Saturday – February 16, 2019
MATC Celebrates First MATC Promise Graduates and Prominent Commencement Speaker Dr. Jill Biden
KJ Lor, one of the first MATC Promise graduates, greets Dr. Jill Biden, former U.S. second lady and
supporter of Promise programs, at a reception before MATC's 2017 Spring Commencement.
When KJ Lor applied for the MATC Promise program in late 2015, he couldn’t have foreseen that he would have a chance to meet former U.S. second lady and Promise program champion Dr. Jill Biden an hour before his Milwaukee Area Technical College graduation. Lor was a member of the first MATC Promise class, which began attending courses at the college in August 2016. He and three of his fellow Promise students chose to pursue technical diplomas, so they were able to complete program requirements in time to graduate from MATC this May. Most members of the first MATC Promise class are enrolled in associate degree programs, which generally take two years of full-time study, so they anticipate graduating in spring 2018.
Biden served as MATC’s Spring Commencement speaker May 17. Along with former President Barack Obama, Biden led a campaign to ensure greater access to higher education by advocating for two years of free community college for students across the country. She continues to promote College Promise programs nationally. Biden is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. Because she was devoted to increasing national awareness of the importance of community and technical education while she served as U.S. second lady (2009-2017), she may seem an obvious choice for a technical college Commencement speaker. But she became MATC’s speaker in an unusual way.
Dr. Martha Kanter (l),executive director of the College Promise Campaign;
and Dr. Jill Biden, former U.S. second lady and MATC Spring Commencement speaker;
join the procession entering MATC's commencement.
MATC Spring Commencement organizers were thrilled to have secured Dr. Martha Kanter, who served as under secretary of education in President Obama’s administration and now is executive director of the national College Promise Campaign, as the college’s Spring Commencement speaker. But Kanter, who was very familiar with MATC’s Promise program and particularly impressed with the collaboration and speed with which the MATC Promise was launched and implemented, surprised college officials by asking Biden to take her place as MATC’s Commencement speaker.
Kanter Wanted Biden to See a Promise Program That Works
Kanter said, “I urged Dr. Biden to speak at MATC’s Commencement because I wanted her to see a Promise program that is changing students' lives!” “She convinced Biden to present MATC’s Spring Commencement address. Both women traveled to Milwaukee for MATC’s Commencement, greeted MATC graduates and visited Bradley Tech High School, which graduated more than 100 applicants for the first MATC Promise class.
“I urged Dr. Biden to speak at MATC’s Commencement because
I wanted her to see a Promise program that is changing students' lives!”
- Dr. Martha Kanter, executive director, College Promise Campaign
MATC launched Wisconsin’s first Promise program on Sept. 9, 2015. Beginning in fall 2016, the MATC Promise paid tuition and fees after federal and state financial aid was applied for eligible high school students enrolling at the college.
Lor was invited to a small reception for Biden just before graduation because he was one of the first MATC Promise graduates. “It was very exciting and I felt honored to meet Dr. Biden,’ he said. “At first I thought I would feel awkward because she is famous. But she made me feel comfortable.”
Lor First in Family to Attend College
Lor earned a machine tool operations: CNC setup and operation technical diploma, and intends to continue his education at MATC by pursuing either the CNC programming or the tool and die making technical diploma programs in the fall. A graduate of South Division High School in Milwaukee, Lor was encouraged to apply for the MATC Promise by MATC recruiters and his high school counselor. The oldest of four children, Lor is the first member of his family to attend college.
Lor crosses the stage at commencement with his newly earned diploma.
“Going to college was a little intimidating at first,” he said. “But after the first week, I became more comfortable. College gives you the freedom to make your own choices and gives you more responsibility. I like that a lot. You have to put expectations on yourself because no one is going to tell you what to do in college.”
He chose to study machine tool operations because he likes science, math, blueprint reading and the chance to create things with his hands. With computer numerical control equipment, machinists can draw or create the parts they want, he said. Lor also chose the machine tool diploma program because there are many job openings for machinists.
Nivia Gonzalez was another Promise student who completed her technical diploma in May. She earned her automotive maintenance technician technical diploma. Gonzalez attended Riverside University High School on Milwaukee’s east side. Her high school counselor urged her to consider applying for the MATC Promise program.
Nivia Gonzalez also was one of the first graduates of the MATC Promise.
She earned an automotive maintenance technician diploma in May.
Gonzalez Decided MATC was a “Better Fit” for Her
Gonzalez had been considering enrolling at the Milwaukee School of Engineering but after learning about the MATC Promise, she decided that MATC was “a better fit” for her. She wanted to enroll in a one-year program and wanted to fix cars.
She knew she was interested in an automotive career from the time she got a car at 17. “My first car had problems and I wanted to figure out how to fix them,” she said. Her father, uncles and friends had a little auto repair knowledge, so they gave her advice. She also searched online for solutions. “I find it satisfying to fix cars, to know that I can figure out the problems and repair them,” she said.
Nivia Gonzalez is pictured with MATC automotive maintenance instructor Scott Fisler.
Gonzalez enjoyed the program and attending classes at MATC’s Oak Creek Campus. “We had a combination of lectures and labs. The environment is very friendly. It’s welcoming and comfortable. I liked the small class size and the labs.”
Her advice to high school students going on to college: “Try your best. In college, attendance is very strict. If you are focused and prepared, college will be easier. College was better than I expected. Everyone was nice and the teachers were great.”
For more information on the MATC Promise, visit: http://www.matc.edu/promise/
MATC’s Spring 2017 Commencement held another exciting and unexpected moment when Chris Abele, Milwaukee County executive and community philanthropist, announced his personal pledge to give MATC $500,000 to expand the MATC Promise program to serve more people with tuition-free college. Abele said he wanted to especially target this gift for student scholarships and technical training for people living and working within the 53206 ZIP code. This gift will expand planning for Wisconsin’s first Adult Promise Program.