After Leila Alina graduated from Dundalk High School in 1987, she enrolled at a local community college but "never settled down" enough to earn a degree.
Five years later, she's back in school, taking pre-nursing classes at Dundalk Community College. She expects to graduate in December and apply as a transfer student to the University of Maryland at Baltimore's bachelor of science program in nursing.
"I really want this," said Miss Alina, who is 22 and goes to school three days a week while working part-time as a secretary in the office of an obstetrician/gynecologist. "I'm interested in working as a labor and delivery nurse."
Miss Alina lives in the Dundalk area, so it's convenient for her to take the pre-nursing classes close to home. And because of Dundalk Community College's articulation agreement with the University of Maryland at Baltimore, all of the pre-nursing courses she takes will automatically transfer to the nursing program after she has been accepted.
Dundalk has similar agreements with other schools in the area which allow students to begin their education in one of 16 health career programs at Dundalk. The agreements are part of the Health Employment Learning Programs, also known as Operation H.E.L.P., established this year to encourage residents of the Dundalk area to train for careers in the health care industry.
"There is a tremendous demand for people with skills in the health care area," says Robert Folkart, chairperson of the Math/Science/Technology division and program director for Allied Health at Dundalk Community College.
"We want to use the college as a vehicle to help people find employment in one of the biggest fields in the area," Mr. Folkart added. "We are trying to focus on the Dundalk community, an area that has been particularly hard-hit by unemployment."
Operation H.E.L.P. was established to ease the transfer process into health career training programs at the University of Maryland at Baltimore as well as Essex Community College, Union Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, Towson State University and the New Community College of Baltimore.
Although acceptance into these schools is not automatic, a student with good grades at Dundalk has "an excellent chance" of being admitted, Mr. Folkart says.
Students must complete a required schedule of classes at Dundalk which will then be automatically applied at the other schools to majors in nursing, physician assistant, radiography, radiation therapy, nuclear medicine technology, medical laboratory technology, veterinary technology, occupational therapy, dental hygiene, medical and research technology, physical therapy, pharmacy and physical therapy assistant.
Operation H.E.L.P. also includes certificate or associate in arts degree programs in physical fitness technology, medical office administration and chemical dependency counseling which can be completed at Dundalk. This fall, the college will add a three-week, non-credit course to train students as geriatric nursing assistants.
Students will also have the opportunity to participate in cooperative education programs offering on-the-job experiences in patient care.
Most of the 180 students enrolled in the program at Dundalk Community College this spring are adults. The college is also recruiting high school students and is applying for a grant to fund scholarships as well as academic and personal support services for participants in the program.
Maxine Briley is 41 years old and has worked as a telephone operator, an accounting office clerk, a medical assistant and, most recently, as a police officer. She's a pre-nursing student at Dundalk now and wants to go on for a bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
"I wanted to see what else I could do," says Ms. Briley, who lives in East Baltimore. "I think of all my jobs, being a medical assistant was what I enjoyed the most. I like to help people. I probably should have stayed in the medical field."
Raymond Astor already has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has been an alcohol and drug counselor for the past few years. But during the past few semesters, he's been busy taking science classes at Dundalk Community College.
And now Mr. Astor, who is 36 and lives in Chase, is looking forward to a career change as he prepares to transfer his credits from Dundalk and begin the physician assistant program at Essex Community College in the fall.