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January 31, 2023

Building a career

WATSONVILLE —  At Cabrillo College, budding architects are gaining experience where many of their peers in the same major do not: by helping to build the homes they design.

That happens in the college’s Engineering Technology (Etech) program, in which students get hands-on experience in every state of homebuilding, from design to permitting to building under the direction of professional contractors.

Through the program, the students gain real-world experience in the construction industry after helping a professional draw up plans, said Dean Career Technical Education and Workforce Development Gerlinde Brady.

“Through this program, these students have built real homes for local families while gaining skills that will bring positive impact to their lives and their communities,” Brady said.

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One of Etech’s projects as it neared completion. — contributed

One house recently built is in Rio Del Mar, and two are in Marina, where lots are roughly half the price of Santa Cruz County, said Etech instructor Gary Marcoccia.

Since 2011 students from the program have drawn plans and assisted with the construction of numerous projects such as red-tagged exterior stairways, tiny homes and out buildings.

Etech’s participation in these projects was free of charge and did not utilize any college funds, said Cabrillo spokeswoman Kristen Fabos.

The students provided all services free of charge to the homeowners.

Architect and Etech instructor Dennis Diego said the college’s participation in the program can save homeowners as much as $30,000 by allowing students to draw their designs and land development plans.

During the spring semester the students perform such tasks as hanging drywall and installing plumbing pipes, which is unusual in a field that traditionally focuses on classroom work and theory.

“Most architecture graduates have never swung a hammer,” Diego said. “We bring real-world experience.”

Better still, the students use software that calculates the energy consumption for every digitally produced design, giving homeowners an idea of their energy bills before the house is built, Fabos said.

That helps bring the college in line with Net Zero 2020, state regulations that require all new residential construction to generate at least as much energy as they use, said Bill Fisher, Cabrillo Etech instructor and licensed architect.

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Etech student Logan Rummel perfects a home design in Etech’s state-of-the-art lab. — contributed

“As Etech faculty, we teach current, relevant skills, so over the past few years we’ve incorporated the concepts from the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan into our curriculum,” Fisher said.

The software also creates photo-realistic renderings and animated walkthroughs of the proposed design so that the homeowner has no surprises once construction begins.

“Through my incredibly enriching experience as a student in the Etech program, one of the many things that I discovered is that the housing crisis presents an opportunity for architects to fortify the community with a wide range of innovative solutions,” said recent Cabrillo Etech graduate Jason Matthews.


Cabrillo College Etech courses meet at 6 p.m. one night per week, and the Fall 2019 schedule has five courses to choose from — all of which require no prior experience. The Etech program also offers free workshops to refresh computing skills. For information, visit or call 479-5705.


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