Manassas Journal Messenger | Resource center takes mystery out of college

Miriam Rigal can relate to the woes of preparing for college. The Cuban immigrant moved to the United States when she was 5 years old and struggled learning to speak English.

Rigal?s two siblings have college degrees but her parents do not.

?I?ve been there,? Rigal said. ?I?m the first in my family to go to college,? Rigal said. Taking her understanding of the need for higher education, Rigal is now the coordinator of TheCollegePlace, located at 8290 Shoppers Square in Manassas. The facility opened in June with its grand opening scheduled for Nov. 6.

TheCollegePlace is open to those seeking information on financial aid, scholarships, careers, colleges and universities. At TheCollegePlace, visitors will find books and at least three workstations equipped with computers. To the left of the entrance is a couch for those who want to mingle.

The Education Credit Management Corporation Foundation, a non-profit organization, funds TheCollegePlace. The facility is open to anyone seeking post-secondary education, said Jennifer Wise, ECMC Foundation president.

?We are trying to put the word out that we?re here,? Wise said.

After studying demographics in localities across the state, Manassas showed a ?crying need? to open TheCollegePlace, Wise said.

?We would love to start them throughout the state,? Wise said.

Rigal plans to hold monthly workshops ranging from ?how to dress for success? or ?how to prepare physically and intellectually for an interview.?

Rigal is available for one-on-one counseling five days a week on an appointment-basis.

?They can do it. There is help and we?re here to help them,? Rigal said.

She has made contact with several schools in the Prince William County and Manassas areas and has plans to speak to students at some of them. She is still looking for volunteers to help at TheCollegePlace, she said.

Alex Ferrell sat at a workstation with the book, ?150 Popular College Majors? in her hand recently at TheCollegePlace. Ferrell, 26, is studying cosmetology at the Heritage Institute in Shoppers Square in Manassas.

?I?m also wanting to pursue my education,? Ferrell said.

For Ferrell, going to a larger college is intimidating. A career in nursing piqued her interest but she knew she could get through school more quickly pursuing cosmetology.

For Hellen Cortez, just finding things out about the opportunities of college brought her to TheCollegePlace.

?Several things bring me here,? Cortez, 41, said while browsing through pamphlets.

Cortez emigrated from South America to the United States a 16 years ago. Her first priority has been raising her three children. That priority put her education on the back burner and now she thrives on getting her hands on everything about scholarships and colleges.

The Centreville resident has been attending Northern Virginia Community College in Manassas for the past two years.

?You know when you?re an immigrant and you come to this country, you don?t know anything about college,? Cortez said.

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