In Time of Crisis, MDC Advances Equity and OpportunityNew programs, scholarships keep doors to education open

Veterans and students studying outdoors in round-table

Since opening its doors in 1960 as the first integrated junior college in Florida, Miami Dade College has been an equalizing force for Miami-Dade, narrowing opportunity gaps through access to an affordable college education for all who seek it. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting South Florida hard this summer amid local and nationwide cries for racial justice and a backdrop of economic anxiety, MDC leveraged its resources and partnerships to respond – and keep the doors of opportunity open. The new programs and sources of aid have become lifelines for vulnerable students and workers throughout the region.

Acting Fast, With Care

Thanks to federal CARES Act funding identified by the U.S. Department of Education, and generous private support from the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Foundation and Miami Dade College Foundation, MDC established the MDC Cares initiative, providing emergency grants to students with the greatest financial need and launching new programs to help individuals get employable skills, certifications and college credentials in a rapid timeframe.

“Our top priority is serving our students, and we want them to know they can count on us,” said MDC Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Lenore P. Rodicio. “We have created a robust plan to support all students and help restore the local economy to build a stronger Miami.”

The College also expanded its American Dream Scholarship, which covers two years of tuition for high-achieving recent high school graduates, and the Last Mile Completion Scholarship to help students 13 or fewer credits away from an associate degree make it to the finish line. According to U.S. Census data, an associate degree increases one’s earning potential by approximately 25% over their lifetime. With 84% of MDC students dependent on financial aid – many just one car repair or medical emergency away from dropping out – the Last Mile closes the gap for vulnerable individuals, enabling them to qualify for better-paying jobs and changing the trajectory of their and their families’ lives. Supports for military and veteran students were also extended through MDC Cares, including the creation of a housing stipend.

“The goal is to accelerate students toward completion and jobs,” said MDC’s interim president, Dr. Rolando Montoya. “MDC CARES aims to remove all barriers to completion, and we are grateful for the generous support from the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government, the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Foundation and the MDC Foundation.”

Upskilling the Workforce

Workforce development through rapid credentialing is a key focus of MDC Cares.

Kick-Start Your Career offers courses in high-demand pathways including networking, digital marketing, graphic design, help desk support and more. Kick-Start participants gain highly employable skills as well as certifications and a college credit certificate – a stepping stone to an associate degree and higher earning potential. Digital Marketing completers can earn Facebook certification and Network Security participants have CompTIA certification covered by MDC.

Marcella Holness, director of the Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Center at North Campus, worked with community-based nonprofits Miami Children’s Initiative and Liberty City Coalition to spread the word about Kick-Start as well as a certificate in early childhood administration to residents of North Miami-Dade and students at Miami Northwestern Senior High.

“It was important for me to offer programs where people can realize outcomes. There are opportunities in these career fields and for people to immediately find work,” Holness said.

Anyone dealing with job loss can boost their employability with new certifications through Upskill Your Career, a catalog of online professional development courses and certifications in the business, public safety, IT and medical fields, with scholarships available to cover the costs.

‘New Normal’ Pivots

Few sectors have been spared negative effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. Its blunt impact on South Florida’s $18 billion tourism industry, for which MDC is a leader in workforce development, displaced thousands of workers in the realm of hospitality.

“The hospitality industry suffered after 9/11, but we bounced back,” said Shelly Fano, director of the MDC Hospitality Institute. “I have never seen anything of this gravity.”

In August, with a $3 million grant from Miami-Dade County and instrumental assistance from MDC Foundation Immediate Past Board Chair Julie Grimes, the MDC Hospitality Institute launched the Hotel Worker Relief Grant Program, connecting displaced workers with emergency aid and re-training in the “New Normal” protocols essential for a return to work.

Created in partnership with the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association and the College’s School of Continuing Education, the program prepares and retrains vulnerable hotel workers on COVID-19 “New Normal” safety and sanitization protocols while boosting their employability through soft-skills training, resume writing and connecting them with jobs in the industry. Each of the 2,500 participants receives $1,000 for completing the training – $500 upon approval of their application, which requires unemployment verification and a reference from their workplace, and $500 upon completion of the program.

Each of the two-day training sessions serves approximately 50 people at a time to ultimately serve a total of 2,500 workers in the industry, from entry-level workers to supervisors. Acknowledging the many stressors that workers are coping with – from sudden job loss to racial injustice, or COVID-19 illness of themselves or loved ones – the program began with mindfulness coaching and meditation to give participants an opportunity to re-focus their energies on career and overall wellness.

“Everybody is affected,” Fano said. “From entry-level to supervisors, we are serving everyone.”

Camp Hope Opens Doors, Minds

Not even a pandemic could stop Camp Hope, the MDC Hospitality Institute’s annual, no-cost summer camp for high school students. In partnership with South Dade NAACP and the College’s Gibson Education Center in Coconut Grove, MDC pivoted the 2020 camp online, giving students, ages 13-17 from West Coconut Grove and Homestead a foundation in culinary and nutritional training while engaging them in interactive workshops on pertinent topics. Topics covered during the camp included digital and media literacy, anti-racism and diversity, multicultural communication, public speaking and leadership, employability and life skills, college and career prep, and more. Guest instructors included Grove community leaders such as Dr. Freddie Gillam Young and Cornelia “Corky” Dozier, and former state senator Dwight Bullard addressed the students at their Completion Ceremony on Aug. 21.

“We’re going to follow these students and mentor them,” Fano said. “MDC is a conduit to the world, to life.”