Difficulty transferring school credits from Mexico almost derailed Porterville graduate’s business career plans
In 2000, when Dinorah Rountree moved from Mexico to join her husband Ricky in Central California, she was counting on resuming a fulfilling career in the business community. But there was a roadblock that would prevent her from consideration for those high-level jobs.
Her Bachelor’s degree credits would not be readily accepted or validated at local colleges and universities. At that time, she spoke little English and the paperwork process to authenticate her education seemed overwhelming.
“They wouldn’t even accept my high school diploma,” says Dinorah, who thought she would only have to have those credentials translated into English to satisfy standards of acceptance. “They told me I would have to start from scratch with my education.” At the time, that wasn’t an option.
Dinorah had worked as a human resource assistant in Mexico but could only find part-time work as a caregiver for the Tulare County system’s elderly clients. “I was on call all the time and couldn’t make plans for anything,” she says. Furthering her education just could not fit.
“I felt discouraged, but I never got it out of my mind,” she says of her desire to work in her field of study. “I loved my career in Mexico. I also liked what I did as a care provider, but it was not something I wanted to do long-term.”
But she put this time to good use, attending evening classes at adult school to improve her English language skills and making a home for the three children she and Ricky welcomed: Selena, now 16, Steven, 9, and Brandon, 6.
Five years ago, Ricky decided to complete the two years of classes he still needed to realize his life-long desire to become a teacher. Dinorah was on board to support him. He had to drop some work hours, she had to add on a few, but they managed to make it work.
“I told him, ‘When you get done, I’m next,’” says Dinorah. “I encouraged him to go back, and now he does what he really likes.” When Ricky completed his degree three years ago, it was finally her turn.
The local community college gave her an assessment and she filled out some paperwork only to be told, once again, that she would have to start at the beginning; retake all her previous classes.
She got online and found San Joaquin Valley College in Porterville where she and her family lived. “I talked to an [admissions representative] who was really on top of her job and helped me to get everything going,” says Dinorah. “I got excited that someone understood what I’m trying to do.”
Dinorah was certain she wanted to enroll in the Business Administration program on campus. “I wanted the Business Administration program, since I had a background in that.”
It took about six weeks for Dinorah to get her high school transcripts translated and get other paperwork in order. “My [admissions representative] would ask me how things were going so far and what else did I need,” she says. Then one day she got the call she had been waiting for. “OK, you’re enrolled!”
Being in her forties, Dinorah suddenly felt a little panic. Could she balance home, family, part-time work and school? Would she be a good student in the Business Administration evening class?
“The hardest part, just because I’m emotional, was coming home from school the first week and finding everybody asleep,” she says. “You miss chatting before bed.” All those things families share in the evening were put on hold. “At the same time, I felt like, OK, it’s going to be worth it.”
“My daughter complimented me on my uniform [for school],” says Dinorah. “She tells me, ‘Look at you, you look so important.’ Comments like that are important to get from the kids, because then I know that it’s OK with them.”
She and Ricky had a routine of handing off transportation and child-care responsibilities, and Grandpa Walter would provide a two-hour band-aid of child care most school days. A few months in, Dinorah gave up her part-time job. “Why don’t you just focus on school and finish that,” Ricky told her. He was her biggest supporter.
Dinorah gave her education all she had…which turned out to be enough to earn her a 4.0 GPA. “I thought I was going to be good in school because I was putting in a good effort; but I was still surprised at what I got for that effort. The first time I made the Dean’s List, it encouraged me to get it every time.”
She was a natural student. “It just opens your mind that you can do more than you think,” she says. Dinorah was a little worried about doing presentations in front of the class. “But, honestly, that was the thing I enjoyed most. I liked to do the research, find and compare information that would help fix a company’s problem and give them the opportunity to grow.” She also enjoyed the courses in human resources and marketing and the problem-solving skills she learned.
She was a little surprised that she would enjoy a group of friends at school. “We know each other for just a short time, but you are in it together. We have the same mind-set and are all going for the same goal. And knowing your classmates on a more personal level helps us as a team to overcome overwhelming feelings.”
Dinorah completed her Business Administration program in March and is looking forward to the graduation ceremony in June. A lot of family is coming from Mexico to see her walk the stage, wearing the special colors her high academic achievements have earned.
She will be especially happy to see her mom Maria. “She always found a way for any situation that we went through and always had the right words and encouragement.” That strength seems to pass easily from one generation to the next.
Dinorah recently went to work for a local newspaper as an accounting clerk and is enjoying putting her newfound business acumen into practice. “I’m enjoying working there and I’m learning a lot about accounting, customer service and even marketing. The important thing is to be somewhere you are going to like; to be happy there.”
SJVC has been an important resource for Dinorah to get to this point in her career. “I know to open doors you have to get something going, get experience in the field,” she says. “And if I want to get my degree, I know that SJVC will set me up to get to that next step.”
Dinorah will go as far as she can imagine. Now she knows exactly what it will take to get there.
Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended SJVC can be found here.
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