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Program Designed for Immigrants is Recognized

Submitted by on March 21, 2019 – 8:45 pm

A Northern Essex Community College program that assists local immigrants who already hold college or high school diplomas from other countries reach their professional potential, has been nominated by Congresswoman Lori Trahan for an Examples of Excelencia Award.

“Programa Internacional de Educación Superior Latinos de Northern Essex Community College” (PIÉS Latinos de NECC) which started in 2016 with 98 students, currently has 270 students enrolled.

The program was created to empower the diverse community of learners in the Merrimack Valley. Specifically, it addresses the well-documented issue of “brain waste”. This means college-educated and highly-skilled immigrants are working in low-wage, low-skill jobs, because their degrees and certifications from educational institutions in foreign countries are not readily recognized.

“We are so proud of this nomination,” says Dr. Noemi Custodia-Lora, NECCC vice president Lawrence campus and community relations. “To professional/skilled immigrants PIES Latinos de NECC means the opportunity to work at the fullest professional capacity in highly skilled and better paying careers.  To employers, it means the opportunity to hire highly skilled employees eager to demonstrate their capacity and with that help close the workforce gap.”

The goals of PIÉS Latinos de NECC include a straightforward, simple process to evaluate foreign credentials; access to basic and conceptualized English as a Second Language classes; and a network

Dr. Noemi Custodia-Lora

system to help immigrants develop social capital. This combination helps underemployed immigrants reach their professional potential. Not yet three years old, the program has served more than 620 immigrants to date and as a result, many have secured higher-level positions in the private and public sectors.

One example of the program’s success includes five immigrants, who with the assistance of PIÉS Latinos de NECC, had their credits evaluated, pursued non-credit ESL courses, and were referred to Cambridge College to continue the process to become teachers. All are residents of Lawrence and PIÉS Latinos de NECC will follow-up to guide them to become teachers in the Lawrence Public School system.

Formal agreements were created through PIÉS Latinos de NECC with Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD), the public university system of the Dominican Republic, and with the Instituto Técnico Superior Comunitario (ITSC), the Dominican Republic’s first public two-year college. These agreements simplify the transfer of credits without the need to validate credits through an external agency and are at no cost to students.

PIÉS Latinos de NECC was originally created to help with the foreign credential evaluation process and inform immigrants about their options in general terms. However, the program has evolved since it was first established and continues evolving as immigrant needs change.

The program is successful because of its partnerships with several non-profit organizations and service providers in the city of Lawrence including MassHire, Cambridge College, The Mayor’s ESL Task Force, The Lawrence Adult Learning Center; NECC Adult Basic Education programs; Lawrence Churches; Lawrence Head Start,  the Lawrence Family Resource Center; Spanish Talk Radio; the City of Lawrence Mayor’s Office and City Council, the Lawrence Public Library, Haverhill Community Action’s Adult Learning Center; and regional employers.

Excelencia in Education is the only national effort to identify and promote evidence-based programs that help accelerate Latino student success in higher education. Through a comprehensive yearlong process, Excelencia in Education recruits, reviews, and promotes evidence-based practices at the associate, baccalaureate, and graduate categories in institutions of higher education as well as practices at community-based organizations. Since 2005, Excelencia has received over 1,600 nominations from 33 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. and recognized over 280 programs. Examples of Excelencia.

For additional information, contact Dr. Custodia-Lora at or Analuz Garcia at