Image in modal.

In San Bernardino County, Calif., lies a town of 40,000 people called Adelanto. The name in Spanish means “to advance or to progress.”

Among those 40,000 people living in Adelanto is Angelica Decasas, a California native who grew up 40 miles south in Fontana where, in 2001, she graduated from A.B Miller High School.

And in the two decades since finishing high school, she has made it her personal mission in life to advance and to progress.

Decasas has two associate degrees, a certificate, and a bachelor's degree and now has added a Bachelor of Science in HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration) from Ferris State University as the latest milestone in what has been an ambitious educational journey.

Though Adelanto and Big Rapids, Mich., are some 2,157 miles apart, Decasas knew that she didn't have to let that distance get in the way of her becoming a Bulldog.

Ferris State is one of only two institutions in the United States to offer a Bachelor of Science in HVACR. In keeping with the philosophy of the university, the HVACR degrees provide a balance of theory and application. This includes a solid foundation grounded in the principles of HVACR combined with extensive laboratory experience.

All of that, Decasas said, drew her in. And in April 2024, she made her second trip from California to Michigan. The first was in the summer of 2022 to do the required in-person labs for her program. Then, most recently, she walked in the Ferris State graduation ceremony, proudly sporting a mortarboard affixed with pictures of her two children, Xavier and Ximena, and a phrase in Spanish translated to "I worked hard for you and for you."

"I’m a single mom of two," she said. "I have a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. My kids were my inspiration to keep going because I wanted to give them a better future."

Angelica Decasas' Kids.

THE BIG PAYOFF: On the day of her graduation, Angelica Decasas’ cap, translated from Spanish, said, “"I worked hard for you and for you." (Courtesy of Ferris State University)

Decasas said she first heard about the Ferris State program from a co-worker who was doing the same HVAC program that she was in at San Bernardino Valley College.

She was impressed to learn that Ferris State is one of only two institutions in the United States to offer a Bachelor of Science in HVACR. And she liked that the program balanced theory and application. Ferris State also does not charge more for out-of-state students.

"I had a job as a CAD drafter at a refrigeration company," she recalled. "This company encouraged me to return to school and learn more about refrigeration systems. I then enrolled (at the community college) in 2013 and got my certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning and associate in science in 2020. When I heard about the Ferris State program, it just felt right."

In the fall of 2020, she started at Ferris State, driven by the opportunity to become an application engineer at her current place of employment, Arctic Cooling Systems.

"This degree would let me provide a better life for my two kids," she said. "And you don't hear of universities offering HVACR degrees higher than an associate or certification. The Ferris program also met my need to do things on my own time so I could still work full-time and give my kids their time, too."

In total, Decasas took 12 classes at Ferris State, 11 on the HVAC side and also a technical English class.

There were times, she admitted, when it was a grind.

"Online classes require a lot of self-discipline and commitment," she said. "It was very hard when everyone around me was out having family BBQ events and celebrating holidays, and I needed to be doing homework."

Still, she persisted, and she said the Ferris State approach played a big part in her success.

"The HVAC online program is very well laid out," she said. "I also feel that the campus visit did help tie things together."

Her professors were also a big help, she added. All were great, but she had a special fondness for "Professor Zentz and Professor Q" (Professors Douglas Zents and Eric Quilitzsch). She said her favorite classes were also the two hardest classes she took at Ferris State: HVAC 462 Primary Equipment Selection and HVAC 499 Commercial HVAC System Design.

As she looks ahead to a cooler future, she also has been reflecting on the completion of a long educational journey.

"On graduation day, I was happy, excited, sad, and also relieved because it took a long time," she said with a smile.