Maria had it all planned out – she would graduate from Cristo Rey High School, leave the Little Village neighborhood where she grew up, and get her bachelor’s degree in nursing at a four-year college.

“School has always been a priority for me – my parents always told me that in life, they can take everything from you, but they can’t take away what you’ve learned.”

She was on her way to reaching her goal when the university she was attending in Miami, Florida temporarily cancelled the nursing program due to staffing issues after her freshman year. Her mom suggested that instead of waiting around to see if classes would resume the next semester, she should come home to Chicago and take classes at a community college.

With her mom’s advice in mind, Maria enrolled at Malcolm X College. Knowing she would like to work in a hospital setting, Maria earned Basic Nursing Assistant and Patient Care Technician certifications while she worked toward her associate degree, allowing her to work in the field part-time as she studied. In fact, Maria was offered a permanent job at the rehabilitation facility where she completed her clinicals, and she plans to continue working part-time as she pursues her bachelor’s degree. She also volunteers at Rush University Medical Center to get additional experience.

The oldest of 3 children and the oldest of all her cousins, Maria knows she is setting a strong example for them to follow. Her younger brother, who currently attends Whitney Young High School and is interested in the STEM field, has seen the kinds of work she’s doing at MXC and is interested in starting his college career there, too.

Not the only City Colleges grad in the family, Maria’s mom got her associate degree at Daley College before Maria was born. They both wish that more people knew what a smart choice community college can be. Maria says, “I wish I would have started at Malcolm X from the beginning. My classes here were just as challenging, often even more so, than the classes I had taken at a four-year. And the teachers here are so accessible – they are passionate about what they teach and always willing to help. They connect with their students, share their own experiences, and are really inspiring!”

Now on her way to a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing at Resurrection University, Maria’s ultimate goal is to work in the intensive care or neonatal unit of a hospital, and eventually become a nurse practitioner.

Her advice for students just starting out at CCC is that “if you start off strong and stay focused, you will make it through all the hard classes. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”

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