Altagracia Saint Hilaire typically won’t answer her phone when she doesn’t recognize the number. Too many scammers and telemarketers, she said, people she’d rather avoid as she goes about her day-to-day business.
So, she’s not exactly sure why she made an exception that one day back in September of 2019. Maybe it was simple curiosity or a brief moment of weakness. Whatever it was, she picked up and listened what the caller had to say.
Turns out, the call led her toward the opportunity she’d longed for since moving from the Dominican Republic to Florida at the age of 17: a chance to further her education in hopes of establishing a solid future for herself in the U.S.
The call she answered that day was from Florida Career College (FCC).
“When I received that call, it was like heaven to me,” Altagracia said. “After all this time, this call just pops up and tells me I can do something, I can study something … I can do something for my future. It was like a miracle.”
Since moving to the U.S. less than a decade ago, Altagracia said she continually encountered roadblocks when seeking to further her education. She had essentially given up. Yet, here was FCC was on the phone offering her the opportunity she’d long pursued.
And, it altered the course of her life for the better.
“Altagracia has the unique talent of absorbing everything around her,” said Pembroke Pines Executive Director Gregg Falcon. “Being a graduate of the Pembroke Pines campus and now as an employee, she is a role model for other students who want a better future for themselves and their families.”
Looking for Someone to Give Her a Chance
After the death of her father when she was 15, it took Altagracia two years to coordinate her move to the U.S. When she finally got to Florida, she immediately went to enroll at a local high school … and was denied.
Disappointed but undeterred, Altagracia went on to earn her high school equivalency diploma instead, a step she took with an eye on going to college to study accounting. Again, however, she was denied enrollment at her college of choice after two years of paperwork and effort.
The entire process was discouraging to Altagracia.
“I just basically gave up,” she said. “I’m over this. I’m not going to get into college, so I guess I’d better just focus on working.”
And, this is what she did … until she received that all-important call from FCC. Intrigued to learn more about the school and what FCC had to offer, Altagracia scheduled a Saturday visit to the Pembroke Pines campus.
“I always wanted to continue my education; I was just not able to do it,” she said. “With FCC, I’m never going to forget how it all happened.”
Altagracia began the Business Office Administration program in September 2019. Through her time at the school, she was a focused student who was all business during class. This was her chance to earn an education and train for a career, and she was going to take that effort seriously.
“I’m the kind of person who just goes to class,” Altagracia said. “I don’t like playing around the classroom or [anything]. I wasn’t looking to make friends even though I made great friends in the program. I know what I was in for, and that was to get my certificate.”
“It makes me proud to see Altagracia on campus in the capacity she is,” said Joel Nagelbush, a BOA instructors at the Pembroke Pines campus. “As part of our family at FCC, she utilizes the knowledge, skills, and abilities gained as my student. As a student, she managed all of the chaos from the pandemic, work, family, and her studies in a manner that set standards for her classmates.”
From Student to Professional
Altagracia’s approach to education and her focus on achievement must have left a lasting impression on the staff and faculty at FCC Pembroke Pines, she said. That’s because when the campus was looking for a part-time customer service coordinator, Altagracia was encouraged to apply.
“Other Business Office Administration students saw Altagracia as a mentor because she was very knowledgeable and always willing to assist others,” said Sarah Gooden, Operations Administrator at the campus. “Through her dedication to learning everything she could, Altagracia’s instructors were excited to have her in their classes. When we had an opening at the Pembroke Pines campus, I did not hesitate to recommend her for the position.”
Altagracia was ultimately hired and started working at the school last November. Less than two months later, she was promoted to the full-time position of Admissions Coordinator.
“From what they told me and what I provide for the school, I’m responsible, reliable, and I always try to do all the work that needs to be done in the right period of time,” she said. “I’m committed to my work and to helping the school, and I believe they see that in me.”
In her position at FCC, Altagracia says she helps coordinate enrollment for new students including contacts, follow-ups and reports. She also performs general administrative duties within the office.
“I really like my job and the people I work with,” she said. “It’s really been a good experience for me.”
“Altagracia is the perfect example of what a team player is and should be,” said Erica Bouldin, Registrar at the FCC Pembroke Pines campus. “She puts the students first by always thinking of how we can resolve challenges in order to give our students a better Florida Career College experience.”
Someday, Altagracia sees herself opening and managing her own business. Until then, she appreciates the opportunities she’s been given both educationally and professionally at Florida Career College. And, she looks forward to continuing to soak up the experience.
After all, she credits FCC for helping put her life back on course when it seemed like others were unwilling to give her the education and training she so badly wanted.
“I was never able to give up completely on becoming a professional,” Altagracia said. “I was excited because they gave me an opportunity to continue my education. Then I was a student and was going to get a job there? That would have sounded like something impossible back then.”