By the age of 19, Brianna Serrano had already been through a lifetime of struggles that included two bouts with homelessness and often caring for sick or struggling family members.
As an early teen, Brianna moved with her mom to Missouri, where they spent time living in a homeless shelter while she attended middle school. As she got a little older, Brianna helped out with a nephew who had ADHD and autism and, based on that experience, eventually started making money as a caregiver in an elderly care facility.
Through that job, she helped her family raise enough money to move back to California, where she continued stepping up for her family. While still trying to get through school, Brianna began caring for her grandma and an uncle, and then helped out her mom when the entire family was struck with COVID.
All the while, Brianna and her family continued to struggle consistently keeping a roof over their heads.
“I was homeless when I was trying to go to school,” Brianna said. “And, my senior year, I couldn’t go to school because I had to help my family out.”
While a year later than most, however, Brianna circled back to complete high school during the 2000-01 school year at Back Bay & Monte Vista High Schools in Costa Mesa. During that year, she was able to make up the classes she’d previously missed while completing the credits she needed to graduate.
Now that she was making headway, she was eager to keep her educational momentum going. Four months before completing high school, she began inquiring about enrollment into the Garden Grove Medical Assistant Program with UEI College, at which she’s currently a student.
This drive to better herself, her education and her future caught the attention of her high school counselors, who led the way toward her becoming one of 10 high school graduate recipients of the annual “Accepting the Change of Excellence” scholarships from the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor.
The scholarship of $3,000 will help Brianna defray the cost of furthering her education and her Medical Assistant career training at UEI College in Garden Grove.
“I didn’t know how to feel, I guess,” Brianna said of winning the scholarship. “I was really happy, of course. I just didn’t think that stuff could happen to me.”
Excited to Start a Future in Caregiving
Brianna said that over the years, she developed a love of caring for people in need of a helping hand. From her family members to those within the home health and elderly care facility at which she worked, Brianna knew from experience that she wanted to train for a healthcare career.
So, about four month from her high school graduation date, she and her brother dropped into UEI College’s Garden Grove campus on a whim. They saw the campus while driving by, and they decided to stop and see what they had to offer.
Originally interested in phlebotomy, Brianna said the Medical Assistant program intrigued her, as did the hands-on nature of the training. So, she signed up and began taking classes in March.
“I was really excited to start my future there,” Brianna said. “I was really fun for me.”
Brianna’s drive to success beyond high school caught the attention of one of her high school counselors, who was familiar with the Accepting the Challenge of Excellence Scholarships from the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor (ECNH), a service organization that has served the Newport Beach community for more than 90 years.
Each year, the ECNH gives out $63,000 in scholarships to students in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District who have “overcome some adversity during their lives, have strived to graduate, and have plans on furthering their education.”
For her part, Brianna said she contributed to the scholarship process by sharing aspects of her life with the service club.
“I think they really liked my story that I wrote where I talked about homelessness, taking care of my family, and so on,” she said. “I guess you could say all that make me stronger and make me into the person I am today.”
Finding Support at UEI College
Brianna said the faculty at UE College have helped make this next phase of her educational journey a satisfying one for both her and her older brother, who also registered into the program. Her Medical Assistant instructor, Joseph Alvarez, for instance, is always checking in on the siblings to ensure nothing’s standing in the way of their success.
“Mr. A is always checking up on me and my brother,” she said. “Every time we have trouble with our work, he’s there to help us. He makes the class really fun, and we like that a lot.”
Brianna added that other faculty, such as Tinamarie DeLeon in Admissions, were quick to congratulate her after it was announced she’d won the scholarship. This is a level of support she’s appreciated since enrolling at UEI College and which she said will continue to help her as she continues through the program toward externship and graduation.
Once that happens, she looks forward to earning valuable experience as a Medical Assistant for a couple of years before returning back to school, where she plans to become a registered nurse.
“Brianna is a wonderful student to have here on campus,” said Peggy Stedman, Student Services Coordinator at UEI College in Garden Grove. “She brings a confident attitude to the table that tends to motivate others around her to be surer of themselves. She is one of my most active ambassadors always willing to lend a hand and help guide others to be their best. She sets the bar high but never looks down; rather, she lifts those around her up. UEI Garden Grove is lucky to have Brianna.”