Woodside amputee finds career path at LaGuardia Community College

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Courtesy of LaGuardia Community College

For most of his adult life, Woodside resident Mark Gilson bounced from job to job.

“I did graphic design work at a boutique studio but it’s a tough market,” said Gilson, 49. “I managed in retail art for a while and worked for the Department of Education. Then I went to work in customer service but I felt I was doing nothing with any real weight to it.”

But as Gilson neared age 50, the married owner of a crested gecko, tortoise, a snake and three cats thought it was time to seek out a full-time career. He found a home a few subway stops away in Long Island City. Gilson enrolled at LaGuardia Community College to study as a veterinary technician whose graduates are hired by veterinary practices, animal shelters, zoos and research institutions.

“Even getting into that program was a challenge,” Gilson recalled. “Of the 150 that apply each semester, maybe 20 percent make the cut, so there was already a sense of accomplishment and I felt I will have a lot of pride in this particular career. I’ll be a healthcare professional as a veterinary nurse.”

Gilson is also disabled. His left leg below his knee was amputated in his early 20s, following a childhood illness. When doctors discovered a tumor on his spine when he was 10, Gilson was told he would never walk again after it was surgically removed. Gilson proved his doctors wrong and figured out how to get around with crutches and leg braces, but he continued to have trouble with the leg, which ultimately led to the amputation. Now he wears a prosthetic limb.

“From the moment I stepped on campus, I felt comfortable that I fit in,” Gilson said. “The students there seemed like they came from central casting in that they came from all walks of life. I may feel like I’m twice as old as my fellow students but everyone takes it seriously and there are no slackers. LaGuardia Community College is a very supportive community and the faculty and the administration have a vested interest in seeing each of their students succeed.”

Not everything was easy for Gilson, though.

“My biggest hurdle was passing chemistry. It was my nemesis in high school,” he said. “The next hurdle was getting through the COVID-19 lockdown last spring. LaGuardia did a great job during the shutdown and I was able to keep up my grades. Being back this year has been great in that there is a lot of hands-on learning in this program. I really hope COVID doesn’t knock me off my trajectory again because I feel really goal-oriented now.”

As a veterinary tech, Gilson will be able to do blood draws, take vital signs, administer anesthesia, give X-rays and more.

“I won’t get rich, but I’ll be able to help a lot of people through the care of their pets and I’m really attracted to that aspect,” Gilson said. “Plus, I’ll have a career-related job with plenty of weight to it.”

Applications are now being accepted at LaGuardia for the spring 2021 semester, which starts March 6, 2021. To apply, go to https://www.laguardia.edu/apply/ 

 LaGuardia offers numerous resources to help students address financial impacts during the pandemic, such as laptop loans, hotspots for distance learning, online tutoring, a food pantry, emergency financial aid and scholarships. Visit https://www.laguardia.edu/Admissions/Student-Services/ to explore the opportunities at LaGuardia Community College. 

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