Career Changers

From Legal IT To Radiography

When he stepped off the corporate treadmill and commuter train for a healthcare career, Kyle Williams was making six figures as the head of a six-person IT department for Herrick Feinstein, a New York law firm with offices at the Carnegie Center.

He was 39, married, with two school-aged daughters. After taking an eight-week course in how to give EKGs, he landed a job in the emergency room at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital at Hamilton, making less than his former salary.

He worked his way up through the hospital system and worked the graveyard shift while he was a full time student at Mercer County Community College, where he earned his associate’s degree and a certificate in radiography. He is in the CAT scan department, where he could earn from $25 to $30 an hour. Though that’s good money, it is nowhere near to what he earned at the law firm.

But, says Williams, "in Manhattan, I had no family life. I would leave at 5:30 in the morning and come home about midnight. At a law firm, the commodity is time, and the firm was open all the time. If they were working on a brief, and they needed a software upgrade, you couldn’t say, `I’ll see you in the morning.’ My girls were having a good life, but how good is it if you are not around?

"Now my job is minutes away from where I live. I have every weekend free. When I leave, I leave." His wife Lori took a job at On Campus Marketing on Graphics Drive in West Trenton. "The sum of both of our salaries is close to what I was making."

Williams grew up on Long Island, where his father was vice president of a small local oil company, and his mother was a teacher. He had to leave Arizona State after three years to help out his parents. The IT field did not require a college degree, so he worked his way up that ladder for six years, then worked at the law firm for four years, moving from New York to Hamilton so he could spend more of his time at the Princeton office. "But the commute, and the 9-11 issues, and costs were getting cut at the law firm – my wife and I decided to make a move," says Williams. He was 39.

Williams started with an eight-week program at the Berkel Institute on State Street in Trenton, and snagged a job at RWJ Hamilton. "Any time you can get into a hospital, that is one foot up," he says. He learned phlebotomy, on the job.

He needed to work full-time because he wanted to keep the hospital’s good health insurance for his family. Every other week, for his practical experience in the Mercer radiography course, he also had to work eight hour shifts at a hospital. "I would get off at 7:30 a.m. from working all night and have to be at another hospital at 8 a.m. It was taxing. I wouldn’t advise it, but it had to be done. And now my daughters know there is `never a time to say never.’"

Compared to that schedule, his current 3 to 11 shift is easy. "I have every weekend off, and at most hospitals you have to work every other weekend." He is also glad to be at home if his daughters have an emergency while they are in school. "I’m just so thankful that I have a position that I like."

It’s the people factor that makes the difference. Instead of connecting wires and uploading software, he receives patients and loads them into the CAT scan machine. "For the short time I am with the patient, I get to make an impression. Some people have had a horrible life, or are ravaged with disease. Maybe just smiling at them and saying `I hope you feel better’ will be the only nice thing that happens to them that day."

This work gives him "a tremendous amount of satisfaction," he says. "When I hear people say it’s not about the money, I understand. As you get older, it’s about quality, not quantity."

"My mother used to say, `Always be true, always take care of people.’ After church we used to go to the hospital with my mother, and she would distribute canned goods on the `Feed My Sheep’ program. She would say, `It will always come back to you in a good way.’ You just feel better. You know you made a difference."

He wants to start on his bachelor’s degree – but meanwhile his wife has decided to follow him back to school. She wants to be a nurse. – Barbara Fox

Nurse Training

Berkel Training Institute, 320 West State Street, Trenton 08618; 609-392-1855; fax, 609-392-1126.

Irvin Berkel MD, the owner, says the school’s motto is "Where your first step begins." A graduate of medical school in Mexico, he has a degree in public health, and founded the school six years ago; more than 200 students annually take such classes as certified home health aide, CPR, and medical billing and coding. The 90-hour certified nurses aide course costs $1,241 and is held at area nursing homes. The eight-week EKG course $1,070, and the 142-hour phlebotomy certificate is $1,115.

Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, Box B, Trenton 08690-; 609-586-4800; fax, 609-587-4666. www.mccc.edu

From Childcare To Culinary Arts

Ten years ago a catalog from Mercer County Community College landed in Rita Bohlumbohm’s mailbox. It wasn’t for her, but rather was addressed to her daughter, a chemist and Rider graduate who had gotten her start in higher education at MCCC. "I had been thinking about taking courses, about going back to school," she recalls. She looked through the catalog, saw that the school offered degrees in the culinary arts, and decided to enroll in one or two courses.

The catalog was Bohlumbohm’s launching pad. She now holds two associate degrees from MCCC, teaches at the school, is on its advisory board, and, with her 60th birthday behind her, works from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. five nights a week as pastry chef for the Princeton Hyatt, where she was named Employee of the Year in 2003.

Did the courses rescue Bohlumbohm from boredom? Did they provide a post-layoff lifeline? Not at all. "I’ve always loved every job I had," she says. A native of Newport, Rhode Island, where her grandmother, a Portuguese immigrant, worked as a cook in one of the cliff-top mansions overlooking the ocean, she was working as a child care provider when the catalog changed the course of her life.

