Heart’s Desire: Career transformations at Palm Beach State
From Contact magazine, Winter 2014-15
While caring for his father-in-law stricken with Alzheimer’s disease, David Kindred took his first-ever college classes at Palm Beach State. After 20 years in the electrical trade, Kindred had suffered a severe work injury, lost his business and was now getting back on his feet – pointed in a different direction.
Changing careers is the new normal, and many turn to Palm Beach State College as a place to begin again. Some, like Kindred, are compelled by difficult life experiences. Others are leaving behind careers damaged by the Great Recession, and still others simply seek more satisfying work. But no matter what the catalyst, the real journey takes place within, whether it’s the realization of a childhood dream, the discovery of one’s true calling, or the desire to make a difference.
Meet some of the people transforming their careers at PBSC.
A LIGHT BULB TURNS ON
“Better late than never….To think all of this could have passed me by.”
– David Kindred
For Kindred, 50, the “aha moment” came during his Strategies for College Success class. “It was one of those epiphanies. We were going through a career exercise and I discovered, ‘wow, I’m really good at something. I have a natural affinity for caregiving.’” He’s now in the second year of the College’s Nursing Associate in Science degree program.
Electrical work fell in my lap, and I just kind of went with it,” he explained. “I never really gave much thought to what a career is for – to develop all aspects of your life, including your own self-esteem and your self-worth. I’m really finding myself, my initiative and my passion, and motivation to go forward, to go after something as opposed to being a reactionary.”
Kindred took care of his father-in-law at home for almost three years, completing his prerequisites at night, while his wife worked during the day. At times he experienced “a level of stress that I never knew existed,” but he knew he was doing the right thing. Extremely happy with his choice, he now sees a bright future. “‘Better late than never’ keeps going through my head. To think all of this could have passed me by.”
FROM WALL STREET TO SURGICAL SUITE
The lure of Wall Street held strong for 19 years, during which Sharon Peretz worked as a financial analyst on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She juggled time at home raising three children, then her husband’s relocations and other finance jobs, until finally, after her divorce, she made a promise to herself. “I decided that for the rest of my life, I was only going to do things that I was passionate about.” She graduated from Palm Beach State’s Surgical Technology program in May 2014, passed her certification exam, and now works at Delray Medical Center, assisting in emergency surgeries.
Peretz stayed true to her promise and followed some unusual paths, including three years as the house mother for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the University of Florida, her alma mater. A great gig for a diehard Gators fan, Peretz, 55, also decided to take classes and considered a career in counseling, given that she enjoyed a comparable role as “Mom Shar” to hundreds of young men. Instead she discovered surgical technology in an online search. “It was like a cherry bomb went off. I’ve always been interested in the sciences. I graduated high school at 16 in a very rural area of Mississippi. My parents wanted me to be a bookkeeper…which is the reason I got into the whole Wall Street thing.”
“How many things did you do today that you did for the very first time?” – Sharon Peretz
Peretz is thrilled with her new career. “I assisted in a craniotomy this morning with two surgeons – the patient had subdural hematomas on both sides of the brain – and this afternoon we had an emergency ectopic pregnancy. I’m overwhelmed. I am intimidated. I’m excited. I am learning so much. I made a Facebook post after one of my first days. I said to everyone I know, ‘How many things did you do today that you did for the very first time?’ I lost count after 9 o’clock in the morning.”
“…if I’m getting a second chance to do something different, I’m going to do something I really want to do.” – Matthew Cleary
THE SCIENCE OF REINVENTION
When Matthew Cleary was a little kid, he wanted to be a scientist. Unfortunately, tough teenage years got in the way. “I ended up where people end up, in restaurants and construction.”
Construction stuck. Cleary, 35, proved to be a good carpenter, and after a few years, he became a supervisor. A promotion to project manager followed, and he thought he would do construction for the rest of his life. Then the housing market crashed. With a wife and newborn baby, he worried about the stability of the field even if he did return. “I look back on it now, thankful that I got laid off.”
He decided to go to college. At first Cleary was unsure what to go for, but then he thought about what he wanted to be as a child. “I thought, ‘hey, if I’m getting a second chance to do something different, I’m going to do something I really want to do.”
Cleary chose Palm Beach State’s Biotechnology A.S. degree program as his route to a science career. He did well from the start, which surprised him, especially since he had to wait tables at night to earn money, fit in parenting chores and sometimes do homework till two in the morning. By the time he graduated in 2013, his college internship had turned into a job. He is now an assistant scientist in the product development lab at Jupiter-based Somahlution, a life science company that focuses on improving outcomes in organ transplantation and other life-saving procedures.
