14, 13, 11, 3 and 1. Like any family man, the ages of Mike Omari’s five children relay how busy his days are. Add in a full-time job, and his schedule is quickly filled up, seemingly too busy for any additional activities including opportunities for education and training. But Omari is determined to defy these odds, and with the help of Hawkeye Community College and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, he is developing new skills and is on the pathway to a college degree and a fulfilling career.
The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, commonly known as GEER II Gap Expansion, supplies nearly $2.9 million to Iowa’s 15 community colleges through June 2023. This limited funding provides additional tuition support for students pursuing short-term credential programs in high-demand fields who may not qualify for other financial assistance through Gap Tuition Assistance or Last Dollar Scholarship. With GEER II Gap Expansion, more Iowa students have the opportunity to upskill and eventually fill in-demand jobs within their communities.
“GEER II Gap Expansion has allowed community members who are working full-time and have families and children to have opportunities that may not have been available to them through other pathways,” said Chris Hannan, director of workforce training and community development at Hawkeye. “It gives students opportunities for education that may have passed them by previously.”
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Omari started his own connection with Hawkeye through their English Language Learner course. He used that opportunity to continue strengthening his language skills through one of their integrated basic education and skills training (I-BEST) courses, which combine instruction on English, math and other skills with workforce preparation. Omari completed the I-BEST Computer Numerical Control (CNC) course and kept moving forward, enrolling in IGNITE 4.0, an innovative advanced manufacturing class.
“I started with language first. I didn’t speak any English,” he said. “After that, I moved to the CNC course and completed IGNITE.”
As a result of his beginning efforts and success at Hawkeye, Omari became a paid mentor and translator for another cohort of IGNITE students at the school. Moreover, he moved from his production line job to a machine operator position at a local manufacturer, where he recently celebrated his one-year anniversary.
“I like my job in CNC,” Omari said. “I save energy. I use my mind rather than my power.”
Along with his new career path, Omari has been able to leverage his initial CNC and IGNITE courses to pursue an associate of applied science degree in CNC machining. With assistance from GEER II Gap Expansion and other supplemental funding, Omari has not had to pay any tuition for his courses at Hawkeye.
“I have two semesters left,” he said. “It has been good. I have not had to pay anything.”
At Hawkeye, GEER II Gap Expansion helps students with costs for tuition, books, lab charges, personal protective equipment and other fees. A student typically saves an estimated $3,000-$4,000 in tuition.
Like Omari, many students who have used GEER II Gap Expansion have been interested in courses in advanced manufacturing. Health care, medical coding and commercial driver’s license courses have also been popular choices.
“GEER II Gap Expansion funding has allowed us to work with individuals who want to get into high-demand career fields,” said Keri Kono, career pathway navigator lead at Hawkeye. “They are working in jobs but not in the fields they want.”
Since the beginning of GEER II Gap Expansion in June 2021, Hawkeye has assisted 57 students, and officials report their allocation of funding has already been fully spent – even though the expansion funding period doesn’t end until 2023.
“It’s been extremely successful,” Kono said. “The hope is we can continue to provide these services to Iowans and have resources to do it.”
GEER II Gap Expansion provides opportunities for students to make significant changes in their career outlook and lives, and Omari encourages others to reach out to their community colleges to get started – even if they are busy with work and family.
“I encourage many friends and brothers to make time to go to school,” he said. “I took the small amount of time I had to learn and find a better job. When you go to college or get training, you can have more choices on what you want to do.
“I encourage you to go to school.”