July 4, 2022, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The journey of Hector Ortega and Loyda Cruz has been a long one, taking them from Cuba to the United States and, eventually, GRCC. It has been filled with love – for each other and for learning – and it has been marked by persistence and dedication.
It’s not over yet. But after their June graduation from GRCC’s Computer Support Specialist program, both Hector and Loyda are as confident about the next steps on their journey as they ever have been.
They have been married for almost six years and met in their native Cuba as university students, both studying computer science. After finishing their studies, they had the opportunity to come to the United States permanently.
“When we moved from Cuba to the United States, we had to face many new challenges and the main one was the language,” recalled Hector. “That's how we started our adventure at GRCC, taking English as a Second Language classes.”
Hector remembered at first being “horrified at introducing myself in English in front of my classmates,” but soon, he added, he had progressed to being able to speak quite fluently.
He added, with a smile: “This made me fall in love with GRCC. Then, my wife and I, browsing the GRCC website, discovered the Computer Support program. We both liked what the program would offer us, and we felt that it was just what we needed.”
Loyda said their hopes for the program were very much fulfilled.
“GRCC is a college with great opportunities for all kinds of people,” she said. “It has a large faculty of well-prepared professors who want students to learn correctly and efficiently. As an immigrant, I can only say that GRCC is the place that has opened doors for me in this country.”
Both students said they appreciated the Computer Support Specialist program’s emphasis on real-world skills.
“When I studied Computer Science in Cuba, the studies were mostly focused on mathematics, programming and everything related to software,” Loyda said. “I always wanted to learn and obtain skills that would help me solve problems related to different devices and that also involve the physical part or hardware. This program helped me a lot to learn how to identify and solve problems related to software, hardware, security and networks.”
Both used financial support programs to make their dreams a reality with Loyda taking advantage of the Michigan Reconnect scholarship and Hector part of the Futures for Frontliners program.
Michigan Reconnect is a state program covering the cost of in-district tuition for people age 25 and older without a college degree. Additional information is at grcc.edu/reconnect. Futures for Frontliners was a similar program for people who worked in essential fields during the state's shutdown.
They said those programs made possible what otherwise might have been impossible. And they praised the fast-track nature of the GRCC certificate program, which they said packs a lot of learning into just 18 weeks but allows graduates to quickly jump into the job market and do well.
“When we arrived in the United States, without previous work experience, we always thought about the possibility of studying something shorter in this country, but related to our previous knowledge,” Loyda said. “The GRCC program linked all the studying we did previously (in Cuba) and now is opening doors here in the United States.”
Hector said the same.
“What I liked most about this program is that it not only taught me the technical aspects, but also taught me how to apply for positions that I like, increasing the possibility of being accepted,” he said. “I rediscovered myself as a professional and stopped saying ‘no’ to myself.”
And, thanks to GRCC, companies are also saying “yes.”
“In the same week as our graduation ceremony, I received the news that I was accepted to work in IT at Amway,” Hector said. “So, we were celebrating our graduation, our wedding anniversary, my new job and the high hope that Loyda can also get a position in the field.”
After what the couple has already overcome, don’t bet against her.
Let GRCC help you start your story. The first chapter starts at grcc.edu/apply.
This story was reported by Phil de Haan, and photographed by Andrew Schmidt.