Heroes. Perhaps the word conjures a superhuman figure, like those portrayed in Hollywood films. But real-life heroes live and work among us every day.
Educators, nurses, social workers, firefighters, police officers, respiratory care practitioners, and other essential workers in the Berkshires have been on the front lines of the pandemic since its inception. Many of these everyday heroes were trained in our backyard at Berkshire Community College (BCC). They relied on BCC as an affordable, flexible way to earn certificates or degrees in their fields, or as a stepping stone to transfer to a four-year college.
Fighting fires and crime
The Fire Science program at BCC focuses on fire prevention and fire protection principles and techniques. Students also take general education courses, including human behavior and written and oral communication. The program covers material on the most recent developments in the field and provides excellent preparation for those who work in occupations such as fire protection or insurance underwriting. Graduates earn an Associate in Science degree. For more information, contact Program Advisor Charles Garrity.
Neil Myers, a Pittsfield firefighter, began his BCC education in 1995, graduating with an associate degree in fire science. BCC was an easy choice, because it allowed him to work while attending school full time.
BCC is perfect for the local student who wants to earn a degree while staying home and maintaining a part-time job. The course quality is top-notch,” he says, adding that he appreciates the small-town feel at the college. “It’s an affordable way to obtain your core credits when looking to transfer to a four-year school.”
Fellow firefighter Jesse Underwood-Miller also chose BCC because it was a local and
affordable option that offered a fire science degree. “Education is something no one
can take from you. Always keep on learning!”
The Law Enforcement Certificate Program, part of the Criminal Justice program, is developed in cooperation with the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. The program combines specialized criminal justice and general education coursework to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to compete for entry in the Massachusetts law enforcement field. The curriculum includes courses in constitutional processes, criminal law, criminal investigation techniques, identification of crime typologies and offender profiles, and ethics. All credits earned in the certificate program can be applied to an associate degree in Criminal Justice. For more information, contact Program Advisor Reena Bucknell.
Steve Hunt, a local police officer for decades who earned his associate degree at BCC in 2019, has some advice.
Get going! Get your degree while you are young. I had four children and a very busy career while I was taking classes,” he recalls. “It took a very strong effort to finish my degree.”
Teaching our children
The robust Early Childhood Education program at BCC offers several pathways for students to pursue their career goals. Emphasis is placed on working with individual students, addressing group needs, and demonstrating respect for culture and community. Two certificate programs (introductory and intermediate) and two degree programs (Associate in Arts or Associate in Science) are available for students with varying needs. The Associate in Arts program provides a strong foundation for students continuing on to a bachelor’s degree, while the Associate in Science program prepares students to immediately enter the work force. For more information, contact Program Advisor Patricia McKay.
Denise Foss, who earned her Associate in Science degree in Early Childhood in 2020, says the Early Childhood Cohort is what drew her to BCC.
If you’re thinking about getting a college education, don’t procrastinate. Take the plunge and take the first step to get the ball rolling. It may seem scary, but the benefits will be well worth it,” she says. “Also, don’t ever think you’re too old to get a college education. I was 51 when I pushed past my fears about going to college, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Just do it!”
Nursing our community to health
Nursing — a combination of science and the art of working with people — offers a wide range of career paths, employment opportunities and competitive salaries. At BCC, the Nursing Program offers a wide variety of educational options, including a Practical Nurse Certificate and an Associate in Science Degree in Nursing. BCC’s Nursing Program is a sequence of lecture, laboratory and clinical courses; graduates are eligible to take the licensing examination to become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs). For more information, contact Program Advisor Lori Moon.
Amy Slattery, a current BCC student working on her Practical Nurse Certificate, chose BCC not only because of its affordability, but also because of its collaboration with multiple healthcare facilities to ensure appropriate hands-on training.
Berkshire Community College offers students the chance to explore different fields of study before settling on the one they wish to pursue for life,” she says. “If one shoe doesn't fit right, try on another.”
Jana Ruth Cushman, a sales and customer service specialist working on her LPN certificate, commends BCC’s supportive faculty and staff. “Never be afraid to try new things. BCC offers so many different classes and programs, so everyone can find their dream career at an affordable cost,” she says. “The faculty and staff at BCC treat everyone like family.”
Like nurses, respiratory care therapists have been on the front lines of the pandemic, helping to treat patients with the breathing difficulties associated with COVID-19. Respiratory care practitioners help treat patients with a wide range of cardiopulmonary illnesses, including such problems as asthma or heart failure. Respiratory care includes diagnostic testing and administering oxygen, various other gases and aerosol drugs.
The Respiratory Care Program at BCC is a sequence of lecture, laboratory and clinical courses preparing students to earn an Associate in Science Degree. Comprehensive on-site training helps students learn the skills necessary to work in various settings, including hospital acute care and intensive care units, hospital neonatal units, outpatient rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, home care and diagnostic laboratories.
Valerie Rose, a 2018 graduate of the Respiratory Care Program, said,
The courses were challenging and interesting; the instructors were engaging and supportive. There were so many opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom. Best of all, I had three job offers before graduation. My BCC education prepared me well to start my new career as a respiratory therapist.”
Caring for those in need
The Human Services Program at BCC offers four pathways. First, the Human Services Certificate Program prepares graduates for careers in social services and other community organizations. The certificate is a great way for students to begin their education to determine if human services is a field for them. Second, the Addiction Recovery Assistant (ARA) Certificate prepares students for entry-level work in the substance abuse field. Graduates of this program will be trained to offer supervised individual and group counseling, assessment, case planning, client services support, documentation, and community service outreach and referrals for individuals and families. Third, the Social Work Transfer Associate in Science Degree allows students to acquire the skills, values, ethics and internship experiences necessary to transfer successfully into a Bachelor of Social Work program. Finally, the Mental Health Worker Certificate Program offers classroom and field practicum experience for entry-level work in the behavioral health field. Coursework includes causes of mental illness as well as assessment, diagnosis, and treatment techniques. For more information, contact Program Advisor Kari Dupuis.
Rev. Nakeida Moria Bethel-Smith, a victim witness advocate, forensic interviewer, and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) coordinator at the Berkshire County District Attorney’s office, earned an Associate of Liberal Arts degree from BCC in 2011. She appreciated the opportunity to learn close to home from a “very supportive network of professionals.” For those hesitant try college, she advises, “Don’t be afraid to learn who you are, even when you make mistakes, because it’s the very thing that grows you.”
Feeding the people
Many BCC students and graduates fill other essential jobs, such as grocery store workers. José Miguel Arias-Batista, an employee of Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, worked throughout the pandemic. A 2018 graduate, he chose BCC because “it was an affordable college with plenty of resources and programs that helped me accomplish my goals.” He advises BCC students to get involved. “Try to participate in groups and attend activities at the school,” he says.
Your time at BCC could be very short, but the relationships you develop there could last forever.”
To apply to BCC, visit www.berkshirecc.edu/fall. Classes begin Tuesday, September 7.