Erika Barcenes, Class of '13
Bachelor of Science in Aircraft Operations
Jamaica, New York
Erika Barcenes' journey to Vaughn College took seven years and several detours. Now that she has arrived, nothing will sidetrack her.
Barcenes was 24 when she started at Vaughn in 2009, a bit older than most of her Class of 2013 colleagues. But then, she has had a lot going on since graduating from Progress High School in Brooklyn.
With ROTC commitments, a full-time job, a part-time job and then a lengthy surgical rehabilitation, things were a bit hectic for the Jamaica, Queens resident who is determined to graduate ahead of schedule.
"I was seven years out of school," Barcenes says. "The first month was very stressful; all the recent high school graduates had this knowledge right on their fingertips. But I picked it up pretty quickly."
Few students have as rich a personal history as Barcenes. Initially focused on a military career, she had her dream of an Air Force Academy commission scuttled when in 2007 she voluntarily donated a kidney to a friend.
Working full time as a home health care aide, she considered nursing and other opportunities in the medical industry before a colleague recommended Vaughn College. She is now studying aircraft operations with the hope of becoming a commercial pilot; having only one kidney does not restrict her from non-military flying.
"I was doing a good deed," Barcenes says. "But it stopped my dream of being in the military. It closed a lot of doors."
Those doors opened a bit when she began at Vaughn in fall 2009. Barcenes took 18 credits her first semester while keeping her health aide position. She surrendered her part-time job when she enrolled in Manhattan College's ROTC program.
Her military values have sustained her through the challenges of life, she says.
"I've learned how to be a much stronger leader," Barcenes says. "At so many points in my life I wanted to quit but the only option is to finish school and make a better life for myself."
Even if she'll never fly for the military, Barcenes appreciates the opportunity Vaughn offers her.
"I had the opportunity to come to this school and can make my dream of being a pilot possible," she says.