JCCC Stories

Juan and (almost) done

June 6, 2015

Colombian Juan Piedrahita has racked up scholarships, academic credit and work experience while at JCCC

Juan Piedrahita already had his bachelor’s degree when he decided to attend Johnson County Community College

"I couldn't find a good job in Colombia," Piedrahita said of his home country.

His plan, then, was to come to live with his extended family, who had moved to Kansas City in 2003, learn English and return to Cali, Colombia, to work in marketing or business.

"I believe my education at JCCC is giving me the confidence to face the world," he said.

Three women at JCCC helped him along the way, allowing Piedrahita to win an employee Excel Award, an international student scholarship, a Clay Blair Family Foundation scholarship and a scholarship from Sales Professionals Kansas City.

Shannon Tumanut for English

"The plan was to learn English first, and I was lucky. I chose the right professor," Piedrahita said.

His "luck" brought him to Shannon Tumanut, an adjunct associate professor of English at JCCC.

He still remembers struggling to find the words for a class assignment. He was supposed to describe a festival or celebration of importance to his home country.

Piedrahita chose to discuss a Cali carnival held immediately after Dec. 25, a smaller but still exciting version of the Rio Carnival in Brazil.

Tumanut helped Piedrahita find the words to tell his story. Later, she nominated him for the Clay Blair scholarship.

Patricia Donaldson for kinship

When he signed up at JCCC to become an international student, the conditions of his visa included Piedrahita enroll in at least 12 hours. It's a full load for someone who speaks English fluently. For someone who is just learning the language, 12 hours can seem overwhelming.

"I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn," Piedrahita said. "And Patricia was there to help me."

Patricia Donaldson, a coordinator for immigrant and international student services, also grew up in Colombia. Piedrahita not only found assistance but also a shared culture.

Donaldson also helped him through the paperwork necessary when he decided to try to find a job on campus. His visa would need to be amended, and Donaldson was there to help out.

Leila Jacobs for work experience

When Piedrahita applied to be a student engagement ambassador, he had prepared. Prior visits to the Career Development Center had resulted in a finished resume and a few practice interviews before the real thing.

"The practice helped me be ready for the interview," he said. "The interview was at one o'clock." He flashed a self-effacing smile. "I was still nervous."

He had little to worry about. When Leila Jacobs, student life coordinator, interviewed him for the job, she was impressed by his thoughtful answers and his focus on creating student-centered activities and events.

"Juan's main responsibility is creating and hosting activities in the Campus Center," Jacobs wrote in a recommendation letter. She nominated him for the Excel Award he received, which honors employees who go above and beyond the normal job responsibilities.

"He truly excels in this position, thinking of new and inventive speakers and programs across a large audience — from sports to motivational speaking to help in class — he can reach a wide range of students," she wrote.

Piedrahita said he likes working with college students, not only for the experience but also for the ability to practice his English outside the classroom.

Soon, though, he's destined for the next part of his path: a full-time job.

"At 28 years old, I need to be working, but I am still here," he said.

He plans on graduating in December 2015. "I'll miss JCCC," Piedrahita said, "but I'm ready."