This content was published: December 7, 2020. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
PCC’s training helped Elizabeth Gomez create a bridge to a more sustainable future
Photos and Story by James Hill
Portland Community College’s core themes of access, affordability and student success have been put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the closure of the college’s physical campuses, faculty and staff continue to provide the support and guidance students need to earn their degrees.
Elizabeth Gomez is a 2020 PCC graduate and is enjoying the first few weeks of her new job as a designer with Ink:Built Architecture. However, it wasn’t always so certain that Gomez would find light at the end of the academic tunnel.
Years ago in Atlanta, Gomez had been enjoying her work in luxury retail where she planned her store’s visual merchandise. But as more and more consumers shifted to online shopping, companies like hers weren’t willing to invest in visual merchandising for their brick-and-mortar stores.
After nearly 10 years at the clothing retailer and enduring reduced budgets and payroll cuts, she left the company to restart her career. She decided to make a big leap of faith by moving across the country to Portland.
“After a few failed attempts at new career paths, I decided to go back to school,” said Gomez, who quickly discovered PCC’s Architectural Design and Drafting Program. “I had strong soft skills as a designer, but was lacking hard technical skills.”
Architectural Design and Drafting staff and instructors helped Gomez enroll in the right classes and create a pathway to graduation. One of the faculty — Rebeca Cotera — became a role model for Gomez from day one.
“It was a powerful experience for me,” Gomez explained. “As a Latina about to enter a male-dominated field, it was invaluable for me to learn new technical drafting skills from someone who looks like me.”
On top of this support, the North Carolina native was relentless in finding ways to pay her bills. She applied for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA and secured a student loan, complementing the help she received from her partner. In addition, Gomez started a job as a merchandiser in the Pearl District before switching to a better-paying position waiting tables at a local brewery.
“It was hard, it was exhausting, and there were some days I asked myself if it was worth it,” Gomez recalled. “But waiting tables allowed me to pursue my education full time and achieve my goal of graduating on time within two years.”
To sign-up for one-on-one appointments, learn what steps to take, access information sessions and watch video tutorials, visit PCC’s Virtual Admission’s page. Students will get guidance, support, class registration and pathways to degree completion. In addition, current students can use the Virtual Help tab once they’ve logged in to access further support.
Even though her journey was hampered by the switch to virtual instruction, Gomez persevered and graduated last spring from PCC with her two-year associate degree. She admits it was strange to graduate during a pandemic and is remorseful she didn’t have a graduation ceremony, which PCC had canceled. But she was able to experience a socially distanced ceremony in her friend’s backyard, complete with her cap and gown, and a little pomp and circumstance.
Last summer, she entered the job market to use her new degree, which was a challenge on many levels. There was the pandemic, but she also had to compete with recently out-of-work and more experienced drafters and designers. In addition, as a woman of color entering a predominantly male field, she found it hard to apply for positions and experienced bias and roadblocks throughout the process.
“At the end of the day, they’re all behaviors that keep women like myself out of the industry, and make talented newcomers doubt their skills and capabilities,” she warned.
Gomez decided to sign up for the Permitting Solutions Program through PCC to gain experience and help the community. This is an equity program designed to serve clients of color and those with disabilities who have limited or low incomes.
“I wanted to volunteer and give back to the community, and I wanted to keep my newly found skills sharpened,” Gomez said.
But soon after working on a project fixing a Black homeowner’s permit issues, Gomez finally found work, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and job-search obstacles. This fall, she was hired into her first job as a full-time designer with the woman-owned Ink:Built, which designs affordability, sustainability and social equity into the built environment.
“This has been a dream of mine for the past couple years,” she beamed. “When this opportunity came up, I knew I had to jump and take the leap.”