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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Hard roads require a higher gear

April 7, 2020

Hard roads require a higher gearWhenever Michael Mattox drove on a major freeway in his city, he would notice SJVC’s Hesperia campus just off to the side. “I would see it and think, ‘I want to go there one day’,” he remembers.

After five years he had worked his way up to a management position at Walmart but always planned to further his education. It just never seemed like the right time.

Early last year Michael and his brother went skydiving for the first time. “That rush I had was so amazing that when I hit the ground it triggered something in me that wanted something better. What am I doing for myself? Literally the next day was when I emailed SJVC. I got a response within two minutes and the following week I was going in to interview.”

Michael knew he wanted something in the medical field. “But I knew I didn’t want to poke people – injections, venipunctures. I was interested in the Medical Office Administration (MOA) part of it, which is the billing, coding, insurance specialist part.”

The campus tour confirmed Michael’s career vision. “What really drew me towards this school was the classes weren’t so big, so there was a lot more individual time with instructors. And, I’m more of a hands-on type of person, and I would get a lot of that there.”

Michael would balance his new Medical Office Administration program with his full-time job. What might threaten to tip that balance were big emotional issues he could not have anticipated.

Michael and his four siblings live with his mother, Perla, who is blind and struggles with debilitating health issues. Just a few weeks into his MOA program, Perla fell and broke her ankle in two places. Michael had to balance his school responsibilities and full-time job with surgery dates, hospital visits and rehabilitation schedules.

But he kept his head above water. His classes were almost a refuge, a place he could go to replenish his spirit. “I wasn’t expecting the friendliness and family vibe, but everybody helped each other out and I knew by the second week we would be just one big family. Every 5-weeks we get new students in and they would just join the family.”

Then came a tragedy that nearly set him on the sideline. “My best friend, Andrew, committed suicide,” says Michael. “I was like a big brother to him, and I was the last person he reached out to.” Andrew was just nineteen and transgender. His family had disowned him and he had spent the last four years in foster care.

Michael considered dropping out of school. “All this weight; it was so hard.” He was on an emotional razor’s edge with barely a ledge to stand on.

On autopilot, he went to class. “My instructor, Miss Alva, saw my face and she was right there by my side, he says. She was so supportive, asked if I needed tutoring, told me she was there to help me 100%. I don’t think she realizes how much she helped me, how much she did for me.”

The loss is always there but the pain lessened as Michael continued to move through the compartments of his responsibilities. He devoted himself to excelling as a student and leader in the classroom. “I was nominated as Class Manager. I’m the first person there and the last to leave. I make sure homework is turned in on time and help anyone out with whatever they need.”

Michael enjoyed high academic achievements. “I was a straight A student except for last mod’s (module) hiccup,” he says. His work responsibilities pulled him away from his studies during that glitch, but he made no excuses for himself.  “Some students don’t have a job but have a kid. If you want to do it, you’re going to do it.”

Suddenly, externship was right around the corner. Michael was excited to spend the last weeks of his program in a real-world medical environment, finally getting to put all he had learned into practice.

“I do feel like I won’t have any trouble getting a job,” says Michael. “I have that drive in me, and I’m going to go out there and get the job I want. No doubts cross my mind.”

Reema Atoura, Career Services Advisor for the college, agrees with him completely. “I got to see that he has such a great heart and in the face of adversity he was able to continue through his MOA (Medical Office Administration) program at SJVC and go to his extern site and be one of the strongest candidates for extern-to-hire.”

That was exactly what Michael experienced at his medical billing extern site. “They offered me a job on my second day of extern there,” says Michael. But he is about to change things up again, once he completes what he has worked for these last several months.

Currently, Michael leaves the house at 7:00 AM and returns home at around 1:00 AM. “I can see the finish line,” he says.

His MOA program and externship fulfilled, he will launch a new professional life….and a new personal one, as well.

Michael and Sergio became engaged recently and have big plans to move in together in another city and eventually start a couple of businesses of their own. Michael would like to have his own medical billing business and Sergio has plans to open up his own beauty salon.

Michael wants to be fully prepared. “I’m just taking a few months off, then I’m heading back to school for my Associate degree in Business,” he says.

Michael came out to his family in 2018. “My mother, she’s proud of me that I did it. My family is 100% supportive and they love my fiancé.”

He and Sergio are looking forward to hitting some great music festivals this summer. “We love that music, that environment; everyone is just so peaceful. It’s just our little getaway,” he says. They somehow managed to visit seven 2-day festivals last year.

Michael also plans to volunteer in his community. “One thing I want to do is reach out and help with suicide awareness,” he says. “It’s something in my mind that I really want to get into. Somewhere I can talk to people who are struggling.”

Big dreams sometimes require big sacrifices. Michael has proven he is well-prepared for what it takes.

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