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Grant helps baby boomers enter health careers

Seminole State pharmacy student Sera D’Ascano is heading up a support network for non-traditional students as part of the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program.

Following a career in restaurant management and a long break from the workplace after being severely injured in a restaurant robbery, Sera D’Ascano knew that she wanted her next career to be in the medical field. But when the Sanford woman thought about returning to college with students who were her children’s ages, she hesitated.

“After being out of school so long, the fear was whether I’d be able to comprehend what was going on,” says D’Ascano, 54. “I thought I was too old to be in college, thought I’d be surrounded by a bunch of teenagers just out of high school.”

D’Ascano is exactly the kind of student that the Plus 50 Encore Completion Program, a national program offered by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), is trying to reach.

Seminole State College of Florida is among more than 60 colleges participating in a three-year Plus 50 grant to train 10,000 baby boomers for new jobs in healthcare, education and social service.

“Our plan is to help students 50 and over complete a degree or certificate in the high-demand field of healthcare,” says Cheryl Cicotti, associate dean of nursing for the Ann Wiggins Moore Center for Nursing and Healthcare Professionals for Seminole State, which is the first college in Central Florida to receive the grant. “The programs we’re highlighting are pharmacy technology, health information technology, phlebotomy, home health aide, nursing and physical therapy assistant.”

The AACC grant totals $15,000, Cicotti says, but with matching services from Seminole State, the amount dedicated to the program will be $93,000. The AACC grants are funded by the Deerbrook Charitable Trust and the Lumina Foundation.

As a participant in Plus 50, Seminole State is developing strategies to help baby boomers succeed, including a support network for students 50 and over.  

“Students will meet periodically to address concerns and be peer mentors for one another,” Cicotti says.

D’Ascano, encouraged by her husband and children to get the college degree she always wanted, began attending Seminole State full time in January 2011. While pursuing her Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in pharmacy management, she will head up the support network for her peers.

“Returning to college can be intimidating,” D’Ascano says, “but the atmosphere at Seminole State is great. I thought the other students would all look at me as a grandma – but that’s not at all what it’s like. They treat me no differently than any other student. We study together, they call, they email, we talk and we go to lunch together.”

For more information about the Plus 50 program at Seminole State, please contact Rachel Esser at 407.404.6004.

Seminole State College’s Center for Health Professions, based at the college’s Altamonte Springs Campus, offers programs for nursing, health information management, medical transcription, physical therapist assistant, respiratory therapist and pharmacy technology and management. For more information about the Center for Health Professions, visit the healthcare website, or call 407.404.6004.

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