Yudys Diaz’s first job in America was at McDonald’s, washing dishes and flipping burgers for $6 an hour. It was a stark contrast to the life she had in her native country of Cuba, where she was in college studying law and never had to wash a dish in her life, she says. But in America, Diaz was starting over – a new country, a new language, a new life.
“When I got here, I didn’t know English,” said Diaz, who lives in High Point. “It was kind of hard because I felt like I was missing something. If I go to the doctor’s office, I was scared I wouldn’t understand the doctor. When I go to the store by myself, it was awkward. … I didn’t want to be [dependent] on anybody.”
One month after moving to the U.S., Diaz enrolled in Guilford Technical Community College’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), where she learned to speak, read and write English. Over time, the ESOL courses boosted her confidence and built the groundwork she needed to go further in her education and in her career. The program became a turning point for Diaz and put her on a path she never expected.
In spring 2013, she earned her General Education Development (GED) diploma through GTCC. That same year, she also acquired her U.S. citizenship. And she didn’t stop there.
“I wanted to do more,” Diaz said. “I know that if I want to do something, I have to start with the GED. If you don’t have a GED, you don’t go anywhere.”
She went on to pursue a career in aviation, completing two intensive accelerated training programs at GTCC: the National Aviation Consortium (NAC) and Aircraft Manufacturing Program (AMP). That training resulted in a job offer from Greensboro-based Honda Aircraft Company earlier this month. Her start date is Jan. 19.
“This program is awesome,” Diaz says of NAC and AMP. “It was a great opportunity. This is what I was praying for.”
EDUCATION WITH A FLIGHT PLAN
GTCC launched its NAC program in September 2013 with support from a $1.4 million grant. The fast-track program is aimed at training entry-level workers for jobs in the aviation manufacturing industry. The intensive 56-day training combines online instruction and hands-on lab work in basic core skills required in manufacturing; assembly mechanic practical work, including sheet metal structural fabrication; and human resource development training, including resume writing and interviewing.
Students in the program come from all walks of life, with little or no skills in aviation or manufacturing. That was the case for Diaz. A career in aviation was never on her radar. Her adventurous side was more interested in jumping out of planes than performing maintenance on them. That changed the day she met NAC Retention Specialist Marsha Ellis, who gave a presentation about the program to recent GED graduates on GTCC’s High Point Campus. Diaz was one of them.
“She was one of the few who asked questions,” Ellis recalls of Diaz. “She was very bubbly, just full of life. She was looking for an opportunity, and she knew that getting her GED would be part of that process of her continuing to grow.”
Witnessing that growth has been rewarding for Ellis, who says that Diaz initially entered the program with some misgivings but over time developed into a confident and skilled individual.
“This was a brand new skill initially going in . . . she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to do this,” Ellis said. “She’s a very driven individual. She has not allowed any barriers to stop her. She came up with a plan, she put goals in place, and she did what she needed to do to achieve those goals. I’m very proud of her for following through. It’s just great to see.”
Completing NAC gave Diaz the confidence and foundation to enter the Aircraft Manufacturing Program (AMP), an intensive customized-training course specifically designed to fit the training needs for HondaJet, the world’s most advanced light jet. The course consists of 290 hours – 80 percent hands-on lab sessions, 20 percent classroom instruction. To date, of the 90 students who have completed the program, 79 have been offered a position at Honda Aircraft Company.
“The students are pushed to their limits with the high expectations required to be successful at Honda, and most step up to the plate,” said Tony Turner, faculty/coordinator of instructional programs for NAC and AMP. “We are confident Yudys will be very successful in this chosen career path and delighted that GTCC was a big part of this life-changing event.”
The journey has not been easy for Diaz, who had to balance her intensive training schedule with her part-time job as an upholsterer, mother to two young boys, and a wife. It meant sacrificing time with her family in order to better her life and herself. At times, “it was a nightmare,” she says laughing. Once she finished work, she had two hours to run home, put something in the oven and drive to class.
“She was about to quit, and stressing out,” said Jose, Diaz’s husband. “I told her, ‘Keep going. Don’t let anything be an obstacle.’ She would sometimes stay up until 1 o’clock in the morning and have to go to work the next day. … When she was on the computer or doing her work, she missed her children.
“I knew that if she was determined, she could make it. I’m really proud of her. She’s making it. This is what I want for her.”
Two weeks before Diaz received her job offer from Honda, she spoke of the future in terms of “if.”
“If I finish, if I get a job, if, if, if everything happens . . . .”
“If” has since turned into “now.”
Now that I’ve finished.
Now that I’ve gotten a job.
Now I can say to my kids, “I can do it. You have to do the same.”
For more information about GTCC’s aviation programs and training, click here.
For more information about GTCC’s GED or ESOL programs, click here.
– Photos and story by Carla Kucinski/GTCC