By Adam Vitcavage
Rolando Lopez found his voice as a champion for youth apprenticeship advocacy after experiencing first hand how an apprenticeship could change his life. Encouraged by a high school teacher to explore apprenticeship, Rolando embarked on a transformative journey that would shape his career and ignite his passion for empowering others.
During his time as a student at Elkhart Central High School, Rolando seized an opportunity to become an apprentice at Surf Internet, joining their IT Department through Horizon Education Alliance’s (HEA) CareerWise apprenticeship program. He’s since successfully completed his apprenticeship and now thrives in his role there while pursuing further education at Goshen College to advance his IT career while studying a business degree, which he views as a Swiss Army Knife that he can use for future ventures.
However, it is not the job itself or the career trajectory that is most rewarding for Rolando. It’s his newfound voice in advocating the importance of finding a career that you can be passionate about to middle school and high school students.
“I come from a low-income immigrant family and never thought I’d have a career in engineering,” said Rolando. “I know there are kids from my community who are struggling to find jobs and they think they’ll just work in a factory like I thought I would growing up. But I became a first generation student and broke the pattern. I know if kids are aware of the opportunities that I had through CareerWise that they can see a brighter future for themselves, too.”
Rolando has spoken at various events throughout Elkhart County. He recently spoke at CareerQuest where 4,000 middle school students from around the county came to learn about different jobs in the area. Rolando discussed how HEA and CareerWise helped him find purpose and a way forward in life.
“It was inspiring to see all of the faces. There’s a lot of diversity in the students and it’s a reminder that one path does not fit every student.”
Throughout the day, Rolando saw how eager students—students as young as 7th graders—were excited about apprenticeships and alternative ways they can approach high school and beyond. He was once in their shoes: a young student without an idea of what would happen after high school. He connects with young people as a near-peer, speaking from experience and showing younger students it’s okay to have ambitious dreams.
But, it is not just to students Rolando is spreading awareness. He’s also addressed the local Chamber of Commerce where he helped introduce businesses to the apprenticeship model that helped him navigate the early steps in his career.
“I spoke to different business leaders during an event at a local high school and I was nervous at first,” said Rolando. “But I just spoke from the heart and explained why apprenticeship programs not only benefit students, but also provide a return to businesses, too.”
Rolando plans to continue his budding career and apprenticeship advocacy while finishing his degree at Goshen College and working in the IT Department of Surf Internet because he knows from first hand experience why opportunities like this are so important.