That’s the word Sariana Rivera used to describe the Lorain County Community College commencement ceremony she attended in 2019. At 18, the Lorain woman graduated with her associate of arts degree, and her high school diploma from Lorain High School at the same time through Lorain County Early College High School.
“My parents encouraged me to do Early College,” Rivera says. “And the more I looked into it, the more I saw that it was a great opportunity to knock off some college and finish high school with a degree.”
Rivera made a home at LCCC, bonding with her fellow classmates and her instructors. But the draw of an on-campus college experience pulled her west. She attended Arizona State University for one semester before homesickness set in, after which she transferred to The University of Toledo and began studying nursing.
Then the pandemic hit. Dorms closed and Rivera moved home. She considered enrolling at LCCC, but worried online courses weren’t how she learned best. So, Rivera put college on hold and joined the United States Army.
“My parents were shocked, because I had always told myself I wouldn’t join; it just wasn’t me,” Rivera says. “I don’t know how the idea got in my head, but I contacted a recruiter and signed on.”
In June 2020 Rivera enlisted with the Army National Guard and by October was in South Carolina for basic training. After that, Rivera went to Advanced Individual Training in Virginia for three months where she trained to be a petroleum supply specialist. Known as 92-Fox, these specialists are primarily responsible for supervising and managing the reception, storage and shipping of bulk or packaged petroleum-based products.
When not on active duty, Rivera committed to spending one weekend each month training. But the nation was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We went active duty and began helping out in hospitals,” Rivera says.
Between Northeast Ohio and Columbus, Rivera worked in emergency rooms and on labor and delivery floors. The experience showed Rivera that, despite what she once thought, the Army was in fact for her.
Rivera says the most impactful experience from that time, and the experience that helped guide her toward becoming a surgical technologist, was when a woman came into the emergency room moments from giving birth.
“It was just me and the nurse,” Rivera recalls. “The nurse was calming the woman down while coaching me through delivering the baby.”
Rivera received an award from her command sergeant major for her actions that day. It came during demobilization, where members of the National Guard meet after active duty to talk about their mission experiences.
“Our command sergeant major picked certain people from the symposium crowd to highlight, and I was one of them,” Rivera says.
The active duty experience, during which Rivera also assisted in several cesarean sections, solidified her future career goal of becoming a certified surgical technologist.
“They are standing right next to the surgeon, serving as their right hand and handing them everything they need. That’s big,” she says.
In the operating room, the certified surgical technologist is the expert technical team member in perioperative surgical management. They maintain patient safety as a sterile member of the surgical team, including management of all sterile fields, technical equipment, supplies, and instrumentation involved in the surgical process. And the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 8.7% employment growth rate for surgical technologists through 2023.
To gain the education and work experience she needed, Rivera went straight to a familiar campus that has always been ready and steady – LCCC. The college was also among the first in Ohio to receive the State’s Purple Star Award for its commitment to veterans.
Rivera connected with LCCC’s Veteran and Military Service Members Center and immediately had a team of fellow veterans rallying around her. The team’s first task, led by Navy veteran and LCCC career and academic advisor Esperanza Correa, was to get Rivera enrolled in the surgical technology program for fall 2022, even though the deadline had passed.
“Espy worked with me right away to figure out all my admission forms, help line up my Federal Tuition Assistance, and contact the program instructor,” Rivera recalls. “She got me in; she was great.”
In fall 2022 Rivera began the Associate Degree in Surgical Technology program, where students learn the principles and practices of surgical procedures and functions in the operating room.
“We teach with compassion for our students and their future patients,” says Korrine M. Anderson, program coordinator and assistant professor for LCCC’s Surgical Technology program. “We strive to cultivate a culture of success and promote rigorous performance standards based on continuous improvement and best practices within the surgical environment.”
Once students master their skills in the lab, they move on to a three-semester clinical rotation. Rivera will begin her clinical training at the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus in fall 2023.
“In Northeast Ohio, we are fortunate to have many wonderful healthcare institutions,” Anderson says. “Our program has affiliations with 21 different clinical sites.”
Rivera expects to graduate in December 2023 and hopes to land a full-time position with the Cleveland Clinic once she earns her degree. As she plans her post LCCC graduation goals for a second time, she’s doing so knowing that, while college, career and the National Guard might pull her in many different directions, Lorain is always home. And LCCC is always ready.
“It gives me a sense of security and relief knowing I have a great school to go to right at home,” she says.