Laid-Off Worker Turns Misfortune Into Opportunity, Earns Degree

In the late 1990s, Nathan Maurer was working in the clean room at Lucent Technologies, making microchips—a job that ignited his passion for electronics and engineering.

But just as Nathan was hitting his stride at work—buying a house and beginning to take college classes in electronics—the realities of the global economy crash-landed on his doorstep.

Lucent Technologies was sold to another company and, then, in 2005, the Orlando plant closed down. The 1,600 jobs, making microchips, were sent overseas. And Nathan Maurer found himself with a home, a mortgage and no job.

Quickly, he scrambled to find a job and landed one working for a landscaping company, then working the night shift at Walmart. Meanwhile, he returned to Valencia, where he had taken a few classes earlier in his career. Here, he began ramping up his efforts to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree in Electronics Engineering Technology.  

Life, however, moved on while Nathan was in college. He got married. When his wife, a legal secretary, had their first child, Nathan continued to go to college, but became a stay-at-home dad instead of putting the baby in day-care. To help pay the bills, he began working as an online tutor.

After earning his A.A.S., he tried to find a job in his field, but with the recession gripping the nation, he couldn’t find anything. So Nathan signed up for Valencia’s new bachelor’s degree program in Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology. “When it started, I wasn’t sure what the coursework would be like,” he says. “But as the program started, I became more interested in electronics and engineering. And I was impressed by the level that they were teaching—especially since this was the first time for all these courses.”

Having taken classes at UCF, where many of the classes contained hundreds of students, Nathan was thrilled to find himself in classes with less than 20 students.

“At Valencia, if you need help at any point, you can sit down with that instructor and get help,” Nathan says. “At UCF, there is not one-on-one at any point.”

Now, at age 37, Nathan Maurer is proud to be in the first class of bachelor’s degree graduates from Valencia College. His wife, and three children, ages 9, 7 and 10 months, will be in the audience—and his mom, who lives in Michigan, will be watching the commencement on her computer, by live-streaming video.

After graduation day, Nathan wants to land an internship in the field—and then a job.

“My long-term goal,” he says, “is a permanent position with a power generation unit.”

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