Angel Rivera was tired.
He was tired from having to support his younger siblings when his mom got sick, tired from breaking his back to earn minimum wage, and tired of feeling like a failure as a man, an adult and a role model.
As if piling onto this physical and emotional exhaustion, Angel said his greatest worry was he didn’t know how to change the direction of his life.
“I was just tired of the way I was living,” said Angel, 23, of Phoenix, Arizona. “I’m a very low-self-esteem person, but I’m working to slowly build everything back up. I’m the type where I’ll help somebody, I’ll boost them up, but I can’t do it for myself.”
That began to change when he first reached out to UEI College in Phoenix. Regret from not completing school always gnawed at him, so the knowledge that he could earn his high school diploma while also learning a valuable trade helped him overcome a critical mental hurdle.
Not only has he conquered that regret by enrolling in UEI College’s Dental Assistant Training Program, but he has since had perfect attendance while earning a spot on UEI’s honor roll. Angel is on track to graduate from the program this spring.
“When I first met Angel, I could see that he was ready for a big change and that he had the courage and commitment needed to make that change. I was so proud of him when he passed the assessment and enrolled in the Dental Assisting program. I could feel his energy changing and I just knew that his life was changing,” said Marcella Grassa, Assistant Director of Admissions.
Angel was 18, seemingly within steps of walking across the commencement stage to become the first of his siblings to graduate from high school, when his mom got sick.
“She couldn’t work, and my siblings couldn’t work because they were too young,” he said. “I had to put on my big boy shoes to help my family.”
This meant quitting school to dedicate more time to earning a more liveable wage. Angel began working various construction jobs when he was 13, so he was no stranger to responsibility. But, now he had two younger sisters (13 and 14) to support.
“It was like they were my kids,” he said. “When I was 18, I was putting clothes on their backs, making sure they had food and a home. I was always looking after them.”
He was also keenly aware that they had both started to look up to him as a role model. And, while his work ethic was good for them to see, he felt a lot of guilt for how they might view him educationally.
“It bugged me that I didn’t finish high school. It’s a big thing that made me feel like a failure,” Angel said. “I felt bad because I was a role model for my sisters, and I didn’t want them to think it was OK to quit school.”
Culture of Support at UEI
Needless to say, Angel felt a surge of relief upon getting accepted into UEI College in Phoenix. His desire to help people with their own self-confidence is what led him toward the Dental Assistant program.
His long-term goal is to work in the orthodontics field.
“A lot of people are embarrassed of their smile, and I want to help people like that,” Angel said. “I like helping people build up and be proud of themselves.”
On his way toward achieving this goal, Angel is grateful for the instruction and support he’s received from UEI faculty. Instructor Kathleen Borowski, he said, has been especially important in helping him stay motivated and positive.
“She’ll joke around with the students and stuff,” he said. “There’s no bad energy or bad vibes in her classroom. Everybody’s there to learn, and she makes sure we learn and that we’re not going to fail.”
“Angel is an ideal student. He fit right into the class day one and is a joy to be around,” Kathleen said.
His classmates have also played a key role in Angel’s success thus far.
“There was a point I was getting really overwhelmed and wanted to give up, and everyone kept pushing me and saying, ‘Keep going!’” he said. “I just need that extra push sometimes, and I really appreciate that.”
As for being a good role model for his younger sisters, Angel said his positive experiences with UEI — the value it’s added to his life both educationally and for his self-esteem — hasn’t gone unnoticed. One of his siblings is now considering UEI for herself, a move Angel will enthusiastically encourage.
“I definitely recommend seeking an education at UEI because a lot of people just wake up and do the same thing every day,” he said. “Maybe they dropped out [of high school]. They ask themselves, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I decided to do something with it. I decided I was tired of it. So I signed up at UEI.”
“Students like Angel are why we do what we do. I couldn’t be more proud of him and it gives all of us such as sense of satisfaction to see our students succeed,” said Christa Jones, Phoenix Campus President.