Still multitasking, Cleary is earning an online bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and plans to go on to graduate school. “It was definitely lucky for me that the Palm Beach State program was there. There are not a lot of places where you can say ‘I want to get a two-year degree and get a job that supports my family immediately.’ That’s exactly what happened to me.”
“I needed to find some meaning and purpose in my life.” – Jo Ann DeCanto
A PATHWAY TO HEALING
In the three years since her son died suddenly, Jo Ann DeCanto had been a regular participant in The Compassionate Friends support group, but then she wanted something more. “I needed to find some meaning and purpose in my life and to make meaning out of my son’s life.”
She had heard over and over again from bereaved parents in the group that what they wanted in a therapist was someone who could really feel their pain. “We all came to feel that if you haven’t lost a child, you just couldn’t imagine what we’re going through,” says DeCanto.
As it happened, her younger son was attending Palm Beach State. She decided to look into going herself and found the Human Services program. The fact that credits from the Human Services A.S. degree transfer into Florida Atlantic University’s School of Social Work appealed to DeCanto. “I could become a licensed clinical social worker and be able to offer professional therapy to parents who have lost children.”
DeCanto, 57, kept her marketing job with a dental practice for the first few months in the program. “Having been out of school for almost 30 years, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to keep up and do the work, but found that I loved it.” She graduates after the 2015 spring term. It will be her second associate degree. A former computer programmer, she has an A.A.S. degree in that field from Bergen Community College in New Jersey.
DeCanto knows her deceased son would be proud of her. “Education was very important to him. He actually was a computer engineering Ph.D. candidate at FAU. He had emailed his dissertation to his professor the night before he died. I crossed the stage and received his Ph.D. for him…. I found that doing this [program] has helped me heal on this journey. It helps me as much as I’m hoping to help other people.”
REWARDS OF ANOTHER KIND
Practicing law may carry more prestige, and indeed, pay more, but those considerations didn’t stop Annette Sanjurjo Lizardo from making a career change to teaching.
Her journey has brought Lizardo full circle. Born and raised in West Palm Beach, she is now teaching at The King’s Academy, where she spent all of her K-12 years. From King’s she went to the University of Miami for her bachelor’s degree, then to New York University for a master’s in performing arts administration. The law classes in the program motivated her to get a J.D. from Fordham University.
Life fell into place. Lizardo and her husband left New York for Miami, where she practiced law for 10 years. Their search for better schools for their three children brought them back to Palm Beach County in 2010. Of particular concern was their middle son, who has autism.
“I thought of pursuing teaching my last year of practicing law. Because of having my own children…just seeing what it takes to help them succeed gave me a new appreciation for education and learning.”
When a part-time job opened up at her older son’s new school, she made the leap. Substitute teaching came next, followed by a full-time job teaching middle and high school English at King’s. Lizardo, 44, has a temporary teaching certificate and is enrolled in Palm Beach State’s Teacher Certification Program to prepare for the required professional certificate. The program is designed specifically for people with bachelor’s degrees in other fields who want to become Florida educators.
“It’s been an asset that I have done something else and can give [students] real life examples that show what they’re learning matters. Teaching is something you can be proud of…you know that you’re making a difference in the everyday lives of students.”
“That’s where my heart is. That’s the child I’m interested in reaching.”
– Annette Sanjurjo Lizardo
After Lizardo completes the program this spring, she wants to get the state’s Exceptional Student Education endorsement, allowing her to teach special needs students. “That’s where my heart is. That’s the child I’m interested in reaching.”
Apparently the change has done her good. “My husband, who knows me for 20 years, told me ‘I’ve never seen you happier.’”
Yes, change can be good.
What is your advice for others considering a career change?
David Kindred: “Listen to yourself when you are trying to figure out what to do with your life. You have to trust your instincts.”
Sharon Peretz: “Tell people that they don’t have to be unhappy or unfulfilled. And by the way, if you try something and it doesn’t work, the worst that happens is that you try something else.”
Jo Ann DeCanto: “Do it. It’s not as difficult as it seems.”
Matthew Cleary: “Don’t wait. In five years, do you want to say ‘I wish I had changed careers’ or do you want to say ‘thank God I changed careers’? Five years from now you’re going to be five years older no matter what.”
Annette Sanjurjo Lizardo: “I would encourage them to make that change. Go for it and get your feet wet.”