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How Far Can Job Corps Take You? 4,318 Miles

Filed in Job Corps By on February 10, 2015

Matthew Parker in Alaska

Editor’s note: Since beginning our blog series on the 50th anniversary of Job Corps, we have asked readers and the public to submit their own stories about how Job Corps affected their lives here, or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #JobCorps50. The following guest post is by Job Corps graduate Matthew Parker.

During my senior year of high school, I was not entirely surprised when my parents told me they could not afford to send me to college. As a bookkeeper and phlebotomist supporting three children, they didn’t have the luxury of funding my educational aspirations.

So, walking across the stage with my diploma in hand at graduation, I took the first steps of my journey into adulthood. I was uncertain about what the future held, but I understood it was up to me to shape it.

A lifetime paying off student loans did not appeal to me, so I went to work. I worked as a commercial fisherman in Dillingham, Alaska, worked at a discount warehouse store, and held an office position at an insurance adjuster company in Anchorage. I earned some money, but it became painfully obvious this was not going to cut it.

A high school friend who was interested in learning the computer repair trade told me about the Alaska Job Corps Center in Palmer. I had never heard of it. Frankly, it sounded too good to be true (free? really?), but it piqued my curiosity. A month later, along with my sister, we traveled to Palmer, where we’d soon be Job Corps students.

After five months at Job Corps, I completed the computer repair trade program. I also had a first-of-its-kind internship with the local telephone company as an entry-level desktop support technician. I found that I really enjoyed the computer industry, and I yearned to learn much more.

So, I applied to the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist and A+ certification advanced program at the Edison Job Corps Center in New Jersey. Within six months at Edison Job Corps, I earned half a dozen more industry-recognized information technology certifications and started another paid internship.

Next, Job Corps paid for me to take business administration classes at Middlesex County College, which prepared me to secure employment as the sole systems administrator at the Edison Job Corps Center. Just like that, I was responsible for providing IT support to the very campus that had given me the edge I needed to succeed in the field. Think about that sustained level of support: two Job Corps Centers – 4,318 miles apart – multiple certifications, a head start in the industry, financial support to continue my education, and a career.

Parker FamilyOne day, after four more years as an IT professional, I received a call about applying for an IT position at Princeton University, a call that would change my life and catapult me to places I never thought possible.

I started at Princeton as a technical support specialist before being promoted to IT manager. That was nine years ago. Princeton recognized that even without a college degree, I had gained precisely the skills they needed from Job Corps.

Since leaving Job Corps, I’ve earned my bachelor’s degree, married, had two wonderful children, and now teach IT classes at Princeton Adult School once a week in addition to my day job. In just five years, I went from a high school graduate faced with making my own way for the first time to an employee of an Ivy League school. And I have the Job Corps program to thank for that.

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  1. Reading this story justifies my faith in what our government intends to do and doesn’t always succeed. This program works and should be expanded. The funding for the Bureau of Prisons facility program should be decreased and the funding for the Job Corps facility program should be increased substantially. Without the proper facilities, Job Corps cannot properly train these young men and women. By the way, this young man said it was “free”. Not so much because my taxes and his taxes now fund the operations of all Job Corps centers. Let’s shift the pots of government money around and get JOB CORPS THE NECESSARY FUNDING FOR THESE FACILITIES, even in Alaska.