April is Community College Month and Lorain County Community College is celebrating by sharing stories of students and graduates. Learn more at www.lorainccc.edu/ccmonth
From the time he was 15 years old, Jose Fontanez Jr. wanted to work in the restaurant business. The Lorain High School graduate planned to take over the local eatery where he had worked the grills and griddles for more than 17 years.
But then he suffered a major medical scare.
In 2013 Fontanez spent two months in the hospital and underwent three surgeries as doctors treated a large cyst on his pancreas. As he recovered, he thought he still had an ironclad agreement with the restaurant owners to take over the business. But the handoff never happened.
“Things didn’t go the way I planned,” he says.
But his medical emergency changed his life — and his thinking about his career – and by 2015, Fontanez was ready for something new. He was accepted to Lorain County Community College’s Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program, which helps full-time students complete their associate degree in three years by removing financial and logistical barriers.
“I found a whole different world out there,” says Fontanez, 36, who earned his Associate of Applied Science in Radiologic Technology degree May 2019. “It was the greatest choice of my life so far.”
Fontanez chose a career in the medical field after spending so much time in the hospital. While grateful to everyone at the hospital as doctors figured out what was causing his illness, Fontanez was also frustrated with the experience. He wanted to help those going through similar medical circumstances.
“I’ve been there on the receiving end of needing health care and feeling helpless, and I wanted to do something about it,” he says.
At LCCC, Fontanez felt anything but helpless — he felt supported, emboldened, energized.
Helping him make that adjustment was the SAIL program and its advisors. Fontanez says the financial assistance – including gap tuition scholarships, textbook vouchers and gas cards – was valuable, but that was nowhere near as vital as the mentoring he received from Cynthia Arredondo, his academic adviser.
“Being with the SAIL program helped me get things done faster and stay on track better than being on my own,” he says. “Going in, I would have tried to take a lighter course load. But Cynthia helped me push through.”
While attending classes and dealing with additional health issues related to his pancreatitis, Fontanez continued working 40 hours a week at local restaurants and raising three boys with his wife, Amanda. Despite the heavy load, he completed his associate degree in just three years, and his AAS, which included a clinical rotation at University Hospitals St. John Medical Center, in four. And he graduated with honors, with a 3.5 overall GPA.
“Jose is truly an individual committed to excellence,” Arredondo says.
Today Fontanez is working full time at UH St. John Medical Center in interventional radiology and x-ray. He’s also feeling good physically. And he’s forever glad he decided to take a chance stepping onto LCCC’s campus and cooking up a new career.
“It’s changed my life in more ways than just a job field,” he says. “It’s changed me as a person, my way of living, everything. I’m so grateful for LCCC for being there and for putting myself there, because I opened up my mind.”
Learn more about LCCC’s SAIL program at www.lorainccc.edu/SAIL.
Learn more about the LCCC Radiologic Technology program at www.lorainccc.edu/health.