As a single mother, Dela Prado spent many years working dead-end jobs and struggling to pay her bills, but when she enrolled in the Medical Assistant program at UEI College in Stockton, she felt a renewed commitment to changing her life as well as her personal income.
“I used to work in a gas station part-time, and I wasn’t able to pay my bills,” she said. “It had been like that for a long time — not being in a position to give my kids what they need. Even after getting my high school diploma at age 40, I was stuck in a rut. Nothing changed for me. I was still working in customer service, retail and never advancing. If I did advance, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for growth.”
Dela had experience working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), but her training did not transfer when she moved to California. She was eager to get back into the medical field and was hopeful that UEI would help her get there quickly.
“I love helping people,” she said. “I’ve always had a strong desire to help people in need. Working in retail, I could do that a little bit with my customer service, interaction and getting the satisfaction of helping people but it is different in the medical field. You’re literally responsible for someone’s health and these people are coming to you to get the help they need to get better or change their health. I love to be a positive person and help in that role and work right alongside doctors.”
Acting on faith, she enrolled.
“When I first came here, I was scared,” she said. “I was starting something new. I was worried about money. I was worried that my kids were going to suffer even more. I was worried I wouldn’t make the grade.”
Dela did make the grade. At the end of her first course, she was on the honor roll with a nearly perfect GPA.
“If you don’t want to change your life, you’re not going to,” she said. “I really wanted to. The instructors here were open. If I had an issue, I could talk to anyone here and they would talk to me.”
The instructors and staff at the school noticed Dela’s persistence. They invited her to apply for the Federal Work-Study program that allows students to work at the school. She applied but was denied at first. Regardless, she sent a thank-you note to the director of the program and a week later, they asked her if she was still interested.
Dela was placed in the Career Services department. She organized the department’s files and jumped in to help in any other area she could.
“I’m a people person,” she said. “I like to do all kinds of things. A month in, my supervisor said if I was interested in really working there, he would love to hire me. I laughed it off because I thought it was a joke, but he said it a few more times and I finally asked, ‘Are you serious?’ ”
He was serious, but the department had never hired a current student before. They sought approval from the corporate office and Dela was offered the job on a part-time basis to allow her to continue her education.
“She goes above and beyond to make sure everyone here is taken care of in the department,” said Maria Thompson, senior career services specialist. “Once we were able to bring her on, she actually helped a lot of things because she was an extern and an employee at the same time, so she helped us connect with the students as well as was just a familiar face in the classes, so she united the Medical Assistant program to Career Services. She is funny and very caring. She is very family-oriented, really caring and passionate. She is the best.”
Despite working at the school 35 hours each week, Dela stuck with her classes. She completed her externship at an urgent care that offered weekend hours. At the end of her externship, she was hired on — and was also promoted to full-time at UEI.
“I feel like it’s a dream,” she said. “I love my coworkers. I love the students. I have a personal connection with them, and they know that. I’m one of them. When they see me and talk to me, I give them hope. They see what I have done and what has happened for me, and it puts things in perspective for them and helps them see they can have everything too.”
Now, a year after enrollment, Dela is a proud employee and graduate of UEI.
“Everyone who comes through the door on a tour, I tell my story to them,” she said. “Every chance I get, no matter what program they are interested in, I tell them where I started and where I am at. The sky is the limit for them too. If they were to come here, it would change their whole outlook. I am very grateful that I chose to come here. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that UEI has given me.”
The biggest gift, Dela said, has not only been helping students but also providing a new future for her kids.
“Before, I was depressed, worried about everything all the time,” she said. “I still have worries — I’m that kind of person, but my life has changed so tremendously. I can pay my rent. I can actually buy things because I want to. I know that doesn’t sound like much to some people but it’s really a big deal to me.”