“If I can do it, anyone can.”
So states 35 year-old Lien Fajardo, a smile in her voice.
The Cuban-born mother of two young children married an American citizen and moved to Springvale in 2006, becoming a citizen herself in 2011. Upon arriving in the U.S., Fajardo was presented with barriers of language, challenges of adjusting to a wildly different culture, and the demands of raising children away from the support of her extended family and friends.
“It was a culture shock.”
Today, Fajardo still misses the warmth of her native Cuba–-the weather, the people, the food. But, like countless immigrants before her, she cherishes the opportunities that her new country presents to those who are willing to reach for them. She calls it “hope.”
She resolved early on that that none of the challenges she faced would stop her from reaching goals she knew were achievable.
To learn English and to help with expenses, Fajardo took a job at the Target store in Biddeford. She pieced together the meaning of words by regularly asking fellow workers to repeat the names of common items. “What is that? A fork. What is that? A spoon”
She began to volunteer, first at the local daycare, then at Sanford Community Adult Education.
Today she is a fluent speaker of the English language and teaches Spanish to students at Sanford Community Adult Education.
“I like teaching Spanish,” said Fajardo. “I didn’t expect it to be so much fun.”
In Cuba, Fajardo had earned a degree in Civil Engineering and then worked as an engineer in La Habana, Cuba. When she could not secure a position in Civil Engineering in Maine, she decided to return to college to earn a business degree. Although she considers any job an opportunity for growth, she knows that an education is the real route to success.
She enrolled in UMA’s Bachelor of business administration, majoring in financial accounting, and began taking classes at the university course site in Sanford, which offers courses online through delayed viewing.
“I enjoyed it,” said Fajardo. “It gave me a run for my money.”
The course site in Sanford is part of University College, the University of Maine System’s distance learning organization. The Sanford site is administered by University College at Saco. Erica Watson, director of University College in Saco, admires Fajardo’s drive.
”It is a pleasure to work with Lien,” said Watson. “She is a goal oriented student and her determination and dedication shows in and outside the classroom. She is willing to form study groups, use tutoring and ask for help when needed. Lien gives back to the community by teaching Spanish in Sanford Adult Education and is proud of the life she has created in Maine.”
The staff at University College Center in Saco, where she is enrolled in a Chemistry lab, feels to Fajardo like an extended family.
“Everyone here is very friendly – if you have questions they will guide you to whatever you are looking for,” she says. You come in, ask for help and they tell you where to find it. If you want to go back to school, they’ll help you find interesting classes that will improve the quality of your life.”
University College at Saco is one of eight University of Maine System (UMS) centers located across the state. Designed to provide access to university courses and degrees for people who live too far from campus, courses are taught onsite by university faculty. The center also offers online courses from all seven University of Maine System campuses online and via Interactive Television (ITV) and videoconference. A well-equipped computer lab allows people without access to high-speed internet to participate in online classes.
Students can choose from 13 associate degrees, 31 bachelor’s degrees, and 10 master’s degree programs as well as dozens of undergraduate and graduate certificates. More than 1000 courses are offered each semester. Many students enjoy doing all of their coursework online and never need to make a trip to the center.
The convenience of having access to university courses and support services in their communities is important to Fajardo as it is for many area students. Small class size and experienced on-site staff offer support and academic services that can make the difference between academic success and failure.
Despite barriers of language and culture, Fajardo tackled her classes with enthusiasm and soon found herself on UMA’s Dean’s list, part of the Honors program, and the recipient of a Rising Scholar award. She hopes to continue her stellar academic performance and model the importance of a college education to her children.
Fajardo plans to graduate in December 2015. She hopes to find work as an accountant— preferably in an educational setting.
What advice does she have for others contemplating a return to college?
“Go out and do it,” says Fajardo. “Get off the couch and do it – knowledge is never a waste of time, and you’re going to have fun along the way.”