Paving the way to a big future
Nontraditional students find path to turn dreams of a better life into reality at Yakima Valley College
For 40 years, Roger Ackerman struggled with addiction. He recalls barely making it through high school, and since 2004 has been disabled.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to re-enter the workforce,” Ackerman said.
But in 2020 he found an opportunity to change the direction of his life at Yakima Valley College, where he enrolled first in Adult Basic Education classes before entering the Substance Use Disorder program to earn his associate degree.
He’s currently working as an intern for Apple Valley Counseling Services and in June 2022 will graduate from YVC.
“I’m now in a career that allows me to make an impact in other people’s lives — people who struggle with addiction like I did,” Ackerman said. “I really have a sense of purpose in life now. It just makes me want to cry.”
Ackerman is one of many nontraditional students who’ve come to Yakima Valley College to turn their dreams of a better life into reality.
Yesenia Rodriguez, director of YVC’s Workforce Education Division, noted that numerous programs are available to help community members prepare for high-demand, high-wage occupations.
“We serve community members with a diverse range of work and educational backgrounds,” Rodriguez said. “Whether we’re talking about veterans, individuals who’ve lost their job or are looking to change careers, and even people looking to enter the workforce for the first time — we want to help them get the education they need to achieve their dreams.”
“Finances were a challenge for me, but the staff at YVC helped me with my grant and scholarship applications. I’ve really felt that support and that’s helped me continue my education.” – Roger Ackerman
To do that, Rodriguez noted that YVC offers opportunities for students to work on short-term skills development or earn certificates and degrees, depending on their short- and long-term goals. Programs include classroom instruction and hands-on experience in campus labs as well as work-based learning opportunities.
YVC also offers significant financial assistance to nontraditional and underemployed or unemployed students.
Ackerman is one of those students. He has been awarded Worker Retraining special funding (which assist individuals who receive Washington State Unemployment Insurance benefits or who lost their job due to economic changes and need to change careers to re-enter the workforce). He also receives support through the Basic Food Employment and Training program (which offers educational and workforce training opportunities to students receiving Basic Food Assistance).
“Finances were a challenge for me, but the staff at YVC helped me with my grant and scholarship applications,” Ackerman said. “I’ve really felt that support from the staff and faculty and that’s helped me continue my education.”
“Whether we’re talking about veterans, individuals who’ve lost their job or are looking to change careers, and even people looking to enter the workforce for the first time — we want to help them get the education they need to achieve their dreams.” – Yesenia Rodriguez, Workforce Education Division director
More than 80% of YVC students receive grants, scholarships or other aid to help pay for college. In addition to the Worker Retraining and Basic Food Employment and Training programs, other funding opportunities for students pursing workforce education include:
- Early Achievers Grant for those employed by a childcare program participating in Washington’s Early Achievers program who want to earn an Early Childhood Education certificate or degree.
- Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) which pairs a professional or technical program with Adult Basic Education courses.
- Opportunity Grant assistance for low-income students enrolled in specific, high-demand career pathway programs (e.g., Agriculture, Business Technology, Early Childhood Education, Nursing, Allied Health and Business Technology).
- WorkFirst supporting students who are TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients.
“There’s a lot of financial support available to nontraditional students at YVC,” Rodriguez said. “Some of these programs help cover the cost of tuition, fees and books, while other programs can help people pay for childcare while they’re taking classes or provide extra educational advising and personal support.”
Former tugboat engineer Michael Schantz also found new career opportunities at YVC after an injury ended his career in the maritime industry.
“When I lost the ability to stay in the maritime field, after an initial adjustment period, I decided to work toward a dream I had always had, to become a nurse,” Schantz said. “I was compelled to attend Yakima Valley College due to the stellar reputation of the nursing program, the convenient location and affordability of tuition, and my ability to further my career while raising my children.”
Schantz, who has had a lifelong learning disability, also credited YVC’s Disability Support Services (DSS) program for providing additional support to help him succeed. After one of his instructors noticed his struggles on an exam, she referred Schantz.
“She encouraged me to go back to DSS and to get a few new accommodations she felt would benefit me on taking her and all future exams,” he said.
Schantz, who is now completely healed from his earlier injury, is on track to complete his nursing degree this June and is YVC’s 2022 nominee for Washington state’s Transforming Lives Award.
“I want to gain as much knowledge as I can to have a great career and to become a great nurse to serve my community.”