When Zenia Rivera graduated from a private Orlando college with an associate degree in nuclear medicine technology in 2008, she figured landing a full-time job would be easy.
It wasn’t. Although the health-care field is growing, Zenia discovered that the Orlando area was already full of nuclear medicine technologists—and even though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts higher-than-normal job growth for workers in this field, Zenia couldn’t find any full-time jobs.
“There aren’t many positions and the people in this field tend to stay where they are,” she says. “They get a job and they stay there.” And with local colleges pumping out new graduates each year, Zenia found the region was saturated with nuclear medicine techs.
Unable to find a full-time job, she settled for a part-time job at a hospital in Lake County—which means a one-hour commute from her home in Deltona.
Frustrated—and worried about paying back her student loans—Zenia started investigating going back to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in radiography. When she learned that Valencia College had started a new bachelor’s degree program in Radiologic and Imaging Sciences, Zenia was thrilled. Although she could have attended the same private college where she earned her associate degree, she was already feeling overwhelmed by the student loans she’d taken out to pay for that.
At Valencia, however, the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree was significantly cheaper than at a private college.
She was also excited because Valencia’s classes were primarily online, allowing her to do her classwork and homework anytime—even if that was 2 a.m. For Zenia, who has a three-year-old daughter, “that flexibility is great.”
Although most of her contact with her professors was online, Zenia enjoyed their interaction. “The instructors are very knowledgeable,” she says. “They really help you out. They’re there to make sure you get through the program and they really care about our success. That’s super important, especially for working professionals—to know that the faculty will really work with you.”
Like many of her classmates, Zenia, now 32, worked while earning her bachelor’s degree. And Zenia, whose bachelor’s degree specialization was quality management, now hopes to find a job in the field. “I really like the whole quality aspect—making sure that everything is done in a certain way, making sure the machines are up to date and working properly and everything is done according to regulations,” she said.
Eager to be one of the first students to earn a bachelor’s degree from Valencia, Zenia took more courses than she might have in order to finish by May 2013.
“I could have graduated in the summer,” she says, “but I took as many classes as I could so I could be in that first graduating class.”
Now her mom, her brother, her husband and her daughter, Leilani, have a special celebration planned for graduation. The family—originally from Puerto Rico, but now living in Deltona—plans to stay in a hotel near Disney the night before graduation and then watch with pride as Zenia walks across the stage the next day.
“I’m extremely excited,” says Zenia. “And so is my family. They are so proud of me and they’ve been so supportive. They’ve helped me through this whole experience.”