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Robert Valdez

Robert Valdez, a graduate of Oklahoma City Community College, recently received the Outstanding Student/Graduate Award from the Oklahoma Career and Technical Education Equity Council.

He was one of 14 Oklahomans honored, along with four businesses and organizations, at the 26th annual Making It Work Day at the Capitol on Feb. 13. Making It Work Day recognizes individuals who are committed to removing barriers to success for single-parent families by providing educational experiences for students beyond the classroom. The presentations were made at a ceremony at the Oklahoma History Center. The ceremony also recognized nontraditional students.

When Valdez enrolled at OCCC in January 2016, he was the first person in his family to attend college. He had been in English as a second language classes as a child and told to stick to careers that involved working with his hands and consequently did not believe he could succeed in college, said Julie P. Johnson, employment coach in OCCC’s Career Transitions program, who nominated him for the award.

“He also thought that at age 30-plus with six children and justice involvement in his past, he might be too old for college. Therefore he initially enrolled in the OCCC automotive technology program,” Johnson said. “However, while sailing through the hands-on coursework, he discovered the intellectual challenge of his required general education courses.”

In his first year in the Career Transitions program, Valdez volunteered to work at Christian Brothers Automotive, in the OCCC Material Control office and with a local cleaning service. After that year, he combined a full course load with 20 hours per week of work, first in assets and production and then in the automotive technology department, Johnson said.

In his last semester at OCCC, Valdez worked 20 hours a week, completed two associate degrees in political science/pre-law and modern languages, earned a certificate in automotive technology, maintained a 3.5-plus GPA, earned academic honors, shadowed a district judge and a lawyer during spring break and took care of his six children, Johnson said.

Valdez is now pursuing a degree in legal studies at the University of Central Oklahoma and plans to attend law school.

OkCTEEC is affiliated with the administrative division of the Oklahoma Association of Career and Technology Education. The council advocates for students pursuing nontraditional careers and for resources for educating single parents.

“The mission of OkCTEEC is to increase the awareness of collegiate and technical education by focusing on high expectations and full participation for all students and employees in career and education in Oklahoma. The Making It Work Day Ceremony is held to recognize those individuals, programs and business partners that have worked so hard throughout the year as well as bring a direct awareness to state senators and legislators,” said KayTee Niquette, Work Prep and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families coordinator at the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

She serves as an adviser for OkCTEEC, along with Lisa French of the Department of Human Services and Gina McPherson of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

“Making it Work Day is our annual opportunity to spotlight the investment and hard work that is being done to empower our students who are single parents and most often first generation students who dream and want to pursue higher education,” said Lisa D. Brown, OkCTEEC president and director for career transitions at Oklahoma City Community College. “We encourage them to aspire to set goals as never before, take the steps to achieve those goals and then gain the confidence and success of completing those goals.

“Making it Work Day is their red carpet moment to celebrate these successes and to show and not just tell Oklahoma that this program and its funding is well spent and valuable to the lives of these individuals, not for that moment but for a lifetime. I often relate what we do to the story of the butterfly that finally leaves the cocoon being transformed as confident, beautiful, strong and free to soar.”

OkCTEEC’s purposes include promoting and supporting career and technology education, increasing its effectiveness, promoting research in the field and in educational equity, developing leadership and advocating for equity and diversity.

For more information about OkCTEEC, visit okcteec.org. For more information about the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, visit www.okcareertech.org.

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