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MiraCosta College Gets $6M To Offer Workforce Training At No Cost

Eugenia Fernandes assembles an underwater robot at MiraCosta College's Techno...

Photo by Matthew Bowler / KPBS

Above: Eugenia Fernandes assembles an underwater robot at MiraCosta College's Technology Career Institute in Carlsbad, Dec. 8, 2016.

When a U.S. company brings an immigrant worker into the country on an H-1B visa, it pays the federal government a fee to help train American workers to one day fill the job. Now that money is flowing into San Diego County.

Earlier this week, Eugenia Fernandes put the finishing touches on an underwater robot. But it was her 7-year-old son's idea to make the robot's body out of Legos. Showing a video of her son singing, Fernandes reflected on her source of inspiration.

"He's my entertainer," said Fernandes, 29. "He's also my motivator."

He was the motivator behind her capstone project for MiraCosta College's Engineering Technician Program, and also her motivator to go back to school.

Before enrolling in the program, Fernandes was supporting her son by working in fast food and security. When she graduates next week, she'll be eligible for higher paying jobs at several technology and manufacturing companies — including one that makes the headsets she wore as a fast-food worker.

Video by Matthew Bowler

"I feel well equipped," Fernandes said. "I feel like I can actually go out and get a career."

Soon, MiraCosta will offer this opportunity free of charge. It recently secured a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The funding came from fees U.S. businesses pay when they bring an immigrant worker into the country on an H-1B visa. The idea is to get American workers on the path to one day fill those high-skill jobs.

The school is offering programs for machinist technology, Computer Numerical Control programming, robotics, quality control technician, craft brewing technology, electronic assembly and marine engineering technician.

It's also partnering with Cuyamaca, Grossmont and Chaffey community colleges to offer similar tuition-free programs in information technology, cybersecurity, drone technology and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Linda Kurokawa, director of community education and workforce development at MiraCosta, said more than 90 percent of students in MiraCosta's machinist technology and engineering technician programs find jobs in the field. They end up at companies like General Atomics, Qualcomm, Nordson ASYMTEK, ViaSat and Hunter Industries.

Kurokawa said most graduates start out making around $15,000 a year but are placed on a path with upward mobility.

Under the grant, MiraCosta will waive the $6,000 tuition for anyone who enrolls. But the school plans to reach out to women, Native Americans, veterans, individuals who were formerly incarcerated and those who have autism.

As for Fernandes, she said her son would enroll now if he were old enough. He wants to be an engineer, just like mom.

"I'm excited to show this to him," Fernandes said, maneuvering her robot in a large bucket of water. "'Your idea worked!'"

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