2020 has been a tough year for my students,” says Marion Carberry from Piberry Institute, the technical school she founded to help students prepare for the workforce—professions that make them valued and contributing to their communities. Ms. Carberry understands the importance of feeling productive, useful, and needed. As a single mother, she experienced setbacks that challenged her feelings of worth and her ability to provide the life envisioned for her children. Then a school like Piberry Institute welcomed her after community college had dismissed her. That school, Audrey Cohen College, helped transform this Jamaican immigrant into the successful entrepreneur she has become. A girl who had mediocre performances in her formative academic years became a woman who holds three master’s degrees and her own school of higher education. She tells her students, “It’s not how brilliant you are that determines your successes. Many brilliant people die with their talents unused. It is how dedicated you are to your journey that matters. Anyone can succeed at anything, once given a fair shot at it and never wavering,” says Ms. Carberry.
Before founding Piberry Institute, Marion believed herself a dynamic New Yorker destined for fame and fortune. She carefully selected and navigated her educational pursuits; attending Audrey Cohen College (now Metropolitan College of New York) where she excelled through a constructive-action curriculum, learning how to organize ideas, plan a business, and to execute ideas. But success was far away. In fact, Marion had failed so many times—as a talk-show writer and producer, marketing promoter, restaurateur, private investigator, and fundraiser. Her spiritual strength led her to never give up.
Taking a chance on herself, she relocated to Florida and met Dr. Vorick Picou. They began chatting and soon became a team and created Piberry Institute. When the first student enrolled, Carberry promised never to fail at another business venture. Five years passed before Carberry gave herself a paycheck because Marion ensured that her employees would never be owed a dollar for the work they performed.
But, Carberry’s major impetus for keeping Piberry Institute’s doors open during arduous times is the promise she makes to students: to make Piberry Institute a safe space for her students who depend on her and Dr. Picou for counseling, direction, advice, and help to reach their goals. Any student failing to make it, whether dropping out or failing to land a job, hurts. Carberry needs money to build a world class facility to create greater opportunities. “If only someone like MacKenzie Bezos Scott could read our story and help us,” Marion prayed aloud.
Piberry is special. Carberry’s vision is to collaborate with a nonprofit entity that may serve as a resource to her students that require more focused social services. For PBI, Ms. Carberry is developing a career services model to get all students employed upon graduation. She envisions Piberry Institute as a place having the finest and most innovative nursing equipment and simulations and space to help ensure wellness for the students and their families. “My student population is 98 percent Black and Hispanic single women. They need more support from counseling, financial planning, and professional advising than any other demographic. They need to learn how to break cycles of racism, sexism and xenophobia.
“Here at Piberry Institute, we do much with little. We will continue to provide opportunities for our students, and one day, we will attract the funds and resources to develop the human services, scholarships and career services model that will get all graduates employed upon graduation. Times like 2020 help to build our resolve that all we need is to write it on paper and we will execute as promised,” said Carberry. Being at this crossroads reminds her of the beginning.
In 2011, she resigned from a great job and took on another that offered her a $5,000 sign-on bonus. She did that to get the money to help start the school. With little money and no savings, Piberry Institute received licensure, leased, and renovated a small space with second-hand carpeting and furniture. Everyone thought she and Dr. Picou were audacious wanting to open a school. Nonetheless, she forged ahead with Dr. Picou who taught almost every Medical Assistant course from 2011 to 2017 while she kept her day jobs and learned as much as she could about the business of higher education. To help with navigating the higher education sector, Marion worked at seven to eight other schools in the greater Miami area learning as much as she could about the school business, to safeguard Piberry Institute from crucial pitfalls and setbacks experienced due to lack of money, human capital, and owner experience.
Carberry and Dr. Picou have persevered despite setbacks.
It hurts Ms. Carberry when negativity about for-profit schools comes from the media and legislators. “They haven’t a clue what a school like Piberry Institute does,” Marion says. “If only they could spend one week here at PBI, observing everything that we do, they would see this is no easy task, no money-making endeavor. This is real work for people whom we believe deserve the best. Many of these students have been spun around for years at other schools and community colleges. We are their last hope.” Marion added with a smile. “I work for each and every student, to make a difference in their lives, to show them that they matter, and to teach them to rise and always strive to do better.”
Piberry Institute has grown from its humble beginning when Carberry and Dr. Picou were the sole employees. In 2017, the staff grew to three and by late 2019, it grew to at least 24 employees in part-time and full-time positions. The school projected even greater growth for 2020, but COVID struck. However, Carberry has kept working. She and her staff have successfully brought the school through its reaffirmation for accreditation with the Council on Occupational Education through 2025.
Carberry believes in technical education. “It works! Individuals hoping for a career learn about the profession through us. They receive direct training in the profession and are prepared to start working in that field on day one of graduating from their program. Carberry believes that education is the answer to breaking barriers. She was first in her family to graduate from college.
Since its beginning, Piberry Institute has grown from a single Medical Assistant Technician program and has offered programs in Practical Nursing and Medical Billing & Coding and Home Health Aid. For 2021, Ms. Carberry will begin to enroll students in PBI’s first associate degree program in Registered Nursing. She will maintain the Practical Nurse, Medical Assistant Technician, and Home Health Aid programs, as well as expand its program offering with Pharmacy Technology, Nursing Assistant, Patient Care Tech. It will expand to other programs in the healthcare field, and Ms. Carberry will continue to build the school that uplifts others through training and support and serves the residents of southernmost Miami, where Marion Carberry knows Piberry Institute can deliver.
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