Diana at her Essex County College graduation.

Diana Mercado

After finishing high school, Diana Mercado did what so many graduates are encouraged to do today – she enrolled in a four-year university.  And like a number of people who start college, Diana dropped out after just one year.  “I always intended on finishing my degree,” Diana said.  “I was just very young at the time and did not know what I wanted to do with my life, so I felt that I needed to find my true passion first.”  After a few years of soul-searching, Diana realized she could combine her artistic nature with a very practical skill – welding.  She could follow her passion to create welded sculptures and jewelry while having a very marketable skill to pay the bills. 

While searching for a welding course, Diana found that there were very few options where she could work and learn to weld at the same time until she came upon an apprenticeship program with Sheet Metal Workers Local 25.  Here was a program which not only taught her to weld, but would allow her to learn the many aspects of the Sheet Metal trade both in the classroom and on the job – a paying job!   Once in the apprenticeship program, Diana saw her future in a new light.  But there was always that voice encouraging her to finish what she started. 

In March of 2010, with her apprenticeship program coming to an end, Diana recalls hearing a presentation on NJ PLACE and suddenly the pieces started to fit.  With the newfound knowledge that she could use her apprenticeship training to earn college credits, Diana was immediately inspired to return to school and earn her degree.  “Returning to school was a no-brainer for me.  On a professional level, I knew that almost every job would require a minimum of an Associate degree.  On a personal level, I had a goal to finish my degree and NJ PLACE helped to give me the opportunity to accomplish this goal” she said.

With transfer credits from her apprenticeship as well as prior credits from St. John’s University, Diana enrolled at Essex County College in the Technical Studies degree program.  “NJ PLACE helped to streamline the process of getting my degree,” Diana recalls, “They provided me with contact information for the community college advisors, advocated on my behalf  when any issues arose with the college and it’s  officials, and even worked with the college to allow knowledge I gained from work experience to count toward college credit.”  After a lot of hard work balancing her apprenticeship coursework during the day, work at night, and college courses on the weekends, Diana finally finished what she started years earlier.  In May 2012, she graduated from Essex County College with an Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies.  “I would absolutely recommend NJ PLACE to others because the staff helped me throughout the entire process—I don’t think I would have finished my degree without NJ PLACE” Diana shared.   

Since graduating, Diana continues to increase her knowledge and skill, taking specialized courses in balancing and HVAC servicing in order to better understand how the entire system functions.  Just recently she’s begun to pursue those artistic passions too.  Diana now has her own art studio where she’ll be spending her weekends creating welded jewelry and metal sculptures.