Westchester Community College
Country of origin: Cuba
“I’m very grateful for the ESL program at Westchester Community College,” says Fidel Gonzalez Safora, who came to the United States from Cuba in the spring of 2013. Despite having recently earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from his home country, the only job Fidel could find here was in the meatpacking department of a local supermarket. His lack of English language skills and lack of U.S. job experience were significant barriers holding him back.
Fidel’s wife, a U.S.-born Cuban American who is a dance instructor at WCC, told him about the college’s English Language Institute. He signed up for ESL courses immediately, qualifying for both the highest-level noncredit ESL course and the credit ESL course- Introduction to Academic Writing. “I was speaking English every day, every morning and interacting with students from all over the world—China, Slovakia—it was really amazing.” At the same time, his ESL instructors and classes proved instrumental in helping him adjust to American society. Classroom discussions ranged from preparing for winter and understanding American holidays to politics and American attitudes toward immigrants.
But ESL was only the beginning. Thanks to the sharp eyes of his academic advisor who saw he might qualify for the college’s computer program, Fidel enrolled in WCC’s Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) certificate program, taking both CAD and Introduction to Technology courses while also enrolled in the ESL courses. “I was taking a total of five courses and working 28 to 30 hours a week in the supermarket—I never saw my wife!” he remarked. Nonetheless, his hard work and perseverance have paid off. He earned his CAD certificate in 2014, and landed a job in a small construction management firm, where he started as an Intern and has been promoted to Project Manager.
“My advisor asked me questions about my interests, kept me posted on job and internship opportunities, and made sure I was following up on the possible opportunities,” he said. His advice to immigrant students: “Try to stand out in your classes—I got my job because I was recommended by one of my CAD professors—and try to learn American culture by reading novels, newspapers, watching TV, and understanding the pop culture. My wife and I watch Jeopardy.”
He is now studying for a Master’s degree at The City College of New York in civil engineering, where he plans on graduating in 2017. The education received at WCC has provided him with key tools for his success in his job and his studies at City College. In an update of his situation he said: “I’ve taken with me a piece of every school I’ve attended, and WCC has a special place in my education since it opened the doors to my professional career in the U.S.”