Advice: Show Up for Your Education

MARSHALLTOWN – Having a steady job with an income was what Jesus Rios thought was the ultimate career goal in life. Once he had that what was the reason to get his education? Why was it important to work for more? But earning his degree made all the difference in Rios’ life and becoming a Sales and Application Engineer at Emerson in Marshalltown.

For as long as he can remember, Rios wasn’t interested in attending college. He planned to get a job and go right into the workforce as most of the other people in his life had done. He started working at Emerson in high school through a six-month school-to-work program.

During high school, Rios involved in the Marshalltown Educational Partnership program (MEP) during high school opened his mind to the idea of college but early on it was only a thought. “I didn’t think I would go to college but I really enjoyed drafting. The position through Emerson during high school turned into me staying until I graduated from MCC,” commented Rios. “I worked full-time for three and a half years.”

Rios had planned on going to MCC for the drafting program but it was eliminated the year he was to begin so he earned his Associate of Arts Degree. “Thanks to the MEP program 50% of my education was paid.”

The idea of starting college and the steps that a student needs to take can be overwhelming and that is one of the aspects of MEP that Rios recognized. He didn’t have family members that were able to help them with their experiences. “MEP introduced me into the whole world of FAFSA. How to fill it out and what steps to take. My mom had never even heard of a FAFSA application. If it wasn’t for MEP I wouldn’t know where to go or who to talk to.” Through the MEP program Rios had guidance through the college application process, where to find things on campus and even the people that he needed to work with.

“I started at Emerson at such a young age that I outgrew the position and wanted more responsibilities. So, I started looking into a career in engineering but since I didn’t have the degree I needed to make a change.”

The people Rios was around believed even before he did that he could go back to school and get his engineering degree. He applied for Iowa State University and started taking classes while still working at Emerson. “After a while, it got to the point where I needed to devote my time to my education.” He chose to quit his position at Emerson to pursue his degree full-time. He continued to support himself while going to ISU by working in construction. “There were a lot of people that I worked construction with that thought going to college was a waste of time. They were making more money than I did even though I had a two-year degree and were also getting one to two months off. But I could see how construction was physical and would take a lot out of them. It’s not the kind of work you can do for your entire life.”

Rios’ advice to students though it may sound simple is, to try it and see if you like it and show up. “The biggest thing that set me apart from others is I took advantage of the opportunities. I showed up. Sometimes I didn’t have the grades but if someone was willing to help me and open opportunities for me, I was willing to put in the work and show up.”

Starting his education at MCC was the right choice for Rios. He realizes now that going straight to ISU after graduating from high school, he wouldn’t have been able to make it. “My first semester at MCC I failed all of my classes except for two. I wasn’t ready for the transition from high school to college. In high school, you have time in class to do your work and instructors are making sure you are there. In college it’s up to you. You have to take responsibility for your success or failure.”

After not doing so well his first semester Rios informed several MCC professors that he wouldn’t be returning. “They took the time to work with me and helped me to succeed. I didn’t think they would care.” He earned all A’s the next semester and took advantage of the help available on the MCC campus. “If I had been at ISU it’s not as close knit and there are so many people there that I would have been lost in the crowd and people wouldn’t have cared if I gave up.”

Now, an ISU Industrial Engineering degree later, Rios returned to Emerson and has been with the company since graduating in May 2021. “It’s been a long road. Going from earning an income, going to school and now back in a full-time job. It was an adjustment that I overcame.”

Sharing his story was important to Rios because if he could inspire just one other person to continue their education and earn their degree then it is worth it. “Getting my education and pursuing my degree wasn’t just about money. It was about the opportunities that it opened for my future.”