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STCC celebrates graduates who passed their high school equivalency exam
Wearing his cap and gown, Sophear Chhoun stood at a podium at Springfield Technical Community College and told fellow graduates: “I dreamed this day would come.”
Chhoun, who left high school 12 years ago, had just earned his HiSET (high school equivalency test) certificate, which will help pave the way to a better future.
One of the 61 students who passed the test this summer, Chhoun was the student speaker at the 2017 HiSET Celebration at STCC on July 26. In April 2016, he enrolled in free classes through the Springfield Adult Learning Center (SALC) at STCC, which offers Adult Basic Education Services. He’s now looking forward to studying criminal justice at STCC in the fall.
“You guys can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it,” Chhoun told his classmates.
“He’s proven himself to be a determined and dedicated student,” said Barbara Bradbury, who along with Ana Sanchez is one of the Adult Basic Education coordinators at STCC. “He always knows how to make his classmates smile.”
The Adult Learning Center at STCC prepares students to take the HiSET, which is actually five tests: social studies, reading, writing, math and science.
“It’s about 12 years of combined knowledge,” said Alexis Greenblatt, a SALC instructor. “You don’t just take a test for one class – you don’t just take a biology test – you’re tested on chemistry, biology and physics. And you don’t just take one little math test. You don’t just take algebra. You have to know adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. You have to know algebra, geometry, proportions and ratios and statistics and probability. It’s everything you learned from the time you were a kid up until you graduated. It’s so much.” Greenblatt said adults who enroll in classes to prepare for HiSET likely faced an obstacle that prevented them from earning a high school diploma when they were younger: a learning disability, an unexpected pregnancy, a difficult home life or bullying, to name a few hardships.
“If you’re going to school and you’re hungry or you’re not safe or you have a struggle or something that gets in the way, you don’t get to finish,” Greenblatt told the graduates. “And I don’t think there’s a person who said, ‘That’s going to be great to not finish.’”
Dr. Arlene Rodriguez, vice president of Academic Affairs at STCC, congratulated the graduates for passing the HiSET exam and thanked their families for supporting them.
“You passed an even harder test the minute you walked in the door,” Rodriguez said. “That is the hardest test. It’s not an easy thing to do, to interrupt your life, to say, ‘Stop, I’m going to do this for me and I need this.’ So you passed an amazing test of character already.”
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For three days each week this summer and throughout the 2017-2018 academic school year, 20 Springfield area high school students are stepping onto the campus of Springfield Technical Community College and getting a taste of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The students recently toured the STCC Data Center where the college’s servers are housed. They participated in workshops with Brian Candido, professor and chair of STCC’s Computer Information Technologies program, and learned about cyber security. They took part in activities around password hacking, various types of computer viruses and protecting personal identification information.
“I enjoy learning about the different topics we’re going to be doing each week,” said Sophia Abril, 16, of Springfield, one of the students participating in the Urban League of Springfield’s program, which is called The Big Three STEM Pipeline Initiative.
The Urban League is working with HSI STEM at STCC, the University of Massachusetts, The Springfield School Department, Smith College, Bay Path University, Becker College, Baystate Medical Center, the MassMutual Financial Group and more on the initiative. The students participating in this program come from schools in both the Springfield, Mass., and Northern Connecticut areas.
As a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), STCC last year received a federal grant to support Hispanic and low-income students in STEM fields of study. The Big Three STEM Pipeline Initiative received grants from both the MassMutual Financial Group and the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America to fund its program.
The Urban League’s Big Three STEM Pipeline program focuses on raising awareness about STEM academic programs and career paths in computer game science, cyber security and health (the Big Three STEM).
“All three of these areas are fast-paced and growing fields that current high school students will be entering upon graduation from college in the upcoming years, so why not begin to start preparing them now?” said Dinah Moore, project director for the Big 3 STEM Pipeline Initiative.
Felicia D. Griffin-Fennell, HSI STEM activity director, praised the program as a fun and interesting way to expose young people to the STEM fields and careers connected to the subjects.
For example, she said the high schoolers will learn about programs such as laser electro-optics technology and biotechnology with STCC faculty and students. They may never have heard about these programs, but might discover these majors could provide them with skills to land good jobs.
“It’s an opportunity for us to expand their understanding and to break a few myths that they might have,” she said. “We hope to get them thinking about possible avenues that they might never consider.”
Free of charge to the students, the program is held three days each week through Aug. 16 at STCC, but will continue to run during the 2017-2018 academic school year by offering tutoring, additional field trips and workshop activities in the three targeted STEM fields.
Examples of summer field trips and activities have included patient care workshops where the students took turns working with patient simulators and using stethoscopes and various other pieces of UMass equipment and technology, tours of the ambulances at American Medical Response, CPR workshops, password hacking activities and game board creations to learn the thought process behind computer game animation and design.
Moore said the program not only exposes students to the STEM fields, but helps them start preparing for college and careers.
“They will hear about financial aid options for college and take part in mock job interview sessions,” she said.
One element of the program is to help the students understand the importance of “soft skills” – working with others, doing presentations, and learning how to effectively communicate.
While not every student may pursue a STEM career, Moore said, “The goal of the program is to offer them the hands-on and application-based experience and exposure to help them make an informed decision when that time comes.”
The Urban League of Springfield has been sending high school students to STCC during the school year since 2014. This year marks the first summer program.
Maiwald, who assumes the position immediately, had been a member of the Unify Board of Directors for the past two years.
“Chris brought a tremendous amount of passion, energy and heart to Unify the first day she became involved. To have her fill the position of Executive Director represents a transformative step forward for our young and ambitious organization. With Chris at the forefront of Unify, our potential to make a difference in the lives of local children and schools is truly unlimited,” said Edward Zemba, president of Unify Against Bullying.
In her previous position as corporate administrator for Renaissance Advisory Services, LLC, of Ludlow, Maiwald was an integral part of the firm and was responsible for the day-to-day operations, accounts payable, event planning and corporate branding.
Maiwald says her passion to fight against bullying and her love for community led her to step away from her responsibilities at Renaissance Advisory Services to pursue the next chapter in her life and career.
“I am passionate about educating children and adults about the devastating effects bullying can have. Bullying is not confined to school or to social media. It exists in the home and workplace, too,” said Maiwald. “In just three short years, Unify Against Bullying has been able to raise enough funds to award grants to 15 individuals and organizations whose mission it is to spread the anti-bullying message through education, acts of kindness, support and awareness.”
Maiwald and her husband, Werner, were chosen by the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce as the 2017 “Citizens of the Year” for their philanthropic work. She sits on the Board of the East of the River 5 Town Chamber, is a member of the Greater Westfield, Springfield Regional, West of the River and Massachusetts Chambers of Commerce. She was also, until recently, an Ambassador for Dress for Success.
In addition, Maiwald volunteers for Revitalize CDC, The Galaxy Community Council, Wicked in Pink, the Brightside Toy Drive and the Friends of Wilbraham Senior Center Fashion Show.
She previously served as a member of the Sisters of Providence Elder Life program and “Catch the Spirit” committee and Baystate VNA Hospice.
About Unify Against Bullying
The mission of Unify Against Bullying is to bring an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity. We intend to accomplish this goal through providing grants to those who are in the best position to make a difference; children, parents, teachers and grassroots community organizations.
With the funding and resources the grants provide, we can show the children of the world; the days of ignoring bullying are over. Instead, we are in a new era where we celebrate our differences and come together as one community. That is why in the Unify movement we say; when we stand together, we stand as one.