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Recent NOVA Certificate Graduate Talks About Her Amazing Journey into Healthcare

NOVA Alum, Arona Coelho

Arona Coelho was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article by Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America.  The piece discussed the economy’s reliance on institutions of higher ed. for a fast, skills-focused education that pays off in the labor market. Coelho represents the bold type of NOVA student who finds connections in each other to share stories of adversity and successes. Recently trained at NOVA to qualify as a certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA), Coelho became financially self-sufficient in only four months.

Recently immigrating to Northern Virginia from India, Coehlo talks about her background as a teacher, how she keeps in touch with her daughter still living in India, why she wanted to enter the medical field and the friends she made here at NOVA.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Back home, both of my parents work in the medical field. My mother was a staff nurse, and my father was a nursing tutor. They gave me the middle name of Theresa, to be and do things like Mother Theresa. My mother is so happy and so proud that I am in healthcare, as it was her dream for me to do this path.

My parents adopted three kids. I was one that was left at the hospital where they worked. They gave me a new life. Being raised by them, I have seen them doing so many things for people from social work, to serving people and I wanted to be like that. 

I filed for asylum because I am a single mom and my child is mixed, black-Indian. I had a child out of wedlock, and the community treated me like I was a bad person. While living in a remote village, my housing was broken into.

With my parents’ support, I was told not to isolate, and afterward, they sent me to college. However, even after school, and while working as a teacher where my child was also studying– we were not accepted. Parents even went to the principal of the school where I worked and asked to change their child’s section as they didn’t want me to be their teacher. I heard comments about my child’s hair and complexion.  It was heartbreaking. My child is now 13. She’s reserved and shy and can’t make friends.

My mom is my strength and support. She said to me, ‘Now it is time for you to go and make a life for your daughter.’  I knew that in America it is the land of opportunity. This country has given shelter to so many. Now I am here, and although I am working a lot, I know that this country will give me a chance and give my daughter a chance.

You daughter sounds lovely, please tell us more about her?

My daughter is so very intelligent, smart and gets good grades always. She is interested in music and in new languages. She is now learning French and Korean on her own – through Duolingo and YouTube. She wants to become a doctor and also a flight attendant. She is 13 and she has two things in her mind. She has seen how I have come from being a teacher to working at a pediatric clinic. She is intrigued now. I am trying to encourage her in both fields that she wants to be in.

Music is her field of interest. She learned how to play the keyboard and plays the ukulele. She is very good at art and loves drawing.

With COVID, things internationally came to a standstill, and I am hoping that my daughter can come here soon. My lawyer told me that there are many backlogs, and it could take 3-5 years. She is taking online schooling, so she doesn’t have to go out of the house. And now I know that she’s safe enough. I have one or two friends that are good to me there, and I am able to connect with her.

They scheduled my hearing at the USCIS, and I am just hoping to hear back from them soon. 

What brought you to NOVA?

My journey to NOVA college was the best thing that happened to me. I got to know NOVA through the Northern Virginia Church of Christ, and they told me about the school. They helped me and told me that NOVA was the best place if you’re trying to be self-sufficient, have a dream and make a difference. So, I got in touch with a NOVA team member and was working through admissions as I had many questions about asylum. I want to thank the NOVA staff and team members because they really answered all my questions. Even if I had doubts, they made sure to get back to me with right answers no matter what; and for questions about asylum and program course – they helped me.

What were your thoughts on starting here?

Getting admission at NOVA was like a dream. My first day, I was nervous and scared, and I met so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.

I had worked as a nanny living with a host family, and when I came to NOVA, on the first day, I met so many wonderful people and made friends to help me to complete the course. Not just with the curriculum but these friends, they really helped me, and I love them to the moon and back. Even when I had no rides, my friends from the course picked me up and gave me rides to clinicals.

How are you now since graduating from the NOVA certificate course?  

Once I graduated, I was hired just like that. I am so happy, and I am self-sufficient. My journey begins now. I am hoping that I can keep going.

My friend Asha was a flight attendant and then did the CCMA class with me When I told my daughter that, she was so excited.

How was your NOVA journey and meeting all your friends?

All of my friends – Leila from Algeria or Sunny from Korea or Blanca or Liz – all of my friends made sure that I was okay. I didn’t tell much of my background but still they knew some and made sure that they helped. They didn’t mind driving me to courses. All of this was possible so I could complete my course.

So even after the course, we are all still in touch. They call me and check on me. They tell me, ‘we too are immigrants, and we all have our immigrant stories to tell.’ They always encourage me to say, ‘this is just the beginning for us’.

What did you like about the FastForward CCMA course?

I want to mention Professor Jill Lassiter, the best teacher I’ve met. Her classes! I can tell she’s very experienced. And when it comes to validation – she was strict about our credentialing. She made sure that we knew what we were doing. It’s not just the curriculum; she made sure that we learned what we are doing. It’s a fast-tracked course, and she made sure, in three to four months, that she could give us the most in that short period of time.  

She helped us learn how to negotiate for interviews. She made sure that we knew what we are doing. That’s how she trained us. 

Even after the course, Miss Jill is just a call away. If we need any explanation, or if we have doubts about skills we’ve just learned, she makes sure to get back to us. We just have to ask her. She responds and replies back. That’s the great thing about NOVA – it’s not just course and you’re a graduate and you’re done – they keep in touch with you. She’s told us that she’s there for us. They make sure that they’re still in touch. They are always there to help the students whenever they need them.

Tell us about the friends you’ve made in the course?

I love that we all still keep in touch. We still have the NOVA CCMA group that we created on GroupMe, and I see all my friends texting on how to interview, what should we wear and they post job openings. They say where they got hired, and whenever someone needs help, we post that in our group. 

I still keep the reminders on my phone of my classes. I just keep them going because I like to look back to think about how great that time was. So, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 p.m., I still hear those reminders that class starts in 10 minutes.

What would you tell an incoming NOVA student?

What I would tell an incoming NOVA student is to be truthful and to have courage. Nothing is impossible. For me from holding a chalk and a duster in a hand to needles and syringes, it just feels amazing. I know that for one who really works hard and gives the best, nothing is impossible. And one who has this dream and goal in life, that I do, and when we put all our efforts, heart and soul there, we can definitely achieve it.

What do you think of now looking back on your success here at NOVA?

Each student in the program, we were all new and had no experience; but we made sure that the skills that we learned at NOVA gave us the confidence to interview. I am now working at Elden Street Pediatric Clinic in Herndon, Virginia. They are really helping me grow there as well.

I had seen many people in nursing who work on caring for people, and I didn’t know what it meant or what it meant to be in healthcare until I started; especially during the pandemic. For me this was the best paying opportunity that ever happened. I knew that finishing this course would open so many doors for me.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.

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