From Basic Studies to bachelor's degree

  • Published Thursday, May 31, 2018

Jose May sat in the audience at his daughter’s school, listening to parents at Career Day telling their stories. Every speaker talked about how they graduated from high school, enjoyed dorm life, and went on to fulfilling jobs.

When it was his turn, Jose had a different story to tell. 

“That was not my college experience. RTC was my school,” Jose told the kids. “But I can tell you what I’ve learned. There’s nothing keeping you from what you want to do in life. You can work toward your goals.”

Now a successful network engineer, Jose knows not everyone takes a direct path to college. He came to the United States from Mexico at 15 and went to work right away to earn money for his mom’s medical care. He worked hard – landscaping, cooking – but he never went to school. In his early 20s, with a wife, a young daughter, and a low-paying job in a kitchen, he knew it was time to reach his potential. He walked into the doors of Renton Technical College and immediately felt welcome.

“I didn’t know anything about the education system in the United States,” Jose said. “From the first person at the desk, they took the time to guide me. Even though I was lost, there was always someone there to help.”

He started in Adult Basic Education studying for his GED, then took math and other prerequisites to prepare him for the computer science program. He graduated in 2013 with his associate of applied science in computer systems networking and his high school diploma. Before graduation, he secured an internship with a Microsoft contractor.

“That was because of the instructor being on the lookout for opportunities for students,” he said. “That made the biggest difference, because it gave me an IT job to put on my resume.”

Jose moved on to the help desk at Lynden Incorporated, then moved up to IT security analyst, all while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at Western Governors University (RTC's applied bachelor's programs weren't available yet) and earning 10 industry certifications along the way. Now he is a network and systems engineer for the City of Redmond.

“I came to RTC with a 9th-grade education,” he said. “RTC gave me everything. It’s life-changing, not only for the individual, but for the generations.”

Now his children won’t be the first in their family going to college. Jose knows how to navigate through college, and he has the resources to help them succeed.

“If I was able to get a bachelor’s you better bring me a master’s,” he jokes to his daughter, 12, and son, 10.

Jose would advise other students in his situation not to be overwhelmed by the end goal.

“You don’t have to know everything the first day you walk in the door,” he said. “If you put in the work, RTC will help you get there.”

This is the first time in his 10-year-old son’s life that his dad is not working two jobs or working full-time while going to school. Jose admits he’s had to sacrifice some time with this family to meet his goal of providing for them, which included buying a home in a good school district. He looks forward to having more time with them, but it’s hard to not push himself.

“When you are moving away from poverty and you make it this far, you don’t ever want to go back.”

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Jose would advise other students in his situation not to be overwhelmed by the end goal. “You don’t have to know everything the first day you walk in the door,” he said. “If you put in the work, RTC will help you get there.”