Born and raised in Peru, Darleny L. first immigrated to the United States 10 years ago in search of a new adventure. She spoke no English, but learned on the job while working at The Cheesecake Factory at the CambridgeSide Galleria. She proved to be a quick study, and moved up the ranks in short order—from the bakery, to hostessing, and then to waiting tables. Unchallenged and unfulfilled, Darleny decided “It was time for another change.” She sought an industry with more opportunities for career and personal growth.
Darleny found her niche working in customer service at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge. She found herself naturally excelling in her new role, at times making decisions far above her pay grade for the sake of efficiency. “At the time, I just saw it as being customer focused. I was passionate about my work,” she explained. But there was little opportunity for advancement without a college degree. Her boss would always say, “A degree is the way to move ahead.” Darleny heeded the advice, and enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College to study hotel management.
The Hotel and Restaurant Management Program was highly rated, and at the time it was Darleny’s path to the career she wanted. But, she soon learned that BHCC was not the place for her. “I just never felt like I fit in there, and I felt lost,” she recalls. “There were so many students. Like everyone knew what to do, and I was the only one who was figuring it out.”
According to Darleny, the instructors there seemed to have little to no time for tutoring, and the financial aid office did a poor job explaining the financial aid process, or why she needed to fill out a FAFSA. “I didn’t know what I was filling out and I felt uncomfortable,” she said. “I decided to just pay out of pocket for my classes.”
A suggestion from a friend prompted her to visit, and consider transferring to Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. She sat down with Associate Dean of Academics, Jackie Cornog, and they talked in depth about life and career goals. Combining the business and customer service practices she had learned at her previous jobs, BFIT’s Technology and Business Management program seemed like an ideal match. During the first week of classes, Darleny realized she felt right at home. “The teachers at Benjamin Franklin are amazing,” she says. “Whenever I need help, it is always easy to get. When I have doubts, I know someone can help. I just have to ask.”
Combining the business and customer service practices she had learned at her previous jobs, BFIT’s Technology and Business Management program seemed like an ideal match.
Summer classes allowed Darleny to enter into her third semester energized and ready for her second year of study. During the summer, she took advantage of the courses offered, and enrolled in math classes—algebra and trigonometry. “It was really hard in the beginning,” she said. But by the end of the summer, she was loving math. She thanks her professor, James Johanson, for making the time for her. “I think it was hard for him to give me extra help during the summer, but he was very consistent with me. We would meet one-on-one in the mornings for tutoring and he would even help me on his day off.”
Today, Darleny serves as BFIT’s Financial Aid Assistant. Most days after class, Darleny can be found in the financial aid and admissions office helping prospective students with the application process. “I remember chasing, literally running out the door, a young man who had stopped in to learn more about BFIT but then suddenly disappeared,” she recalled laughingly. The prospective student felt overwhelmed when speaking with her about his future at the school and how he could pay for it. “I knew exactly how he felt, exactly what he was going through. And I wanted to tell him he could do it and we would help him.” The student eventually enrolled at BFIT, and is now a first-semester student in Automotive Technology.
Darleny sees many similarities between herself when she first started college and the students she helps now. She believes strongly that there should be a way for everyone who wants a valuable college degree to get one, without taking on overwhelming debt. She feels it is important for her to help other students the way she was helped at BFIT. I told myself, ‘I can make this happen’, and I want the same for others. I started from the bottom, from zero. I spoke no English when I came to this country, and I came by myself.” The youngest of her siblings, Darleny is the only one who has moved to the U.S. Her brothers and sisters live in Peru, Chile, and Spain. In East Milton, however, she was acquainted with a distant relative of her Peruvian family who offered shelter for her first six months in the city.
In her free time, Darleny mostly does homework and reads. “That’s the nerd side of me,” she chuckled. She enjoys reading science and technology books, and recently has been reading about coding and app development. When she’s not studying, she likes catching up on the television show, “Shark Tank”. Her favorite cast member is Lori Greiner, an American inventor and entrepreneur. “I learn a lot from the show,” she said. She especially likes hearing Greiner’s expertise when giving contestants tips on business plans.
Darleny is grateful to everyone she has met at BFIT and around Boston. “I feel like Boston opened its arms to me, and I’ve made so many good friends.” Darleny is remarkably pragmatic too. When she resigned from the hotel to enroll full-time at BFIT, she downsized to a cheaper apartment. “I figured it was only temporary, just until I finished school. As Benjamin Franklin said himself, a penny saved is a penny earned, right?” On track to graduate in May, Darleny would “definitely consider staying at BFIT after graduation if admissions offered me a full-time position,” she readily confides. “I love it here, and I know I can help connect more first-generation students like me to affordable associate degrees that will allow them to become financially independent sooner.”
Learn more about BFIT's Technology and Business Management program!