Fresno Clinical Medical Assisting graduate overcomes insecurities to find career success
Do dreams have expiration dates? Luis Renteria will tell you they do not. He will also tell you that those dreams will never materialize if you don’t stretch yourself to bring them to life.
“Everybody has dreams, but so many are not going to do anything about it,” he says. “If you want something, you need to work for it; nothing is free.”
Luis lived on his dreams for the future ever since he lost both parents when he was just 7 years old. That event could have decided his entire life, if he let it. For many years it did.
After his family’s tragic loss, Luis and his three siblings were scattered among different relatives in Mexico and he had to quit school to work. Luis was passed from house to house, trying to lessen the financial burden his survival made on others. When he was 16 years old, he had the chance to move to California with an aunt’s family. “Let’s go!” he remembers answering. But it was clear this wasn’t going to be an easy life change.
“I didn’t speak English and I couldn’t go to school at all,” he remembers. “They provided me with a place to sleep, but I had to pay for rent and support myself.” It was an opportunity to improve his existence, but it came with no frills. He worked in the Central Valley fields year-round; seasonal crops were the only change in his meager life.
But with every bunch of grapes he cut, and every nectarine and tomato he picked, he got a clearer picture of another future, one that would take him out of the fields.
“The field itself is hard,” says Luis. “You have to adapt, you have to grow up and see that it’s something that doesn’t have to be forever. I was always a dreamer and would ask myself how I would feel working in a place that wasn’t raining or cold.”
He began a plan to find out.
First, he got in out of the heat and cold, with a restaurant job where he started as a server. He began focusing on the English language that was spoken all around him from customers, television and music, to friends who were helping him with word pronunciations and meanings. When he felt he could understand and communicate well enough, he took the next big step. He enrolled in the local adult school to earn his GED.
Luis’ strongest support during his transition from dreamer to student was his immediate family and close friends. There were even more sources of encouragement ahead, as he took the first step onto a path forward and upward.
Getting his GED was a difficult balance of work, home and school. Luis’ instructor Ellie became a major influence on his education process. “I feel like I owe her a lot; she was encouraging me all the time, telling me I needed to push myself,” says Luis.
Not all teachers have that sense of participation in a student’s success. Luis’ two semesters at a community college were very different from his GED experience. “The teachers didn’t care,” he recalls. “If you were in class, fine with me; if you’re not in class, fine with me.” He wanted a connection most of his instructors didn’t care to make.
Now in his mid-30s, Luis also felt disconnected from classmates who were mostly in their twenties. He needed more from his educational and classroom experience.
He found that level of interaction and support at SJVC’s Clinical Medical Assisting program in Fresno. Luis had known for a long time that he wanted to do something in life that helped others. The medical field seemed the best career field to allow him to express that deeply-felt sense of service.
After years of preparation, he was ready to make that final leap of faith in himself. But uncertainty was always hovering nearby. “I was afraid of going to college (SJVC) because of my English, my education level,” says Luis. “If I ask a lot of questions, I’m going to look dumb. That was my fear.”
He ignored his insecurities and made the jump.
A few private college advantages immediately kicked in for him.
“The class sizes were smaller so there was more time with the teacher,” says Luis. “They make you feel like you’re home. Instructors were really open and patient with me.”
Luis often went to class early to get help reviewing for exams. His grades brushed against a perfect 4.0.
An emphasis on hands-on training worked well for him. “For me, that’s the thing that you need the most. They can lecture you, but if you don’t put it into practice, it’s a waste of time.”
Luis came to realize that he could not only succeed in this educational environment, he would excel. “I decided to run for Clinical Medical Assisting program President…and I won! I led meetings, organized fundraisers and bake sales, and we raised money for Wigs for Kids. I became active in student orientation and gave tours through the school.”
His quiet, uncertain voice became clear and focused. “The leadership role helped me to grow up, and I feel proud of that,” says Luis. “Everybody sometimes needs to see someone say, ‘Hey, I was in the same place, waiting to see what was going to happen, and overcame that.’”
Last December, a month before Luis graduated from his Clinical Medical Assisting program, his extern site offered him a full-time job. He enjoys working both the front and back office of a busy medical practice where he puts his hard-won knowledge and medical experience into play.
Luis was given the Founders Award and asked to speak at his recent graduation ceremony. In his speech, he says, “Being in college has given me the confidence that I needed to be a better person and to pursue my dreams further. For many people, this may be another graduation. But for me, this is my 6th grade, middle school, high school and college graduation. All those years of hard work and patience are finally paying off. If someone like me can do it, anyone can.”
Many staff and faculty at the Fresno campus have encouraged Luis to consider coming back to teach there one day. It is an idea that has taken shape in his dream world. “Helping other students, sharing my experience in the medical field and how I became who I am; I think that might inspire someone.”
Luis may well extend his vision toward that end. “I think right now, this is my time, this is my moment.”
Those kinds of dreams are meant to be shared.
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