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Finding My Path
Class of 2012 Heads in Many Different Directions: Universities, Laboratories, Restaurants and Other Workplaces

Svetlana Jordan
Erica Morrison

Erica Morrison made a decision last year that has nearly doubled her salary. She enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia to get the training to become a certified pharmacy technician.

After completing the six-week Wanamaker Scholars Program, the mother of two passed the state exam, which qualified her for a new job at Keystone Mercy Health Plan paying $7 per hour more than she earned as an uncertified worker. Today, Morrison works in Keystone Mercy’s prior authorization department, which determines what medications are medically necessary. “The certification made all the difference,” said Morrison.

Today’s challenging job market often demands that workers obtain the appropriate academic and occupational certifications, along with their academic degrees. By coming in on the ground level, students like Morrison gain real-world experience in fast-growing industries. This gives students a competitive edge as they pursue their educational goals.

The popularity of these programs has grown as more local employers seek out job candidates with credentials that attest to their proficiency. Community College of Philadelphia celebrated its largest graduation class ever on May 5 with 2,258 candidates for associate’s degrees and academic certificates.

Below are vignettes about a few of those students: who they are, where they will go, what they will do.

Health Services Management and Patient Service Representative

Iyun Williams, 34, a former emergency medical technician, originally had a nursing career in mind when he enrolled at the College. After conducting job market research, he switched his major to Health Service Management (HSM). “Even though I like patient care, because I have been an EMT for seven to eight years, I realized that there is a whole lot more to health care than nursing,” Williams said. Williams graduated with associate’s degrees in HSM, Patient Service Representative (PSR), and Culture, Science and Technology, qualifying him to work in a variety of health care settings and increasing his job prospects. He also earned a PSR proficiency certificate. “I want to find a good job, and then pursue a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “My goal is to be the manager of a hospital.” Williams plans to work in patient service while he attends Drexel University.

Dental Hygienist

Talia Shumsonk, 26, earned a bachelor’s degree in Science from Pennsylvania State University but decided that that career was not for her. The Bristol Township resident really wanted to work as a dental hygienist and chose Community College of Philadelphia for its diverse student body and urban setting. “The patients that we see are more diverse than I would ever see in the suburbs,” Shumsonk said. “It is more realistic, and it gave me a chance to feel more comfortable and confident going out into the world.” Affordability also weighed heavily on Shumsonk, who took out student loans to help pay for her bachelor’s degree. “I did not want to be swamped in more debt,” she said. Shumsonk received an Associate in Applied Science degree in Dental Hygiene, with credits that are transferrable to a four-year program. She currently works as a dance instructor, but once she passes a state exam, Shumsonk can work as a licensed dental hygienist.


Svetlana Jordan, 28, immigrated to the United States from Russia when she was 19 and became a naturalized American citizen in 2010. She tried her hand at several jobs before enrolling in the College’s Culinary Arts program, deciding that “people always have to eat.” Her education led to employment after a professor recommended her for a job as a line cook at Shannondell at Valley Forge, an upscale retirement facility in Montgomery County. “I do want to become an executive chef, and I know it will take a few years,” said Jordan, whose immediate goal is to become a sous chef. She plans to work full time while pursuing an advanced degree. “There are a lot of jobs out there for students with degrees,” she said. The projected growth rate for culinary and hospitality jobs in the region is above the national average, thanks to the recent expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center and tourism emerging as a vital economic engine.

Event Planner

Kelsey Humphrey chose the College’s Hospitality Management program as the route to a career as an event planner. Since January, Humphrey has been getting hands-on experience as an events management intern with the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association (GPHA). She expects to continue her internship after enrolling at Temple University and earning an Event Leadership certificate. “Meanwhile, I have many networking events I plan on attending in the future through GPHA,” Humphrey said. The GPHA internship allowed the single mom to work while she earned an associate’s degree in Hospitality Management, which prepares graduates for work in a wide variety of related careers. As an event planner, Humphrey will coordinate all aspects of conventions, professional meetings and events.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Alban Bici is the first student ever to graduate from the College’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) degree program. Surprisingly, the international student had never heard of this emerging profession when he arrived from Albania two years ago. Mapping and GIS are two of the fastest growing areas within the technology sector. Bici, who is in the United States on a student visa, will continue his education at Strayer University. Most geographers need a master’s degree in Geography, although some midlevel positions allow candidates to substitute experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. A bachelor’s degree is enough qualification for some jobs in government, businesses or nonprofits. “I know the economy is still on recovery, and millions of people are still unemployed, but I do believe that with a strong and well-educated, young generation, we can accomplish big things,” he said.

Clinical Laboratory Technician

Chau Dang, 29, started on the path to a Nursing degree, but changed her mind after her first experience in a chemistry lab. Peering through a microscope fascinated her. The international student has proven to be a whiz in the lab and this year won the Chemistry Departmental Distinction award. With a Clinical Laboratory Technician degree, Dang will seek a job as a lab assistant. A bachelor’s degree could elevate her to the level of clinical laboratory technologist, at double the pay of a technician.


Shanshan Zhuang, 26, has always had a mind for science and wants to use science as a tool to understand the human body. A career in medicine was a logical choice for the Chinese immigrant, whose family made a great financial sacrifice to send her to America. “My older brother chose to work instead of going to college so that our parents could send me instead,” Zhuang said. She has worked in a dentist’s office while attending Community College of Philadelphia. The more affordable tuition rate has enabled her to reduce the long-term cost of a medical school degree. Graduating this year with an associate’s degree in Science, Zhuang plans to get a bachelor’s degree at Temple University and then continue on to medical school. “For me, there is an urgency to do better, not just for my sake, but to help support my family,” she said. 

Information on these and other career and certification programs will be available this summer as the College hosts open houses at our Main Campus and Regional Centers. RSVP for an open house, or stop by the Main Campus Welcome Center for a weekly information tour. Click here to learn more.