Academics

PBSC graduates leave with a diploma in one hand and a paycheck in the other

PBSC engineering technology graduate Hazel Valderrama

Back in 2020, Hazel Valderrama was working at an entertainment events company, her first job in the industry after earning a bachelor’s in music business. Then Covid hit and both the events and the job evaporated. “It scared me and instilled in me the need to find a new career that would be pandemic proof,” she said.

Fast forward to May 7, 2024, and Valderrama, 34, left Palm Beach State College with an Associate in Science in Engineering Technology and a completely new career. While pursuing her degree, Valderrama’s Professor Eva Suarez told her about a networking event with local employers. There she met representatives from West Palm Beach civil engineering firm Keshavarz & Associates who were looking to for someone familiar with geographical information systems, computer systems that analyze geographic data.

Valderrama, who had taken a class on the topic, jumped at the chance. She started in October working approximately 20 hours per week as a regulatory liaison, dealing with permitting, utility coordination and document research. “While I was studying my employer was very understanding about my class schedules,” Valderrama said. She will transition to full-time employment after graduation.

PBSC biotechnology graduate Michael Herrera is working as a research scientist at BioTools

PBSC Biotechnology graduates Michael Herrara, 22, and Escarlet Cabrieles, 19, were also lucky enough to find paid internships with BioTools, a Jupiter-based life sciences company that allowed them to make their own hours. After graduation both Herrara and Cabrieles will work full time in the lab as research scientists. Cabrieles will return to PBSC in the fall to take the prerequisite courses she needs to continue on to get a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) while working part time in the BioTools lab. Herrara will also continue at BioTools until he enrolls in biochemistry B.S. program at FAU, ideally in the honors college, in Spring 2025.

“The biotechnology degree from PBSC gives me a really good foundation,” said Herrara. “Biotechnology is relevant to so many different fields from pharmaceuticals to nutraceuticals to forensics; it really opens up a lot of career choices.”

Rina Dukor, Ph.D. the co-founder and CEO of BioTools who hired Herrera and Cabrieles, said PBSC students are among her best employees.  “The students at PBSC want to succeed more than most and they are prepared to work harder for it,” she said. “They have flexible hours, but I teach them as much as I can and we spend a lot of time mentoring them.”

For Cabrieles, having Dukor as a mentor has been a game changer. “She really supports women in STEM,” Cabrieles said. “I love working here as not only am I given the opportunity to work independently but I am pushed to think more like a scientist.”

Juan Rodas, engineering technology graduate

Juan Rodas, 23, also graduated with an Associate in Science degree in one hand and a paycheck in the other. It is an achievement even more impressive as Rodas emigrated to Florida from his native Colombia in 2016 not speaking a word of English. Fascinated with how things work since childhood, he always wanted to become an engineer. But going straight into a four-year degree program wasn’t financially feasible. So, he joined the Engineering Technology program at PBSC.

“The huge advantage of PBSC is how supportive the professors are,” he said. PBSC’s Suarez helped connect Rodas to civil engineering firm Kimley-Horn. He started a paid internship in March. And was offered a full-time role as a cad (computer aided design) designer just before graduation. “It gave me the option to start working sooner in a well-paid job so that I could earn enough to fund a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering,” he said.

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