In the midst of life's whirlwind, there stands Jessie Rizo, a woman juggling the roles of a single mother of four, a dedicated Aims Community College student, and a hard-working caregiver at a senior living community
Jessie Rizo Manages Family, Work and Classes at Aims
With so much on her plate, she maintains a 4.0 grade point average. “I do full-time classes and I’m working full-time and handling my kids, so that was a big accomplishment,” she said. Jessie admits that it is “pretty challenging,” and yet she says, “It’s doable and I'm doing it.”
Due to her high grades, Jessie was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. “I'm really proud of that because that just shows that I worked hard,” she said.
This leg of her journey of educational excellence began when she decided to go back to school last year. The Finish What You Started program at Aims provided Jessie with scholarship funds and additional resources to once again embark on an academic path in pursuit of her goals.
Returning to Aims and Finding Support
Jessie came back to Aims after an eight-year absence from pursuing higher education. She saw this as a fresh start and a second chance. “I'm grateful to be able to do that,” she said.
She initially began at Aims to study criminal justice. In 2015, she decided this path “wasn't something I was interested in doing anymore.” Jessie admits, "my grades were not the best because I wasn't focused on school back then.” Another reason for not completing school at that time was that she was pregnant and needed to focus on her growing family.
When Jessie came back to Aims, she found a nurturing and encouraging environment. “It was a really easy adjustment and everybody was super welcoming,” she said. This environment fueled Jessie’s success, knowing she was not alone and all Aims faculty and staff were in her corner.
This sentiment extends into Aims classrooms. Jessie said, "Instructors are all knowledgeable and have worked in other positions before being professors; that's helpful too.” One Aims faculty member who inspired Jessie was Jennifer Markiewicz, who teaches business classes. She's willing to pour her knowledge out to everybody in different ways, and she's very approachable.”
Jessie has found the study of economics challenging, but professor Moumita Roy has been essential in helping her comprehend the complex topic. “She's excellent and explains things well, Jessie said. As a teacher, she “does a good job making sure everybody understands and engages.
“The atmosphere at Aims just made me feel like I could do it.”
Jessie attributes part of her success this time to taking part in the Finish What You Started (FWYS) program at Aims. FWYS is a statewide program to encourage people who completed some college to return to school to get a degree. Students in FWYS receive up to $3,000 in scholarships and other financial aid programs. Aims also provides support services to remove the barriers to success. This includes 1-1 success coaching, leadership development, career transition support and more.
The state of Colorado developed the FWYS program for people like Jessie, who want to return to college but need more resources. There are about 650,000 people in Colorado with some college credits and no degree. Many adults return to college to continue developing skills or making a career shift. At Aims, approximately 35 percent of students are over the age of 21. Having classmates of various ages helped Jessie feel more comfortable on campus. “There's a lot of people that are non-traditional students like me.”
Gabriela Sanchez is a program coordinator with FWYS at Aims. Jessie is thankful to have her as a success coach, mentor and advocate. “Gabriela is really encouraging. She checks in and will call me if she hears I might be struggling.” Jessie says that The Finish What You Started program “offers so much support, and I'm just grateful to be a part of it.” She sees more benefits to being a part of FWYS, including extra reinforcement and directing her to resources such as tutoring and counseling. This support network keeps Jessie focused on graduating and moving ahead to fulfill her career aspirations.
On May 30, Jessie began working more closely with FWYS as she began work as a peer mentor. “I love working as a peer coach for the FWYS program being able to work directly with the people who believe so hard in me is very enriching. I’m excited to be that same encouragement for others in the program.”
Acquiring the Tools for Her Dream Job
Jessie is now ready to reach her goals. “My vision for the future is to be an executive director of a senior care facility.” Her career aspiration takes both medical knowledge and business acumen. Jessie is acquiring this diverse skill set at Aims.
She believes that her work experience in healthcare will also help because she can see how facilities like this run from various perspectives. Jessie hopes that in a leadership job, she can be more relatable to employees “since I'll have been in their position before.”
She plans to graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Business Management in the spring of 2024. “I want to understand the business and marketing side of the office.” Jessie wants to return in the fall of 2024 to begin working on a nursing degree to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Most facilities require that for those in administrative positions. Combining both academic paths will push her toward her ultimate career goal.
“Perseverance takes effort and ensures you do whatever it takes to make sure that you accomplish your goals.”
Jessie is gracefully balancing the demands of work, education, and parenting. She is a testament to the power of perseverance and a shining example for others who find themselves in similar circumstances. Going back to college isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
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