ESL graduate Marbella Otero with GPTC President Tavarez Holston. 

The English as a Second Language (ESL) graduation credential at Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) is more than a crowning achievement for Marbella Otero; it could be the bridge she needs to cross in order to enter the workforce in the United States. In August 2016, Otero fled her home country of Venezuela, currently under dictatorship rule, to lead a better life for herself and her daughter. She had one goal in mind.

“My main goal is to get a job in my career,” she said. “In my home country, I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and master’s in IT Management.”

Even though equipped with qualifying degrees, securing employment still proved challenging for Otero.

“When I came to the U.S., my daughter was just five years old, and both of us did not speak English at all,” she said. “Nevertheless, I needed to start my new life in the U.S.; so, I began studying English in a community school in Florida, and at the same time, I worked as a driver.”

Although gaining employment in her field ultimately led Otero to the U.S., there was far more at stake.

“Human rights abuse and impunity are the main reasons why I left my home and applied for asylum,” she said. “It was my only option in order to survive.”

As Otero’s English improved, she was eventually hired in the field of education as a system administrator. When the novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 gripped the nation, her way of life came to an abrupt halt. “Unfortunately, with the pandemic, I lost my job in Florida and I had to move to Georgia [with my sister],” she said. “I stayed at home with my daughter because her school was closed, but I invested my time updating my skills, and I completed three certifications.

“I am very committed to my education,” she added.

The credentials Otero earned included: Salesforce Certified Platform App Builder, Salesforce Certified Platform Developer I and CompTIA Security+ Continuing Education certifications. Even with her skills honed and certifications in hand, gaining employment still proved to be difficult for Otero due to the language barrier.

The essential need to address this obstacle in her path to success brought Otero to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which offers free English courses for refugees and asylum seekers like Otero.

“My former teacher from the IRC knew my interest in getting an IT job and told me about GPTC,” she explained. “In addition, GPTC provides online and at-night classes, which are the perfect option for busy people.”

Upon entering the ESL program with GPTC, Otero quickly discovered how GPTC made the difference with instructing English-learning students.

“When I started in my class, there were over 45 students for a single teacher,” Otero revealed. “GPTC split the classes to allow everybody to participate in a higher quality class. It was a great help for us.”

For individuals pursuing an ESL credential, Otero said to never give up, despite the hardships encountered along the way.

“It is hard to learn a new language, especially in middle age,” she said. “It takes more time, but it is not impossible.

“GPTC offers many possibilities for [U.S. immigrants learning a new language],” she encouraged. “Online and at-night classes give you an excellent shot to follow your learning up. Be positive and patient!”

Otero’s perseverance and positive outlook did not go unnoticed by GPTC instructors like ESL teacher, Paulette Thompson. “Marbella’s dedicated, determined and a dependable student,” she said. “She would be an asset to any team!”

To continue adding to her IT career skillset here in the U.S., Otero plans on participating in the cybersecurity training course sponsored by GPTC’s Economic Development division.

See more of the 2021 Adult Education Drive-Up Graduation Ceremony highlights from April 29 and beyond on the College’s Facebook page at


Photo by Jana Wiggins
Story by Justin Clay