Rochelle and Mark Sandoval

Florence-Darlington Technical College

"All you need is motivation. Know what your limitations are and work on them. Know your strengths and highlight them. At the end of the day, getting to your goal is what matters."

This story features an interview with husband and wife, Rochelle and Mark Sandoval.


Rochelle: I was born and raised in the Philippines, and came here in 2017 via petition through my husband. I was 33 when I moved to America, and a little bit hesitant to go back to school. I’m considered an international student because I haven’t established my credentials yet. My goal was to be a nurse, and I applied to Florence Darlington Technical College in 2017.

When I told my husband I wanted to go back to school he was supportive, but expenses were a major factor.  And after a certain age, you also start to wonder, “Is this for me? Am I going to be ridiculed for being old?”

I chose technical college for a couple reasons. First, the cost was cheaper. Also, at my age, I wanted to graduate as quickly as possible. And their nursing program offered a lot of opportunities. 

I graduated this year in May and then COVID happened. Now I’m working in the neuroscience care unit, which is scary, but at the same time, an eye-opener. With COVID, you have to be extra careful, but being in the healthcare industry and healthcare field is what I wanted. I’m loving what I’m doing.

My husband is also in the automotive program and graduating this December.

This is our story.


What do you wish more people knew about technical education?

Rochelle: There are a lot of opportunities through Tech. They thoroughly prepare you over a shorter period of time. It’s intense, but they make sure you are ready once you graduate.


What challenges did you face along the way?

Rochelle: First, a different culture. Your mindset about everything boils down to how and where you were raised. You have to be able to adapt in order to survive. It was hard going through college with fresh high school graduates who were 18 and 19 years old, but it made me better. Your maturity level is different at an older age. You know the value of hard work. You know the value of having a family. When you’re younger, those things are way beyond your plans.


What was it like being in college together? How did that motivate you?

Mark: I go to school from noon to 3 p.m. and work a full-time night job. Whenever I’m in school, Rochelle takes over. Being supportive to each other and managing our time together is very important.

Rochelle: When we decided to permanently stay in the US, we knew there were going to be a lot of changes and challenges. We had to adapt to the changes that we faced, but when we had a kid, there was this whole new thing to think about. I really appreciate my husband because when I started school, I didn’t have to work. I was a full-time student and a full-time mom. He did all the paying work and went to school. It’s a huge challenge to balance studying, family and finding time for sleep, but we were determined and dedicated. We had our plan set and stayed on our timeline. We have a child to raise, and want to make sure he has a good life. Also, this is the life we chose — in a different country and culture. We can’t just be complacent and not plan things ahead.

I’m not saying it’s always been a walk in the park. There are days when you can’t sleep and your anxieties are through the roof. But in the end, our goal was our plan: we want to build a better life. We had to put in the effort and stay passionate about the plan we chose.


How did the college support you along the way? 

Rochelle: For nursing, they have a lot of resources that you can use from tutors to free daycare to transportation services.

I also joined the Student Services program, which is designed to help students. For example, if you don’t have money for the books, they can lend you the book. They have many options, even for non-traditional students like me. With the tutors and advisors, you can email them, visit their office, talk to them in class or after class.

Mark: With automotive, my classmates and my instructors are very supportive, not only in class but also outside of the class. Other than that, I’m also a member of the Tech Star Scholarship wherein they lend you laptops, the router, the MiFi, and the scan tool, which helps students understand more since we have the tools to diagnose the cars that we’re working on.


What have you learned about yourself along the way? 

Mark: I would say the value of hard work and investing in yourself. It’s also important to do things beyond school. You have to make time for work and your family, as well. 

Rochelle: I learned about patience. It’s not just “you plan and it happens.” It’s not just plan A and plan B. There’s plan C… C1, C2, C3. There are a lot of factors involved. I learned how to adapt to the changes and compromise. That was big for us. There has to be good communication, too. You have to manage yourself up as much as you manage the people around you. That’s important, whatever career you choose.


How did Tech’s 90% placement rate factor into your decision?

Rochelle: Some people say, “Oh, you only went to tech school.” There is a misconception if you “only” go to tech school it is not as promising as a four-year college. That misconception actually helped me push myself because I disagree. Again, with the two-year course, it may be shorter, but every course is valuable because it is designed to make sure you are ready. That’s probably why statistics say that after you graduate from tech you get a job. You’re more motivated than four-year college students who may have become complacent.

Mark: With the automotive program, the program itself is very helpful. Twice a month we get visitors from companies looking for people who are willing to be trained and transition to work as soon as they graduate.


What does it mean to you that your son sees that you have accomplished your goals?

Rochelle: For me, it’s very, very important because I can’t just teach him what he needs to know about life through my words. He has to see it through my behavior. Whatever we do now is a product of our belief that this is for him and our families.

I have a family back home that I still support. That’s also a motivator for me. We are blessed coming from a third-world country. As parents, we want to make sure that we pass on the value of being grateful for the little stuff to our son. We also want him to know you reap what you sow and there are reactions to every action. I hope Kylo grows up to be smart, but mostly I want him to be a good person. That is what really matters to me.


What advice do you have for others on their journey?

Rochelle: Every person has a different path. My mom had always told me education is something that no one can take away from you, which is true. Don’t let age hold you back. Do what you want, because education doesn’t have an age limit. All you need is motivation. Know what your limitations are and work on them. Know your strengths and highlight them. At the end of the day, getting to your goal is what matters. It doesn’t really matter what the obstacles or adversaries are that you face along the way. It’s getting there that matters.