Settled in New Jersey, and married to Robert Bohlumbohm, now retired from a job as chief engineer at Capital Health, she stayed home with her daughters, now 40 and 41. The girls began to get babysitting jobs when they were approaching their teens, and soon "had more pocket money than I did," she says. When one of the girls’ clients, a teacher, asked her to take care of her young child during the day, she agreed. More children quickly joined the home-based day care business, which leveled off at five children.

When she decided to go back to school, Bohlumbohm did so part time until the last of her group entered kindergarten. "I took one course, two courses, whatever I could fit in," she says. "I went to school at night, or on weekends." Studying was hard at first, or maybe she was just more conscientious than some of her younger classmates. But she never felt uncomfortable, despite the fact that she had never before taken a college course. "There was always someone else my age," she says.

As Bohlumbohm was nearing the end of the coursework needed for two associate degrees, one in culinary arts and one in restaurant management, MCCC started to offer a culinary arts apprenticeship program. Bohlumbohm, working at the Hyatt for $7 an hour to fulfill its requirements, became the first person to complete the 6,000 hour apprenticeship.

She graduated from the program in 2003 with a 3.82 grade point average. The feat is all the more remarkable because she continued to tend her day care charges – and to keep up with classwork – while working on the apprenticeship.

Soon thereafter she was attending a banquet at the Hyatt and decided that rather than continue on with day care part time, as she had originally planned, she would try to find a full-time job in the culinary field. She applied to the Hyatt, and "they hired me right away."

Each night she works with the hotel’s executive chef to come up with six or more desserts. Apple crisp is the top seller, closely followed by cheesecake, chocolate cake, and pecan pie. Each night there is a special. "In the summer, it’s something light," she says. Recently, with triple digit temperatures leading every news report, it was strawberries in wine sauce over ice cream.

When she isn’t in the kitchen, Bohlumbohm is teaching others who want to work over a hot stove. She teaches introductory baking courses to both high school students and to adults at MCCC.

Despite this schedule, she makes time for regular activities with her husband, who has time on his hands and has recently begun to float the idea of a relocation to Hawaii. That is where the Princeton Hyatt sent the couple for a week after Bohlumbohm bested 360 fellow employees to earn the Employee of the Year award. Despite having spent most of her life in central New Jersey, the Robbinsville resident is leaning toward making the move. A major perk of her new career is mobility. Talented, trained, reliable culinary professionals are in great demand, and Bohlumbohm is confident that there would be a place for her at a Hyatt in Hawaii. Whether rolling crusts hard by Route 1 or within the sound of Pacific surf, however, Bohlumbohm has no plans to give up her career.

"I’m going to work until they kick me out," she says. "When you work so hard to learn a career, you don’t want to give it up."

– Kathy Spring

From Store Manager To High School Counselor

In his mid-40s Joe DeFrancesco was making a good salary as a retail manager. But his heart wasn’t in it. "For the last seven or eight years in business, I didn’t want to do it," he says. He had friends who were leaving corporate jobs for careers in teaching. He wanted to do something similar, something where his performance wasn’t all about making his numbers.

At the same time, he was noticing that the young people in his company were ill-prepared for the workforce. "They didn’t even put on a shirt and tie for a job interview. Didn’t even act like they wanted the job," he recalls. "They were coming in like it was Halloween."

DeFrancesco, a warm, outgoing man, thought that the next generation could use career advice, and that he would like to provide it. Quickly realizing that he would need a graduate degree in counseling, he went to Penn State Abbington to do some preliminary research. What happened there seems providential to him now.

The advisor with whom he met listened to his goals, and told him in no uncertain terms that he should enroll in Rider’s counseling education program (see page 42). A Rider graduate herself, she told him to go see Jesse Deesch, who was heading up the program. He did, and two-and-a-half years later, in May, 2001, he had his degree in hand. This past May he earned tenure as a counselor at Council Rock High School in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

A native of Rensselaer, New York, DeFrancesco earned his first degree, a bachelor’s in photography, from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1975. After five years in photography, he joined a cousin who owned a small chain of sporting goods stores. When they went out of business, he went into corporate retail, working for a number of regional and national chains for 18 years, most recently as manager of a Best Buy store.

Positive and upbeat by nature, he has little bad to say about managing a retail outlet, but he wanted something more. Not in the monetary sense, because his first year’s pay as a counselor was about half of what he had earned at Best Buy, but rather in the personal fulfillment and contribution to society departments.

With traces of his retail background obviously still in his mind, DeFrancesco says that his "products" now are not washers and dryers and stereos, but rather young people. Surprisingly, though, he finds that big retail management and high school counseling are not all that different. "It’s all about customer service," he says. "Now my customers are students and their parents."

