HSED Graduate Never Gave Up on Her Big Dreams

Mexico native plans to get associate degree at MATC, then become anthropologist

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

May 22, 2024

Maria Elena Rubio

At one point, I had obstacles that blocked me from achieving my goals. Walt Disney once said ‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’ I’m never going to stop dreaming until all my dreams come true.

Maria Elena Rubio MATC HSED and IET Graduate

As a wide-eyed, 17-year-old girl attending a strict Catholic high school in Jalisco, Mexico — allegedly the birthplace of mariachi music and tequila — Maria Elena Rubio couldn’t wait to explore the world. 

She was excited to go to college, travel the globe and start a long, successful career. “I was ready to move ahead with my life; I was making all these big plans,” she said.

Then she discovered she was pregnant. 

“My whole world changed,” said Rubio, the youngest of five children. “I was told I couldn’t finish high school. I was the baby in my family, and now I had to take care of a baby. Inside, I still wanted to do all those things. But I knew I couldn’t. I realized I was going to have a whole different life.”

More than 20 years later, Milwaukee Area Technical College is helping Rubio realize all her delayed dreams.

She received her High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) on May 20 and completed several business courses in MATC’s Integrated Education and Training program, where students take college courses while earning their HSED or General Educational Development (GED) certificate.

In the fall, Rubio plans to begin classes at MATC to earn an Associate of Arts degree, then transfer to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to get a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

“At one point, I had obstacles that blocked me from achieving my goals,” Rubio said. “Walt Disney once said ‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’ I’m never going to stop dreaming until all my dreams come true.”

Her dreams seemed far away back in 2000, when she gave birth to her oldest son the same week her classmates graduated from high school. She had another son the next year, got married, and in 2006, moved to Fremont, California. She studied English and cared for her now three children.

In 2014, Rubio moved to Wisconsin on the advice of a friend. “I decided it was time for me to pursue my dreams,” she said. “My dreams were to get a better education, get a better job, get a better place to live for my family.” 

She took a job as a chef at ProHealth Regency Senior Community, a senior living facility in New Berlin. “They took a chance on me and for that I am so grateful,” she said. Today she supervises a team of six that cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner for nearly 100 residents each day. 

In October 2018 she became a U.S. citizen and began to think about getting the high school diploma she never received. She found MATC’s HSED/GED programs on the internet and started classes.

“The night before my first day of school, I couldn’t sleep at all,” she recalled. “I was so nervous. Here I was, 40 years old, and going back to school.” 

Rubio used a combination of classes and tests to get her diploma, said Holly Thielen, coordinator of MATC’s HSED 5.09 program. “It expedites the process for students when we can use different things to demonstrate competency,” she said. “They can kill two birds with one stone. We are able to use high school credits for some subjects as well.”

Rubio’s love of cooking sparked her interest in anthropology. “Cooking is my passion, my love language. Like food, anthropology is the culture of a country,” she said. “I love museums, art and music. I enjoy knowing how people live.”

Rubio said she got incredible support from her three children, who are now 23, 22 and 16 years old.

“They are my biggest fans,” she said. “They have helped me with my English, and they are my motivation for all I have done.

“I want to show them that goals and dreams are more than just a plan for your future. They determine the outcome of your life, and they help you find out who you are and who you will be,” she added. “I want to be an example of how you can always overcome the obstacles that will show up on your path, and how you can make your own world better.”

Learn more about MATC’s GED and HSED programs

 About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Maria Elena Rubio