Valentin Correa was not old enough to remember when his father decided to move from Washington state to Northwest Arkansas.
Nevertheless, today he is thankful.
Correa does remember his brother helping him look for a place to further his education, eventually deciding on Northwest Technical Institute.
Today, he is thankful.
Despite Covid hitting soon before his classes began at NWTI, Correa earned a diploma from Automotive Services Technology and learned what he needed to enter the workforce.
Today, he is thankful.
Raising his children – a son and daughter — as a single parent and working in the automotive industry with skills learned at NWTI, well, needless to say, Correa is very thankful.
Correa’s father and uncle drove through Northwest Arkansas in the late 1990’s and simply loved the area and its scenery. They left their jobs harvesting everything from cherries, apples, grapes and more, and promptly moved to the area. A young Correa, only about 2 at the time, was in tow when his family arrived in the Natural State in 1998.
Correa would end up graduating from Rogers’ Heritage High School in 2014.
The third of four sons, Valentin Correa was working in the food industry soon after getting out of high school, but years later he decided he wanted to further his education. One brother helped him look up possibilities, including NWTI in Springdale and Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri.
“This place (NWTI) stuck out to me so much because it was really close to home and super affordable,” Correa said. “I got to meet some of the instructors and actually recognized Mr. Willaby from Nunnally Chevrolet where I’d been a detailer. So, I turned in my application and didn’t get so lucky. The following year, I put it in again. I was at work when I got a phone call and they said, ‘Hey, congratulations. You’ve been chosen to be a part of the NWTI school year.’ I didn’t know how to feel. I was beyond happy.”
Correa dove into the Automotive Services Technology program.
“I always liked cars since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’d see a Camaro or a Mustang and say, ‘Hey, look at that!’ Everybody would say, ‘Hey, dude, it’s just a car.’ They just didn’t get it.”
Correa got it and graduated the following June (2021) at NWTI.
“The beginning of the year it was a little bit hard to get accustomed to because of the Covid situation,” he said. “The class was split up. It was a class of 20 and they split us up 10-10. Once we were joined and had full weeks of class time and shop time, it was awesome.
“The amount of experience I got will stay with me. The connections I made with my classmates and all of the teachers were really special. We had a really good bond.”
Today, Correa works at Big O Tires in Bentonville. Store Manager Moses Ramirez said he couldn’t be happier with Correa.
“He is great,” Ramirez said. “He’s willing to learn, has a great attitude and a great work ethic. I’ve probably hired four people recently and he is the best person I’ve hired. He’s just awesome.”
Correa said he applies lessons he learned while at NWTI every day in his work.
Mr. Willaby, Mr. Lindsey, basically all of them because they all taught me valuable stuff and stuff that I really, really wanted to know,” Correa said. “My favorite class Mr. Plumlee’s engine rebuild. We had to tear down and rebuild some engines. My class partner and I got an engine that was like 50,000 miles over getting an oil change. It was nasty, really gunky. It was fun though. I’m the kind of guy that really likes a challenge and that was definitely a challenge.”
Correa seizes any opportunity that comes forth to promote NWTI.
“Whenever I come into contact with other people and they ask what I did for school, I’ll tell them about NWTI and that there’s so many different areas,” Correa said. “If you want to do computers, nursing, welding, diesel; there’s something for everyone. One of my cousins is going to start in January in IT.”
Growing up, Correa has seen Northwest Arkansas grow immensely. He plans to grow with it.
“To see this place grow from what it was to what it is now, it’s crazy,” Correa said.
Beginning the week of Nov. 22, 2021, Correa’s former NWTI classmate and good friend, Felipe Aguirre, will be joining him as an employee of Big O Tires.
In fact, the Automotive Class Correa studied with at NWTI has its own chat group on social media as many remain close today.