By Aremi MacDonald
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“I wasn’t sure if I would know how to do it, but I just did,” explained Chumnith Udom, as he recalled building his first computer. The 21-year-old student from Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh moved from his hometown to the Seattle area a year ago, where he now studies at South Seattle College (SSC).
“In Cambodia, I wanted to be an architect, but I noticed my friends would always ask me to help them fix issues with their email or Facebook.”
Udom took a liking to IT work and studied computer science in Cambodia, but soon realized his interest was really in cybersecurity. Shortly after, he came to Seattle with his father to pursue just that.
Udom says he wants to study network security administration, but must pass English proficiency courses at SSC before he can begin taking course-related classes. As a first-year student new to the United States, Udom says he’s been receiving a lot of school-related help and advising to guide him, thanks to the college’s Educational Opportunity Center (EOC).
The center provides guidance and connects students to various resources for those that wish to receive an academic degree or start career training.
The EOC assists in applying for financial aid, finding scholarships, academic and career guidance, completing high school requirements, obtaining GEDs, English proficiency courses, college admissions, transfers to other schools, finding childcare, and other necessary resources to support students.
The center was provided a grant by the U.S. Department of Education. It is one of 140 of its kind that is federally funded within the United States, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education. The EOC is in its third of five years it was allotted government funding for.
“We have a broad scope and support any educational pathway from academic to technical, to professional degrees or certificates,” said Megan Nord, EOC student development specialist and adviser.
The center focuses on helping students that are 19 years and up and are either low-income, first-generation college students, or veterans who have not yet earned a college degree.
“We are currently serving a lot of veterans and English language learners,” said Nord.
Udom was referred to the center by a WorkSource program coordinator and family friend within days of arriving in Seattle.
“People find us through our community outreach, but the majority of people that find out about the center have been referred to us. We have so many community connections that help out. Word of mouth has been really helpful,” said Nord.
Nord met Udom on only his third day in the United States.
“Megan has really helped me. Even if I need help and she doesn’t have the answer or it’s not in her position, she’s really good at giving me recommendations,” says Udom.
He says Nord has assisted him with filling out financial aid forms and figuring out what English proficiency classes he needs to take.
The college offers multiple English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to non-native English speakers who are immigrants, residents, or refugees.
“Our ESL classes typically take a full year to complete. There are five to six courses to go through. Each one takes about a quarter, but it really depends on where the need is and where the student places,” said Nord.
Udom says he got placed in a higher English proficiency class than he expected.
“I never thought I’d get placed in this class so soon. It requires a lot of writing,” he said.
The ESL courses are intensive, said Udom. He dedicates a majority of his time to his studies. Assignments that take some students 30 minutes will often take him a day to complete, he said.
“Sometimes I am afraid that the classes or assignments will be too easy, so I love the challenge.”
Udom enjoys taking on difficult tasks and testing the unknown.
“On Christmas Eve, I went to Fry’s Electronics and bought computer parts to build my own computer.” He wasn’t sure if he would be able to build it, but eventually prevailed, he said.
“I also took apart my laptop just to see if I could put it back together again.”
Udom’s dedication to his studies is reflective in everything he does. He spends over three hours a day on the bus just to commute from home to South Seattle College and back.
Udom thinks he will soon be ready to test into English 101, which means he could start taking prerequisites for his degree at the college. Once he completes his prerequisites, he plans to transfer to Highline College in Des Moines, where he will work toward a bachelor’s degree in network security and administration.
“I love technology and I want to protect people from being hacked,” he said.
The EOC has helped him a lot through the process, said Udom.
The center has two years left of federal funding. However, funding beyond that timeframe has not been secured yet.
“We will be reapplying for another grant once we’ve reached our fifth year so that we can continue serving our students,” said Nord.
For more information about the EOC visit southseattle.edu/trio/eoc/Default.aspx
Aremi MacDonald can be reached at email@example.com.