Iliana Pulido, 22, lives in the City Heights area of San Diego and received her high school diploma in 2013 from Arroyo Paseo Charter School. She started community college right after high school but left partway through her first semester for family reasons.
For a while, Iliana was babysitting, then worked at a retail store stocking merchandise.
“I knew that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life working there,” she says.
With aspirations to work in the medical field but uncertain what kind of occupation she wanted to pursue, her main goal was to go back to school one day.
Over the next few years, she heard about various career training opportunities, but it wasn’t until a letter from the San Diego Housing Commission arrived with information about the Introductory Life Sciences Experience (ILSE) program that Iliana’s interest in education was renewed.
ILSE, operated by Biocom Institute—a funded partner of the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP)—is a 21-month pilot program launched in October 2015. It provides a reentry pathway into a STEM career in the life sciences for young adults 18–24 who are not currently in school and who have substantial barriers to employment, education and career pathway planning. Through one-on-one support, college coursework, work-readiness training and a paid internship, participants receive focused assistance in taking the next steps on their career paths to higher education and/or employment. The first group of 13 students finished their internships in the summer of 2017.
“I knew that ILSE was a step to getting back to school,” says Iliana.
She was among the first group of students, and successfully completed 150 hours of work-readiness training and introductory lab courses at Miramar College.
Iliana’s participation in the ILSE pilot program inspired her and helped her set goals. She enrolled as a full-time student at Miramar College and in September, she secured a part-time job on campus as an instructional assistant.
Since beginning ILSE, the program has given Iliana the confidence to return to school, and that’s when she started taking classes at Miramar College. Now she wants to pursue a radiology technician program.
“I want to help people,” says Iliana. “ILSE inspired me to go back to school and taught me not give up. When I left school the first time, I didn’t have any support or anyone to motivate me. Now I have people at Biocom supporting me. Whatever I need, I can talk to them.”
Though going back to school isn’t without its challenges, she is embracing the learning environment. “I was surprised at the amount of information we learned in a short amount of time,” she says. “I really liked the hands-on work learning laboratory techniques.”
The training has paid off, and she was placed in a paid internship at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
“I never saw myself working there,” Iliana shares. “I was nervous going into the internship, especially when I realized I would be doing buffers. My supervisor made me do buffers my first week and by the end of the week I got the hang of it and was doing them on my own.”
Now, as an instructional assistant at Miramar College, her responsibilities include setting up solutions and lab equipment. Her favorite part of her job, however, is pipetting cells, the action of suctioning small amounts of liquid for transfer or measurement.
ILSE is supported by Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding through SDWP.
“The advice I would give anybody would be to not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone because joining in the ILSE program was something I wasn't sure about,” said Iliana. “But once I gave it a try it opened a lot of doors for me and it made me see that I'm capable of doing anything as long as you don't give up.”