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Holt grad Halim Tran uses Early Middle College to become firefighter

Apr 23, 2023

DELHI TWP. — Halim Tran knew after seeing one of her brothers struggle through tears and sleepless nights in college that higher education wasn't meant for her.

A dual enrollment program at Holt High School helped her forge a different life path, one that meant different struggles and different conflicts in her own journey toward happiness.

Reaching a major milestone, Tran, at 19, graduated from the dual enrollment program in May as a certified firefighter. She has the option of walking in Holt's graduation on June 4.

When are high school graduations?:Greater Lansing graduations: What you need to know

She'll also soon be certified as an emergency medical technician, another achievement she accomplished by taking Lansing Community College courses for her career while attending high school. And she works on-call at DeWitt Township Fire Department's Station 1.

More than 15,000 Michigan students were enrolled in an Early Middle College program in 2020-2021, compared with about 6,500 in 2014-2015, according to the Michigan Department of Education. The program is five years of high school coupled with college coursework.

Tran earned over 60 transferrable college credits through the Early Middle College program.

"It's helped me definitely get a lot more ahead than had I done this myself," said Tran, who's now juggling job offers and some lingering parental concerns about a profession that exposes her to fires, emergencies and danger.

Tran said her parents are still holding out hope she'll go to college and become a doctor, but she's committed to firefighting and public service.

Lucas Schrauben, director of secondary programs at Holt, said Tran is the sort of student who excels in the Early Middle College program — those who are uncertain about the traditional college experience. The dual enrollment program's been at the high school for six years.

"They don't know how to pay for (college), first-generation college-bound, don't have the resources to pay for it — that's kind of what we're working for," he said.

Holt students like Tran sign up in their sophomore year and have the choice of walking with their original graduating class. In their final year, they take classes full-time at either LCC or Davenport University, depending on their career paths.

Each student in the program is required to fulfill the state's requirements for a high school diploma, college credits and either 100 community service hours, 40 hours of on-the-job experience or a combination of the two, according to the MDE.

Nancy Meredith, the Early Middle College advisor at Holt, said Tran originally wanted to study machining and AutoCAD but became disinterested after speaking with someone in the program and taking an introductory course in the industry.

Tran pivoted to firefighting because she enjoys the outdoors and became hooked on the work that helps others.

Schrauben added educators don't typically propose firefighting to students because the program is costly and demanding; but, Tran was set on it.

"If students come to us, like Halim, and have identified that, then it's something we can explore," he said.

The dual enrollment program offered Halim opportunities that suited her despite her parents' dreams for her.

Her parents sought refuge in the U.S. from the southern region of Vietnam in the 1980s, and they wanted their three children to attend four-year colleges, attain bachelor's degrees and get good-paying jobs. Tran said that is her parents' concept of success.

One brother, 30, graduated from Michigan State University and working in his chosen field. Her eldest brother, 37, enlisted in the National Guard and pursued a job in the trades.

Not wanting to take on student loan debt, Tran chose a path of her own that incorporated bits from the pursuits of her siblings. She already has gained experience putting out a fire and reviving a patient.

"It's a weird feeling I'm not used to yet, of everyone doing a little piece to help bring the patient back," Tran said. "But it was really nice to see everyone be able to work together."

She wasn't prepared for the physicality of the job, including the weight of her firefighting equipment. She wrestled, played tennis and swam at Holt but noted firefighting requires her to use her body differently than in those sports.

"Also the medical side is a bit more strenuous, too, because you have to deal with the patients as well and I think that was a bit of a shock. I figured that out pretty fast," Tran said.

She's hoping to expand on her medical education and go through paramedic training. That's reliant on which fire department she works for. She declined to say what her top choices are, but she has a number of options because fire departments throughout the state are hiring.

"It's definitely an odd feeling," Tran said. "Because watching my siblings struggle to go through school, needing that four-year degree just to apply to jobs, versus the certificates I already have, I can apply anywhere. It's just choosing where to go."

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Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at 517-267-1344 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

When are high school graduations?: