Shar Cole has become the first Black woman to open a vocational medical school in Kern County, according to city officials.
Kern Valley Medical College offers a 17-week medical assistant program and a five-week EKG program. An applicant must have a high school diploma, GED or pass an entrance exam administered by the college to enroll. Other classes, such as medical billing, are also offered.
The college also plans to unveil a phlebotomy and EMT class in the late fall, said Nexi Henriquez, an instructor and extern coordinator.
A former teacher of medical assistants, Cole said her love of education propelled her to open this college. Even after becoming a nurse and working in the field, Cole could not forget the joy of educating.
“Of all the jobs I had, it always took me back to teaching,” Cole said.
A high school dropout, Cole gears her school to those who did not attend college and are looking for a second chance. The founder and director wanted to create a place where anyone — no matter their background — could work hard and reach their full potential.
“This school is catered to that person that felt they could never make it,” Cole said. “It is geared towards those people that want to make a difference in their lives.”
Cole said her college has 20 students. She also aims to keep class sizes small, which enables her students to receive the proper attention and care. Individuals can enroll every month for a class.
“No one’s left behind,” Cole said. “We care about if they succeed. We do care about them living their dreams.”
Henriquez, Cole’s former student and now an instructor for the college, said the education completely changed her life. She encountered a “traumatic experience” that left her unsure of her future. However, the college instilled empowerment within Henriquez — she could pass her knowledge onto others and enrich their lives.
“When (students) first start the program, they do it because they want to start somewhere — they want to be something,” Henriquez said. “I am really grateful.”
Mayor Karen Goh attended the grand opening of Kern Valley Medical College on July 24 — the one-year anniversary of its opening. Cole could not have a celebratory ceremony because of the pandemic and held the event on the college’s one-year anniversary.
“(Cole) took a big risk during the pandemic … to open up a new business,” Goh said. “We couldn’t be prouder of somebody who was willing to take that risk and successfully make it.”
Goh added the rapidly growing population of Bakersfield highlights the importance of new businesses and their ability to create jobs.
Cole’s achievements inspire young Black people to dream big and understand their background does not hinder their abilities, said Nick Hill III, the president of the Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce.
“African American businesses are seeing this boost,” Hill said. “By … seeing … other African American businesses that are turning into corporations, it is going to inspire a lot of other African American businesses to do the same thing.”
Malena Neira, a medical assistant student, dreamed of entering the medical field since she was a freshman in high school; her passions revolve around helping others.
“I have no words to explain … how amazing this class is,” Neira said. “I’m so glad I have this opportunity to actually come here and actually learn the things that we’re learning now.”
Student Prisilla Serrano worked in office administration and wanted a brighter future for herself. She found the program online, decided to apply and discovered a love for the medical field.
“Before, I kind of always doubted myself,” Serrano said. “(This school) kind of encouraged me to believe that I can do other things.”
Veronica Espinoza said she chose this college because of its reasonable cost and the quick timeframe. Espinoza works from eight to five and then goes to class from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. She loves the night classes because she couldn’t enroll otherwise. She wants to be a mentor for her children, which motivated her to pursue her dreams.
“Showing (my children) that as long as you set your mind to something you can do it,” Espinoza said.