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Paula Rojas
There’s a world of opportunities at HCC for veterans and service members who want to gain new skills and prepare themselves for life after the military.
While preparing for life in the combat zone in Iraq, Paula Rojas discovered a new calling that fueled her plans for life after the military – a future in the medical field.

While training to go to Iraq for convoys, which is outside the wire in combat, we attended a combat lifesaver training course where we learned advanced life support skills to be able to help someone when there isnt a medic around, she said. Through this experience, I really found my passion.

Rojas completed 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, including three tours of duty in the deserts of Iraq, and is now on the pathway to fulfilling her passion at Howard Community College. As a student in the cardiovascular technology program, Rojas is working toward her second degree and learning skills to be able to help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions involving the heart, assisting with procedures like cardiac catheterization.

After talking with advisors and doing a lot of research, I decided to enter the invasive cardiovascular technology field, and Im excited to be on this path, Rojas said. Several members of our families have had heart conditions. Being able to get into a field that satiates my need to help others and learn more in depth about the heart excites me.

Navigating college while also taking care of a two-year-old daughter and working around her husbands schedule as a firefighter can pose challenges, especially with the additional difficulties brought about by the pandemic, but Rojas is thankful for the support she has found at HCC.

A lot of us are non-traditional students. We do have the whole home life, all of the responsibilities of being a homeowner or renting, bills, kids, husbands, and juggling all of those schedules, she said. When we received word that the courses were going remote, I became anxious and worried that I would fail this semester. Luckily, most of my professors have been very caring and understanding.

As president of the Student Veteran Organization and a veteran who has made her own transition from the battlefield to the books, Rojas is especially appreciative of the resources HCC provides to more than 200 veteran students like her.

The Records, Registration, and VeteransAffairs (RRVA) team has been very helpful and proactive, she said. We are fortunate to have a very well-versed and caring team on campus.

From providing guidance on federal programs to finance a college education to making personal check-in calls, the RRVA staff take extra care to make veterans feel supported, Rojas said.

Similarly, HCCs Step UP program and classroom professors also have been a tremendous help. Rojas experienced this support firsthand on two occasions -- when she faced a personally challenging situation outside of school and when the college first transitioned to remote learning and child care facilities shut down while her husband worked his essential job.

Every single one of my professors were phenomenal at helping me, not only as a student, but as a human, to get through those situations and still succeed in my courses, Rojas said. I like that I feel like an actual student and an individual, and not just a number to the campus. I do feel the attention sets me up for success.

For other veterans who are considering going back to school or pursuing new careers, Rojas shares her encouragement.

Theres a world of opportunities at HCC for veterans and service members who want to gain new skills and prepare themselves for life after the military, Rojas said. Im grateful that I am on this new path and that HCCs staff and faculty are helping me make it happen. It’s more than just an education; it’s family and networking.


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