her contractor’s license and start her own residential installation business.

With more than 60 career technical education programs, TCC enables you to learn more to earn more. Career and technical education. Not Just Genuine… Texas Genuine. tccd.edu/careerpathways


This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas and Marine Creek Collegiate High School students.