California State University, Long Beach
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A Steady Climb For Vaca

Published: August 22, 2016

Al Vaca
Al Vaca

Next time you take a drink of cold water from a campus fountain or wash your hands and the sink smoothly drains, you can thank CSULB’s plumbing department in Physical Planning and Facilities Management (PPFM).

Headed by longtime campus member and newly selected plumbing supervisor Al Vaca, the department takes great pride in being a key component of campus life.

“The university is a city within a city,” he said. “If the plumbing didn’t work on campus, it would be a nightmare. The plumbing shop deals mostly in protecting the health and safety of our campus population—clean drinking water, fire suppression systems and making sure all drains are working, both sewage and storm.”

When Vaca joined the CSULB family in 1988 at the age of 19 as a custodian, he launched a steady decades’ long journey that led him to his current position. During that time, he also managed to complete an associate’s degree in plumbing from Los Angeles Trade Technical College in 2014 and now has his sights on earning a bachelor’s degree at CSULB.

“Every position I have held has led up to this,” said Vaca, who noted it was as a campus mover that he sharpened his indispensable people skills through his daily interactions across campus. “I’m honored to be named plumbing shop supervisor. The amount of support I’ve received from everyone has been overwhelming and means everything to me. I want to make the university proud of this shop. I want people to say ‘We chose the right guy for the job’ when they think of the plumbing shop.”

He thanks his wife Kim and daughter Ravin, a student and staff member at CSULB, for their support as he worked his regular job, attended classes and studied late into the night.

“It meant giving up a lot of family time but my wife and daughter understood and supported me, knowing I was trying to improve myself to better care for my family,” he said. “I want to continue to advance. You can never stop learning and should always seek out ways to better yourself.”

He earned praise from Paul Wingco, manager of Energy, Utilities and Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Services for PPFM.

“Al challenged himself to do better and he worked hard for it,” said Wingco. “Every bit of experience and knowledge that he picked up along the way will serve him and the campus well in his new role as plumbing supervisor.”

Vaca prides himself with keeping current, a major reason for his professional success. When he joined the plumbing shop in 1999, it did not deal with technology whatsoever. Instead, plumbers used walkie-talkies and printed work orders, which are now paperless and sent electronically. Plumbing fixtures now have sensors and many problems can be solved troubleshooting via the internet.

“Technology has come a long way and it continues to play a role in plumbing,” said Vaca. “Who would have thought computers would play a role in plumbing? Yet, here we are.”

By working behind the scenes, members of the plumbing shop and facilities management strive to provide a better life on campus by keeping things running smoothly.

“Our goal is that all lab sinks, faucets, safety showers and restrooms will be in working order and without issue,” said Vaca. “It’s up to the plumbing shop as a whole to make certain that every building’s plumbing is working efficiently so that the rest of the campus community may proceed with their jobs as well. There is so much that plays into plumbing that people never think about. Above all, we want to have the least amount of impact on students and employees.”

Vaca points with pride to the shop’s current installation of hydration stations around campus, something he believes makes things better for the CSULB community.

“Hydration stations are set up with the intent to promote reduction of disposable water bottles by allowing students cold, purified water, not only from the fountain, but from a convenient dispenser for reusable water bottles,” he said. “It’s a small way of going green while also promoting good health and environmental preservation.”

Being a part of such a diverse community takes more than just a keen eye for plumbing and fire sprinkler safety. Vaca believes working for the university is accompanied by a sense of community and togetherness that goes beyond PPFM and is crowned each year by commencement ceremonies.

“With the start of every new semester, it is easy to tell just who the new students are,” he said. “By the time they reach their senior year, you have gotten to know them because they see us around campus daily. They tell me they are going to graduate. It’s a great feeling knowing I had a small part in that, just by helping them at the start of their journey.”