Growing up, Walter Zamora dreamed of being in the medical profession so he could help the sick. He worked hard in elementary, middle, and high school, always striving for good grades, taking the ACT college admissions examination, and doing extra credit work. Despite all his efforts, when it was time for college, Zamora had to face a harsh truth. Because he was born outside of the United States, he would be required to pay out-of-state college tuition and the many scholarships and financial awards he had been offered would not cover the cost of attending college. He could not afford to continue his education.
Zamora’s parents had moved to this country when Zamora was just 5 years old. Due to the hardships in their native country, Mexico, they sought a better future in the U.S. for their two sons. “I would always talk to my parents about my dreams for the future,” Zamora said, “but my enthusiasm would end with the reality that it was almost impossible for me to go to college because of the high cost.”
Zamora graduated from Lincolnton High School in 2013, and seeing his high school friends heading off to college in the fall saddened him. A year went by and his hopes had faded, until one day his mother suggested that they go to Gaston College for one more attempt at finding a way to attend school.
A counselor at Gaston College advised Zamora that he would be able to register for classes and pay in-state tuition, and on that day Zamora applied for enrollment in the Medical Assisting Program at Gaston College. He soon learned that he was accepted into the program.
His eagerness to pursue an education and keen interest in the Medical Assisting Program did not go unnoticed. “I met Walter when I was the Medical Assisting Program Coordinator and I interviewed him for admission into the Medical Assisting Program,” said Lynn Nichols, who is now the Associate Dean of Health and Human Services and a Medical Assisting Instructor. “From talking with him, I quickly learned how proud he is of his Hispanic heritage and of his passion to give back to his community. He stated that because of his family background where education was not an option, he never imagined going to college. Walter having the opportunity to attend Gaston College and graduate from the Medical Assisting Program broke the educational barrier in his family. His family’s background and the poverty of the people in his birth country motivated him as a student to succeed so that he could one day make a difference in the lives of others. I remember that as a student Walter was always most appreciative of his instructors and the support that he was given from them and from his classmates.”
When Zamora started in the program he became fast friends with his classmates. “We were like a little family, having each other’s backs when we were down, and helping each other study for exams,” he said. The instructors became more than just teachers for Zamora. “They became my life mentors,” he said. “They did everything they could to help me out when I struggled, whether it was looking for ways to get some kind of financial help, or staying with me hours after class to further explain topics I couldn’t understand. The instructors always motivated me to strive for more, and to never give up.”
“Walter was a dedicated and diligent student in the Medical Assisting Program at Gaston College,” said Dena Bridges, Coordinator of Medical Assisting and Phlebotomy. “He related well with his classmates and instructors. Walter had a desire to learn everything he could when in class. His classmates all respected Walter because of his friendly nature and positive attitude, and he was always willing to help his classmates or instructors. He always followed the guidelines while in clinical classes. Walter was a one of a kind student.”
The instruction and support Zamora received through the Medical Assisting program fully prepared him for the required clinical work, and he felt ready to put into practice everything he had been taught. Zamora graduated from the program in May 2016. “I am thankful to God for the Gaston College Medical Assisting Instructors because they had seen something in me that I could not see for myself, and they pushed me until I came out of the program with my Associate’s Degree and my Medical Assistant Certification.”
Although Zamora had planned to eventually continue his education and go on for a bachelor’s degree, when he graduated from Gaston College he was not completely sure what his next steps should be. In October 2016 he moved to Louisiana and took a job with Chicago Bridge and Iron as a carpenter on a construction project to build a Liquified Nitrogen Gas Plant. He remains in that position.
Through this work, Zamora has developed an interest in refinery/plant jobs, but he has retained his affinity for health-related issues. Recently, he began taking classes to become a Field Industrial/Commercial Construction Safety and Health Technician, which will allow him to combine his interests. When he completes his studies in a few months, he will have the training to ensure that job sites are safe, secure, and meet OSHA regulations. He can monitor that workers are safe and that their assignments are not harmful to their health. As a Safety Tech, Zamora will be responsible for responding to emergencies or accidents that occur at the worksite, and he will be First Aid/CPR/AED Certified.
Zamora is eager to begin this new phase of his career, and he is keeping his future options open. “I am not quite sure what is in stock for me,” he said, “but I would like to go overseas as a Safety for big construction projects. I may also decide to go back to school and go for my bachelor’s and perhaps my master’s degrees.”
The education and training Zamora received at Gaston College opened doors for him that he had only dreamed of. Through the support and encouragement of his classmates, instructors and mentors, he has exceeded his own expectations and is confident that he can succeed wherever his career path takes him.