Mayra Gomez has always felt comfortable with the language of numbers.
“I’ve liked numbers my whole life,” Gomez said, agreeing that they have been something of a security blanket for her since coming to the United States from Mexico with her parents when she was already 20. “Numbers are just universal, plus I just have a square head like that!”
Gomez, now 41 and a working mother of three, attended high school in Mexico, but said an education there doesn’t translate well toward obtaining a good job in the U.S., particularly when a language barrier is factored in.
“For my husband and me, it was hard learning the language,” she said, adding the internet played a big role in her learning the basics of communication to help support her family along with her husband, who works in construction. “I learned English just based on reading, software I could learn by myself and experiences we would have, such as going to the doctor. I would just look up words I was going to say.”
Gomez still works a restaurant job by day but will soon be broadening her horizons beyond all expectations. This past spring, she earned a career certificate in Business Office Technology from Hinds Community College after having completed the MIBEST program. The program allows adult students to train for a job skill while earning their High School Equivalency certificate at the same time. Students are prepared to be job-ready in six months to a year, training in high-demand areas and earning national certifications.
“I found the program while online, and I called to find out more about how it helps people get a high school diploma,” she said.
This fall, Gomez is enrolled in classes at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus that will land her a technical certificate, then a full Associate of Applied Science degree. After Hinds, she wants to pursue a career in accounting, a goal she said gained steam while working a seasonal job as a tax preparer with a Vicksburg accounting firm. She also counts membership in the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa honor society as another plus in her social development.
“I still have to take English Composition next semester, but I’m excited,” she said. “I still need to learn more about the language.
All participants in MIBEST have access to support staff, or navigators, whose job it is to help students focus on their studies by advising them on a wide range of life issues – which often include everything from child care to transportation to ways to find rental assistance for those in such a situation.
“My navigators and instructors are my angels here,” she said. “Whenever I feel lost, they guide me and make me feel welcome.
“I consider them more than just instructors – they’re my friends. I was afraid to come back to school mainly due to language. I was wondering what would happen if I said something wrong or wrote something wrong. But they told me, ‘No, don’t be afraid. Just ask and we’ll see what we do to fix it.’”
Instructors and navigators in the program even go so far as to say Gomez is the best MIBEST student ever.
“Mayra entered into the Adult Basic Education program with definite goals set for herself,” said Vanessa Shiers, navigator in the program at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus. “Upon entering the program, she began working hard and showing a kind of determination that was a delight to see in a student.”
Ramona Latham, her instructor in Business Office Technology, found it refreshing Mayra was willing to help fellow students as she herself needed help with class assignments.
“Mayra is the type of student every instructor loves to have in their class,” Latham said.
“When she required assistance, she reached out so that she could get a better understanding of the subject matter. When her classmates required assistance, she was always willing to help. In her three semesters with me, she proved to be dedicated, diligent and filled with compassion.”
As inspiring as she might be for her instructors, her biggest driving force is her children.
“I want my kids to feel proud of me,” she said. “I want to show them it’s not about age to be successful. You can go out and get something that you really like and dream about it. One of my dreams for me is to finish school, get a good job and show they can do it if they decide to do it.
“Recently, I was working on my school work at home and my kids saw my grades. They were like, ‘Mama, you got a 98 or a 100.’ So, I can say if I can get good grades, you can do it, too.”