'It took a long time but I'm here': MATC program gives students a second chance at education

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) -- In 2020, Anthony Owens found himself behind the bars of a prison cell, serving time for a drug charge. Two years later, the Milwaukee native is set to receive his high school equivalency diploma (HSED) from Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

"I said in the prison cell, 'Enough is enough,'" Owens said, sitting in his classroom at MATC's West Allis campus. "I started making a change. I started going to school."

Owens was able to take advantage of educational programs made available to him while he was incarcerated. When he was released earlier this year, he had one course he needed to finish to be able to receive his HSED.

"Coming out of being incarcerated, that's a challenge in itself, so trying to find your way after getting released is not easy," explained Holly Thielen, 5.09 HSED instructional chair and coordinator at MATC. "When he [Owens] got out, he was here. He showed up. He knew what he wanted to do and we were able to get him through very, very quickly."

Thielen has been helping adults further their education within the 5.09 HSED program since 2000. She takes a lot of pride in her work.

"A lot of the students that participate in these programs have had difficult educational situations and weren't successful," Thielen said. "That's always been my life's goal, is to help people in ways that other people can't and I think that's what I'm good at."

Andrea Saldana Murillo came to the United States from Mexico in 1997. A language barrier and poverty forced her to begin work instead on completing her high school education. Earlier this month, she received her HSED from MATC.

"It was a challenge for me because I have my job, I have four children and I had to do my homework after work, sometimes 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.," Saldana Murillo said. "It was a challenge for me, but I think it's never too late to go back to school because when I was young, I didn't have the opportunity to go back to school."

Saldana Murillo currently has her own business as a nail technician and hopes to open her own beauty salon in the near future.

"I want to add more services for my business and for the future," Saldana Murillo explained. "I want to buy my own beauty [salon] in order to work with the community. In order to work with other women."

As for Owens, the schooling doesn't stop here. He plans to continue working toward his college degree at MATC with the hopes of working as a computer technician. He also has an interest in real estate.

"This is something I always wanted in my hand, and for me to get it, it will be a great success, because I never thought I could do it," Owens said, talking about receiving his diploma. "My brother got his, my sister got hers, I was the only one left. Now, I'm about to be joining the club."

A total of 213 graduates, including Owens, will receive their diplomas Thursday, May 26 at Cooley Auditorium in Milwaukee.

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