The four Rivera sisters have always been a close-knit group, even thinking of each other as best friends.
Now, they have another common bond, all having graduated or soon to graduate from Howard Community College’s (HCC’s) nursing program.
Rocio, Gloria, Andrea and Elizabeth Rivera were born to immigrant parents who moved to Howard County to give their young daughters more opportunities. The sisters’ reasons for pursing nursing all differ slightly, but come down to a desire to care for people and to be an advocate for patients in their time of need.
“Our parents have always taught us to take care of each other and take care of those in need,” Rocio said.
Four sisters, one program
Rocio, the eldest sister, started at HCC out of high school in 2003, with an interest in the medical field, but not a clear idea of what direction she wanted that to take. She took a break from HCC, choosing to serve in the military for a time. When she finished her time in the military, Rocio said she worked as a medical receptionist at Howard County General Hospital. It was there she got to see the nursing profession first-hand and realized what her true calling would be.
“It just seemed to me like my destiny was just following me rather than me following it,” she said.
Elizabeth chose HCC for its affordability and the strength of the nursing program. She can’t quite pinpoint when she decided on nursing as a career.
“As far back as I can remember, I was always inclined toward helping people,” she said. “That inspired me to be a nurse.”
She completed the program in 2019 and today she sings its praises.
“I loved it,” she said. “Although it was difficult, the teachers and professors really knew what they were teaching and they would take the time for us.
“We learned so much and were able to practice what we were learning. Now, working in the field, I remember everything I learned – the program really prepared us.”
For Gloria, the decision to enroll at HCC was, in part, recognition of the decision and hard work by her parents to give their daughters the best possible life.
“I wanted to take advantage of all these resources and opportunities that our parents tried so hard to give us,” she said.
She, too, decided on nursing at a young age. She also knew early-on that she wanted to work in a nursing position where she could take care of babies.
“My passion is to go into the neonatal intensive care unit,” she said. “I love babies, and I want to take care of those that need a little more love, attention and care.”
Andrea didn’t initially plan to go into nursing, and enrolled at HCC to complete her general studies. Seeing her sisters pursue degrees and careers in nursing influenced Andrea, as they talked about all of the opportunities that nursing offered.
“They always talked about the opportunities,” she said. “Knowledge in that field is never-ending and you can switch specialties – I wanted a field that was very, very diverse and where it’s encouraged to change specialties and to keep learning.”
Their experiences at HCC and now, in nursing, are a common topic of conversation among the sisters. They provide support to each other and share stories about their days at work or in school. For the younger sisters, that shared experience helped them succeed at HCC.
“Coming into this program with advice from my sisters who know me and know the program, it cleared a pathway for me,” Gloria said. “They said don’t procrastinate and don’t get behind – I knew I needed to be prepared.”
Ambiciones: Support at HCC for the Hispanic and Latino Community
The four are also first-generation college students who found community and resources through the Ambiciones program at HCC, designed to support first-generation students and their families throughout the college experience – from application to graduation.
Ambiciones offers services that include academic advising and tutoring; mentoring and coaching; financial aid, scholarship and work-study opportunities; career counseling and internships; and personal counseling.
The program was created in 2015 with a focus on Hispanic and Latinx students, said Sandy Cos, assistant director of Ambiciones. HCC found these students weren’t having the same level of success as their peers while enrolled, both not graduating at the rate of their peers and not maintaining enrollment at the same rate, she said.
That first year, 25 students were identified and placed with an advisor who helped connect them to support resources at HCC. The program has evolved since then, and now supports students before they’re even enrolled, educating them through their communities about the importance of college and about financial aid opportunities that can help cover the cost of tuition and other expenses, Cos said.
“Many of our students are first-generation,” she said. “Many have parents who didn’t attend college here in the US, or who are only familiar with the system in their home country.”
Once enrolled, students are added to the Ambiciones cohort, which focuses on four areas of support: admissions and advising; creating community; financial aid and scholarships; and graduation and transfer.
That aspect of community is about both lending support to students and about helping them find their own community of peers, Cos said.
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