Last Updated on March 7, 2020 by Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region
KOKOMO, Ind. – Going to college may have been somewhere on Fredy Santamaria’s wish list in June of 2015, but it wasn’t anywhere near the top when he and two younger brothers left their home in El Salvador. It was the beginning of what would be a month-long trek from their Central American home to seek asylum in the United States.
And, when he arrived in Logansport, Ind., where some family members lived, in July of 2015, he certainly never could have predicted that five years later he would be a high school graduate who has earned one associate degree, with honors, from Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo and is working on a second – and one of 17 students statewide honored with the 2020 Indiana Award for Excellence for Outstanding Postsecondary Career and Technical Education Student.
Santamaria received the award recently in a public ceremony at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis as part of the state observance of National Career and Technical Education Month, a public awareness campaign designed to celebrate the value of CTE and the achievements and accomplishments of CTE programs across the country. Blair Milo, Indiana’s secretary of Career Connections and Talent, and Gene Hack, president of the Indiana Association of Career and Technical Education Districts, congratulated the winners.
Santamaria was still 17, his brothers 16 and 14, when they left their parents and two younger siblings in El Salvador. Tired of living in fear of gangs that prevented them from attending high school, they hit the road for a better life in the United States. Once at the border, they filed for asylum and were allowed to travel on to Logansport, more than 3,000 miles from home.
Santamaria left El Salvador six months short of completing high school. With minimal English, he started over at Logansport High School, mastered the new language and earned a Core 40 diploma in three years. (An honors diploma would have taken another year; while he would have preferred that, Santamaria says, he was ready to move on.) Work permit in hand, next would be a job.
“Honestly, I was not even going to college,” Santamaria says. Tuition, books, time – college just didn’t seem a realistic destination for the young immigrant. But Beth Chaney, coordinator of the ASAP program for Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo, had other ideas.
Chaney was busy recruiting Logansport High School seniors for the College’s Associate Accelerated Program that offers motivated recent high school graduates the opportunity to earn a “two-year” associate degree in just 11 months. After meeting Santamaria, hearing his story, and learning he had already earned 20 hours of college credit through the dual credit program, Chaney went to work, engaging other faculty and staff in helping to encourage him and putting together the financial resources that would allow him to join the new ASAP cohort at Ivy Tech’s Logansport site.
Some support came through Proteus, Inc., an Iowa-based private, nonprofit organization that has been serving migrant and seasonal farmworkers, immigrants, and others since 1979. Having worked at a greenhouse while at Logansport High School, he qualified for their educational assistance.
“ASAP was a good experience,” Santamaria said. “I’m glad I met Beth because she changed my life. Now I consider her my second mom.” Chaney and Robyn Schmidt, chair of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s Cyber Security/Information Assurance program, were with him in Indianapolis for the recent award ceremony.
Santamaria made the most of the opportunity, going to school full-time and finishing requirements for an associate degree in Liberal Studies in 11 months, earning membership in the Phi Theta Kappa national academic honor society and Dean’s Award recognition as the 2019 outstanding graduate in Liberal Arts.
Santamaria’s accomplishments were even more admirable considering they were achieved while he continued to work full-time. While going to school full-time, he worked 12-hour shifts, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., alternating three days one week and four days the next, as a quality technician for HTI, a Logansport business that heat-treats metal parts for manufacturers.
“Fredy is what everybody wants in a student — kind, reliable, responsible, with an unbelievable work ethic,” Chaney said. “He is a tremendous role model for other students.”
With a lifelong interest in computers, and training in computer maintenance and website design beginning when he was just 12, Santamaria decided his next step would be a computer-related degree. Ready to get into the digital workforce as quickly as possible, last fall he began work on a second associate degree – this one in cyber security – that will prepare him for a high-quality, high-wage job upon graduation this May.
Excited to be a member of the first classes to study in the new Cyber Security lab created as part of Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Campus Transformation, he has already passed Core 1 and Core 2 of the CompTIA A+ certification. This certification is a nationally-sought-after credential in Information Technology fields.
Since November, he has worked part-time at La Fiesta, a Hispanic grocery and restaurant in Logansport owned by the family of one of his fellow ASAP students, and he recently started as a student ambassador to recruit Hispanic students within Cass County to enroll at Ivy Tech through the Cole Scholarship Program. What does he do in his “spare time?” He likes to draw and write poetry and has been learning to play the guitar but, he says with a smile, can’t find much time to practice.
Santamaria awaits an immigration court hearing on his asylum request and, with his second Ivy Tech degree completed soon, is looking forward to launching a career in the burgeoning high-tech field of cyber security. He looks forward to earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information technology fields. According to Julie Byrd, chair of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s Software Development program, Santamaria has a great future ahead, citing his work ethic, his dedication to learning, his teamwork, his time management skills, and his contribution to his classes.
“Fredy wants to be technically strong for the future of his career in the information technology industry,” Byrd said. “He proves it every day.”
SOURCE: News release from Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo