Our Stories

Building Bridges to 21st-century Careers

April is Financial Capability Month! We are celebrating by sharing stories that highlight our financial stability work. 

Yohannes Kassaye is a client of JVS (Jewish Vocational Services) in Boston, whose Bridges to College and Careers Pathways program helps topple barriers to employment for low- and moderate-income residents. This free 23-week college prep program segues into a professional curriculum at community colleges that prepares people to work in growth industries short on talent. LISC has committed $675,00 over three years for the JVS Bridges initiative. Kassaye, a native of Ethiopia, describes how the program helped him realize a dream of working in science and health—and how doors keep on opening.

Six years ago, I arrived in Boston from Ethiopia, where I was born and raised. I spoke little English and knew almost no one. Like so many immigrants to this country, I was starting from scratch.

In Ethiopia, where I’d studied economics and accounting, I had worked as a data analyst with an international health organization, collaborating with doctors and nurses to ensure that AIDS patients received adequate anti-retroviral treatment. I also worked as a representative for a U.S.-based global health initiative, helping ensure that funds allocated to public health programs were used appropriately.

While I was doing those jobs, I was inspired by the commitment of the many healthcare providers I met. They were working in difficult environments with little funding or resources, but their dedication never wavered. It made me realize that I wanted to join the healthcare field, too, so that I could help others. But I had no idea how to do so with no science background.

In spite of my education and experience, when I arrived in Boston it was very difficult to find work. During my first years here, I took any kind of job I could get, which were mostly low-paying positions in hotels and food service. My English improved, but these jobs offered little in the way of professional growth and didn’t pay enough to support a family. I knew I would need to figure out ways to get on a career path in this country.

A little over a year ago, a friend told me about his experiences with JVS. When I explored their website and found out about the Bridges to College Biotechnology program, I worried about getting into the program as I had no science background. I soon discovered that JVS offered the math, science and college readiness classes I needed to go on to study biotech at the college level, and it didn’t take long for me to see I was in a good hands. What’s more, our classroom was a virtual cultural center, filled with people of all backgrounds, and many of us formed strong bonds.

The staff worked tirelessly for us throughout the program, not only at JVS but also when we transitioned to classes at Quincy College, a local community college, where students learn biomanufacturing processes in a specially-built lab, and also receive help with resume writing, handling interviews and job placement. We trained on state-of-the-art equipment used in the industry today, and I now know that biotech firms are eager to hire graduates from the program because it saves them months of training time. 

I completed my certificate in biotechnology and compliance from Quincy last fall, and am now taking classes for my associate’s degree. I also landed an internship with Seeding Labs and from there, was hired by GCP Applied Technologies, a large chemical company based in Cambridge, where I work as a technician. I never imagined getting such an interesting, hands-on position in the sciences. It’s a lot to juggle two jobs, classes and family obligations, but the hard work is worth it: I’m still on the ground level, but I am creating a better life for myself in a field that I am passionate about. And I know that one day I will be where I want to be.

Yohannes KassayeABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yohannes Kassaye
Yohannes Kassaye is a quality control technician at GCP Applied Technologies and works on the logistics team at Seeding Labs, a mission-driven scientific enterprise. He lives in Boston with his wife and two children.