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Non-traditional students among those graduating from Spokane area colleges this week

 Spokane non-traditional college students participated in a panel Tuesday sponsored by the Washington Student Achievement Council. L-R: Nafisa Zafari, Yuliia Soltys, Julia Williams [from Providence Health], Anngie Zepeda, Ju
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Spokane non-traditional college students participated in a panel Tuesday sponsored by the Washington Student Achievement Council. L-R: Nafisa Zafari, Yuliia Soltys, Julia Williams [from Providence Health], Anngie Zepeda and Jessica Doner.

Many students graduating from the Community Colleges of Spokane and Eastern Washington University this week took non-traditional routes to college. A few students who have taken different paths were featured Tuesday during a meeting of the Washington Student Achievement Council in Spokane.

Jessica Doner is the student representative to Eastern Washington University’s Board of Trustees. She’s older than much of the student body, 31. She began college right out of high school at the University of Washington, but decided she didn’t want to be the biochemist she was training to be. So she left and moved back home to Spokane. Several years later she returned to school, to Eastern, to study computer science and cybersecurity.

“Eastern has been great because Eastern has a really huge crew of adult learners as well. Everybody has something, work, a family and so, there’s a big crew of us who are between 25 and 45. We all sort of help each other and support each other," Doner said.

“Coming back after such a long time and forgetting some things is not as hard when you know other people are also in the same boat. So you don’t really feel like you’re slowing down the group," she said.

The Community Colleges of Spokane also cater to non-traditional students, many of whom are learning English. They include Yuliia Soltys, a new Spokane citizen from Ukraine.

“This college like a second family because everyone knows me, I know the teacher, I know staff and more students because now we have more students from Ukraine," she said.

Back home, Soltys worked with special education children in elementary schools. Now she’s balancing motherhood with school. She has a three-year-old daughter.

“When she comes home she can teach me new words. Yes, it’s very good. I’m very glad," she said.

Like Soltys, Nafisa Zafari is taking English as a Second Language classes in the community colleges. She’s from Afghanistan and pursuing a computer science career.

“I meet lots of people from different countries," she said. "I have a friend from Rwanda. I have a friend from Ukraine. And I can learn from them new cultures and I can learn the English language from my teacher.”

She credits her language study for helping her land a job as a medical interpreter for Afghan immigrants in Spokane.

Anngie Zepeda from Venezuela is studying nursing at the community colleges. But before she began there, she began her education in Providence Health’s Earn to Learn program. She prepared to become a nursing assistant in an accelerated program.

“Less than three months in a classroom and after that, it will be like two or three months in the hospital, hands on, and that’s very important," she said.

Important because the students are paid while they learn.

Julia Williams from Providence says the program has three tracks. Students can learn how to be nursing or medical assistants or a phlebotomist. When they finish the academics and the hands-on training, Williams says Providence places them in jobs within the organization.

“We’re able to tap into a number of diverse candidate pools that I don’t think would be necessarily coming into the organization, into health care probably, without the opportunity to learn while they’re working. Many students can’t afford to not work and go to school at the same time,” she said.

Eastern will hold two commencement ceremonies Saturday at the Spokane Arena. The Community Colleges is also holding multiple commencement events this week, tonight at 6 on the Newport campus, tomorrow at the Colville campus and two on Friday at the Spokane Arena.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.