Jessica Fernandez walks during NPCC commencement ceremonies in May. Fernandez graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Business Office Technology with a medical emphasis.
Jessica Fernandez doesn't know where she would be without the Bridge Grant Program at North Platte Community College - probably not reaching her full potential.
"I know I wouldn't be where I am right now, that's for sure," said Fernandez. "The support system that comes with the program is so amazing – I can't even explain it."
Fernandez moved to North Platte specifically to enroll in the Bridge Grant Program. She's originally from Fort Pierre, S.D.
Jessica Fernandez went
back to school to set an example for her three children. Pictured left to right
are Mia, Jace, Jessica and Alexa
Fernandez graduated from Stanley County High School in 1997 then attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D. for about a year and a half.
"I just took generals," said Fernandez. "I didn't really know what I wanted to study. I went to college because that was the thing to do."
A few relocations, a stint in cosmetology, a marriage and three kids later, Fernandez found herself in Alliance. She was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years – until 2014.
"My marriage fell apart, and I knew I needed to do something," said Fernandez. "That's when I started looking into schools to see what my options might be. I learned about the Bridge Grant Program through a post on Facebook."
Jessica Fernandez holds up the certificate she received for being inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa academic honor society in March. Making it into PTK was a personal goal for Fernandez.
The Bridge Grant Program targets non-traditional students, low-income individuals and GED recipients. The idea behind it is to prepare adults for entry or re-entry into the workforce by teaching them specific skill sets that improve their chances of obtaining employment or increasing wages.
"I thought the program sounded interesting and could be a good option for me," said Fernandez. "At the time I enrolled, in 2015, the program was offering training for a certificate in Business Office Technology with a medical emphasis. I've always had an interest in the medical field, so the Bridge Grant Program allowed me to pursue that."
The decision to go back to school wasn't just for her, however.
"I have three kids to set an example for," said Fernandez. "I tell them it's never too late to follow their dreams."
Jessica Fernandez was selected as NPCC's Business Student of the Month in November.
Once in the Bridge Grant Program, Fernandez fell in love with it. One of the biggest benefits is that the program allows students to transition into a college setting gradually. It begins with a summer class, during which students learn about expectations and form a support group with their peers.
"The other girls in my group were amazing," said Fernandez. "We were all there for each other. The support of coordinator Teresa Piccolo was fantastic as well. She always told us that we could do it. She gave us the confidence to believe in ourselves."
Among other things, Fernandez was required to attend study groups, job shadow and create a résumé, which she did not have prior to entering the program.
Jessica Fernandez receives a hug from NPCC business instructor Kathleen McCune during an Honors Convocation last spring. Fernandez went back to school after spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom.
"All of that was so helpful," said Fernandez. "If I had a question about an assignment, I could ask someone in the study group. Job shadowing was an eye-opener because I was able to really see myself in certain professions as opposed to others. Best of all, I realized I loved learning."
Soon, receiving a certificate wasn't enough. Fernandez wanted an associate degree.
A goal-setter by nature, she pushed herself to make the Dean's List. In November, Fernandez was named NPCC's Business Student of the Month, and in March, she was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa academic honor society.
"Even when I didn't have school, I was at the college all the time," said Fernandez. "I just enjoyed it so much. Most of my classes were online last spring, but I still went to the campus every day because I could."
Fernandez graduated from NPCC in May and now has her sights set on a bachelor's degree. She will transfer to Peru State College later this summer to pursue Business Administration.
Jessica Fernandez, far right, was one of several business students recognized at NPCC's Honors Convocation.
"With the credits I earned at MPCC and Northern, I only have three semesters left until I can receive a bachelor's degree," said Fernandez. "I definitely credit the Bridge Grant Program for bringing me so far. I may have continued schooling without it, but only a class here or there."
Once finished with college, Fernandez hopes to land a job in a hospital or clinic setting. She loves working with billing and insurance.
"Regardless of where I end up, the Bridge Grant Program has changed my life for the better," said Fernandez. "I don't have any regrets. Some days I think I could be working, but where would I be working? That's the question. If you have the chance to reach for the stars – why not take it?"
On a side note:
The 2017-18 Bridge Grant Program will allow students to earn a Medical Office Technology certificate in just 10 months.
The Medical Office Technology certificate provides the necessary entry-level requirements in business, office technology and interpersonal communication for a career as a medical office assistant.
Eligible participants may receive financial assistance with tuition, fees and books.
The deadline to apply is July 15. More information is available by contacting Teresa Piccolo at 535-3700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.