In preparation for his career change, DeFrancesco quit retail entirely to concentrate on his studies – both formal and informal. Savings and his wife’s earnings sustained the family, which includes two daughters, who were teen-agers at the time. His wife is Patricia DeFrancesco, a marketing manager at GE.

Re-entry was not completely smooth, though. "I hadn’t written a paper in years and all of a sudden I had to write to APA specifications," he says. "Without my wife I wouldn’t have made it. She taught me how to write a sentence all over again. She edited every paper. Nothing left the house until she read it." He attended classes at night, and worked on his papers during the weekends.

The informal part of his education came during the day. "I did a lot of volunteering with kids in Bucks County," he says. "I needed to know if I really wanted to do this. And at every turn, the answer was `yes.’"

He also did some teaching at Rider as a graduate assistant, and thoroughly enjoyed that experience too.

At Council Rock he now works with a young staff and gets along wonderfully with them. They even put up with a quirk, left over from his corporate days, that he just can’t shake. "When I was a store manager, I worked six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day," he says. "When I got the counseling job, they told me we worked eight hours a day. For me, that’s half a day!"

While this would not be a problem for many, DeFrancesco struggled. "I had trouble adjusting my energy level." His solution was to come in one hour early "to be ready for my customers" and to stay at least an hour late. Sensitive to school politics, he told the other counselors about the work schedule that made him comfortable, and got their blessing for his aberration.

With a slimmer paycheck, but absolutely no regrets, DeFrancesco is back at Rider, preparing for his next career stage. He has 40 graduate credits in counseling and wants to earn 20 more so that he can hang out his shingle and work as an independent counselor.

– Kathy Spring

MCCC Training For a Nonprofit

Janine Maslyn entered the world of nonprofit administration by taking a certificate course led by Marge Smith at Mercer County College. She started the certificate in 2002 and completed it in 2005 – taking time off for a baby in between – and soon she landed a grant for her project, the Monument to Freedom of Expression Foundation, dedicated to promoting the legacy of sculptor Joe Brown. Brown, a boxer who turned artist and educator, taught boxing at Princeton University in the 1960s, and then taught sculpture, retiring in 1977.

Maslyn’s husband, Tim Maslyn (www.maslynstudios.com), apprenticed for Brown beginning in 1980 and is now a sculptor specializing in creating original bronze sculptures and in producing Brown’s sculptures for sale.

"It was a wonderful program," says Maslyn. "During my very first class with Marge Smith, I wrote my mission statement and really understood what I needed to do. With information from the Nonprofit Resource Center, I wrote the bylaws and the documents."

"Marge was very positive about what everyone was focused on, saying that no one organization was more important than the other. `If that is your passion, then that’s important,’ she said. She was there to help you figure it out."

"I had no knowledge of foundations and nonprofits. Nothing. The class helped me focus and gave me the basics of what it’s all about. Now if I have specific questions, I know where to go. I’m not afraid."

Monument to Freedom of Expression Foundation, 204 Taggart Drive, Belle Mead 08502; 908-281-7704; fax, 908-281-9475. www.mtfoe

From Filmmaker to Teacher

Boris Hladek took his degree in a crowded field – film production – and retrained to get a job as a teacher. Now 30, he teaches video production and writing for TV and radio at Monroe Township High School.

He has had some rewarding moments: "In the last quarter of the video production class, groups of four students had to write, shoot, and edit a short film. One group in particular had a student who spearheaded the project. They really put a lot of effort, they stayed after school to fix things that didn’t work. It was so much fun to see their enthusiasm, and I had no problem about staying late and working with them."

Hladek grew up in Germany, near Frankfurt, where his father was an optician, and he came to the United States as a high school exchange student, returning to attend New Jersey City University, graduating in 2000 with a degree in film and video.

"I fell in love with the United States," says Hladek, who was on track to receive a free college education in Germany. "For the field that I wanted to go into, I felt I would have more opportunity over here."

He worked in the television and film industry and did some documentaries for Channel 13, when he heard about the statewide teacher training program through his wife, who also changed careers and teaches second grade.

He took a 12-month graduate-level certification program, starting in the summer at Bergen Community College, and started full-time teaching that September. He transferred his program to Middlesex County College, which was closer to his job in Monroe, and attended classes there during the school year. The certificate cost about $2,600 and is offered at all the community colleges. If he wanted to transfer 15 graduate credits toward a master of arts in teaching degree at New Jersey City University, it would cost about $6,000.

Hladek liked the summer component, versus the programs that start the new teacher off, cold, in September. "It gives give you some teaching techniques, classroom management, and theory, plus the chance to observe summer school classes," says Hladek.

Any problems he has had seem to be generational. "I am only 30 years old and am not that far removed from being in high school. But this is a new generation, and they grew up under different circumstances. Sometimes I really don’t know what makes these kids tick. When they are negative about education in general, it makes you question, wonder what you can do to change these attitudes. Or maybe you come to the conclusion that some students can’t be reached."

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