Student of the Month: Michelle Harper-vanRabenswaay

With the chaos of Hurricane Sandy gradually passing, Per Scholas is happy to be getting back to normal and even more eager to share the story of an inspiring Per Scholas graduate. Michelle Harper-vanRabenswaay looks like many of the faces we have seen of individuals hit hard by the economic recession. Michelle had a lifelong career up to 2011 loyal to one employer, a non-profit in Flushing, New York, for almost 25 years. With no clear explanation, her position was dissolved and Michelle was let go.

Michelle didn’t collect unemployment. Instead she maintained a part time retail job at the The Container Store working nights a few days out of the week. This transition was a far cry from her 9:00-5:00 office life helping to operate a non-profit. Although this was a hardship for Michelle, she viewed it as a choice to carry her into the next phase of her career.

Michelle found Per Scholas in early 2012, fortunately shortly after her job ended. She continued working nights at The Container Store and came to class every morning, on-time. She killed it in tech class. With the vast majority of Per Scholas students coming in as beginners her instructor wondered, “Where the heck did this come from?” Well, while at her last job she learned a lot from the sole IT person on staff, the IT Director. She watched and learned, and began working out issues of her own by trial-and-error. She pushed herself a little more with some side classes and over time became the default #2 support person the staff turned to when issues arose. Over the nine years following, Michelle was responsible for huge projects like creating the Active Directory infrastructure and transitioning the agency from on-site to outsource IT support. “I’ve always had an investigative mind developed by my mother and I realized that IT is my real passion. I am constantly curious about how tech works and find incredible rewards when I solve a new problem or learn about a new technology. It’s a skill that can never be taken away from me which is empowering.”

Armed already with skills most any employer would find valuable, Michelle found the ticket to her success was the professional development training — our Life Skills course which readies our students with a marketable résumé, on-the-job etiquette, interview skills, and most infamous, the 60-second pitch. “I practiced my 60-second pitch literally every day. It’s amazing how hard it is to talk about yourself. The life skills training gave me so much confidence in myself and made all the difference in making my job search effective. I have Mr. Naser to thank for getting me to where I am.”

“Michelle had the best attitude in class every day. I knew from her acceptance of new methods and diligence toward carving herself into an outstanding professional through Life Skills class it would result in her having huge success in the pursuit of her IT career,” her Career Developer Elias Naser shared about Michelle.

So where is Michelle today, you might ask. In the Per Scholas history books, that’s where! Michelle is the first Per Scholas student to be hired by the global financial service provider Barclays. She began her new full-time, permanent job this week as a Global Technology Analyst. The company expresses Michelle will not be their last hire from Per Scholas either. Michelle wanted to especially thank the leadership of Per Scholas board member Joe Squeri, CIO of Barclays Wealth and Corporate Bank, for opening a door and Louis Berrios and Nicole Wuerslin, the employment specialist team at Per Scholas who connected Michelle with the opportunity. And of course, her tech instructor Mr. Washington because without teachers in our lives, there would be no professions.

This is Michelle’s first step into Corporate America after nearly 25 years in non-profit. She’s excited to have been given the opportunity — and at the age of 50, she’s an inspiration to anyone that you never give up on achieving your aspirations.

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Per Scholas is proud to announce that we are winners of the 2023 Kristof Holiday Impact Prize, and we have been selected as a beneficiary of The New York Times Communities Fund. Contributions from these campaigns will fuel Per Scholas’ Career Access Fund, providing thousands of diverse learners in 2024 with everything they need to unlock their potential through tuition-free tech training.

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