Overcoming Barriers: Madison College student finds success in Middle College


Photo Provided to the Clarion

Madison College student Alondra Ponce received the Wisconsin Job Honors Award, which recognizes people who have overcome barriers to employment. The award was presented by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in December.

Alison Ahlgrim, News Editor

The business advocacy group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce awarded Madison College student Alondra Ponce with its prestigious Wisconsin Job Honors Award at a ceremony in December. The award recognizes people who have overcome barriers to employment.

At just 18 years old, Ponce has already experienced numerous barriers in her life. “At first, it felt scary to share my story, but then Irealized it was important. I felt very honored walking across that stage,” says Ponce.

One barrier Ponce faced was language. She came to the United States from Mexico when she was 7 years old.

She said she has “always had a motivation to learn more,” and that drive, along with reading books all the time, helped her learn English quickly. “That motivation helped me to explore new traditions,” said Ponce.

More recently, Ponce faced another challenge when she found herself homeless for a time. During that time, Ponce’s boyfriend’s family offered her a place to stay and his mother helped provide transportation to school and work so that she could stay on track, graduate on time, and continue to meet her career goals.

While much of Ponce’s success comes from her own perseverance and hard work, she also attributes her success to her involvement in the Middle College program. Ponce’s culinary teacher at Madison Memorial High School recommended Middle College — a dual credit program at Madison College designed to nurture academically challenged students at risk of not meeting their potential in traditional high school. Students can enter tracks to learn about health care, culinary arts, or manufacturing, gain work experience while finishing high school, earn 30 college credits, and exit the program with solid workplace connections and knowledge.

Lisa Hollman, Workforce Development Programming Liaison at Madison College, noted that “Alondra was always self-motivated, but Middle College allowed her the opportunity to have a pathway to her goals, and support services to continue to motivate and develop her skills, experience, and knowledge. Middle College was involved in Alondra’s life at times when the barriers towards her personal and professional success were overwhelming and may have derailed another individual.”

In fact, upon learning Ponce was homeless, Middle College staff drove her to Briarpatch Youth Services to connect her with the Transitional Living Program and provide her with stability in housing. She now lives in a bedroom within a house and has a case manager to help her with figuring out finances, transportation, food, college, and personal goals.

An internship through Middle College turned into a job after graduation when Ponce was hired as a dialysis technician trainee with UW Health. She plans to stay with UW Health as an interpreter, Certified Nursing Assistant, or medical assistant while completing the Liberal Arts transfer program and then medical school on her way to becoming a pediatrician.

For students who are experiencing obstacles in their lives, Ponce says, “Never give up. Don’t stress. Situations are different and you might think this is really bad, but Wisconsin and our schools provide really good opportunities for everyone. Someone out there will help you. Just like someone helped me.”