Some of 22-year-old Angel Garcia’s fondest childhood memories growing up often involved fixing things. He would tinker with gadgets, take toys apart and learn about their inner workings. “It’s like a puzzle – you have all these pieces, and you are not sure how they fit,” the Boston resident said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back and see it from a different perspective.”
Angel has not only applied this approach to repairing things but also to his own career journey. One piece at a time, he built a pathway to earn an associate degree in automotive technology and a bachelor’s degree in automotive management from Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT), a non-profit private college in Boston. Today, he works full-time for the City of Boston, maintaining its fleet of vehicles – from hybrid cars to large trucks.
At 21, when her son Elijah was born, Elisa Hornedo found herself at an important crossroads. “I wanted to do something for Elija’s life already and wanted to start a career fast,” she said. “I love school and wanted to get my bachelor’s degree, but I wanted to provide for him more quickly.” Then, her father Eddie, an optician for more than 25 years, learned of BFIT, the only college in Massachusetts to offer an associate degree program in opticianry. Suddenly, Elisa’s vision for career success came into focus – to become an optician like her father and join the fast growing optical industry. In less than two years, she earned her associate degree, graduating with honors and landed a job as a full-time optician.
Angel and Elisa are among a growing number of young Hispanics who have chosen college degrees aligned with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America estimates that in the next few years, Massachusetts will have 300,000 openings for jobs that require a STEM education.
Unfortunately, in spite of this opportunity, only 13 percent of all STEM jobs in the U.S. are held by Hispanics and African Americans combined, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.
Angel is now qualified for a management position. Nationally, jobs for automotive technicians are expected to grow 17 percent by 2020. Opticians are part optical technicians and part fashionistas. They dispense glasses and contact lenses, repair eye-wear, fit patients with eyewear and select the right type for their eyes and lifestyle. They can work in optical chains as well as in hospitals and medical practices that offer optometry services as well. In Massachusetts, a licensed optician’s starting salary is around $50,000 per year.
“If you study hard and get a degree, you will be able to jump in this career immediately,” Elisa said. “I’m helping people. I have patient appointments. I’m fitting glasses and contacts, and earning a good paycheck. I’m so happy I made this decision.”
BFIT’s student population is approximately 70 percent minority with Hispanics comprising around 40 percent of the student body. The college is one of the most affordable private colleges in Boston, and it has not raised tuition in the past 4 years. It awards more than $2 million a year in student scholarships.
“There are tremendous opportunities for your Hispanics and other minorities in STEM fields where we see continued growth of jobs and salaries,” BFIT president Anthony Benoit said. “We are committed to making a college education affordable and accessible for our community.”
To boost student learning, retention and graduation, BFIT was recently awarded a five-year $2.2 million Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education to enhance the college’s student services system. The Title III project, entitled Systems for Student Success: A Pathway to Retention and Completion, is designed to improve outcomes for over 1,500 first-year students, helping them to achieve their academic and career goals. The project will expand BFIT’s use of “learning communities,” an educational model that integrates students’ academic and career interests with a network of support involving faculty, staff and peers. Program-specific learning communities will incorporate events, group activities and social media to build and maintain connections among community members.
Did you know?
BFIT owes its existence to Benjamin Franklin. The college was founded directly from Franklin’s bequest of £1,000 in 1789 to “the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston,” believing that “good apprentices are likely to make good citizens.” Franklin’s legacy thrives at BFIT where generations of technicians have received their education.