Last spring Mykelsy Charles, 23, was considering leaving her job as a university dining hall supervisor to enter the BEST hospitality pre-apprenticeship program. Her friends warned her that housekeeping was physically demanding work.

“When everyone said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,'” she recalls, “I said, ‘I’ll do it.'”

Her friends were right about the hard work. Charles lost 30 pounds in her first month as a room attendant. But her tenacity paid off. As a Local 26 union apprentice, she earns benefits and makes $3 more per hour than in her previous job. And she discovered the program came with a life-changing bonus: She would receive 12 college credits for her training, plus tuition support toward the completion of her degree.

“I feel like everything has been answered,” she said, sitting in the lobby of Bunker Hill Community College, where she’s now enrolled as a full-time student. “I feel like it’s just a miracle. A lot of people don’t have this opportunity.”

Charles received both her training and college assistance through the Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative (GBAAI), which lays apprenticeship pathways in both hospitality and construction. Through GBAAI, hospitality apprentices like Charles can receive 12 credits at Bunker Hill Community College for their training, while certain construction apprentices can earn up to 32 credits from Wentworth Institute of Technology for their apprenticeship work. Apprentices who take advantage of these credits are eligible to receive financial support from GBAAI (for tuition and mandatory fees) to finish their degrees.

For Charles, that extra help has meant all the difference in her college journey. For the past six years, she had been taking a class or two each semester while juggling such family responsibilities as sponsoring her mother from Haiti, finding affordable housing for the two of them, and acting as breadwinner. She was chipping away at her degree at this excruciating pace, when she learned last year that her college was dropping her biochemistry major.

“I told myself, ‘School is not for me. I’m trying so hard, but I don’t even know what I’m progressing on,'” she said. “I felt like I was failing myself.”

But when she learned she would earn 12 credits for her 6 weeks of pre-apprenticeship training, she realized, “That’s my shot right there to motivate myself to finish.”

She plans to graduate with her associate degree in hospitality management in May 2018. The degree will make her eligible for hotel management positions, and given her work history, that advancement is well within her sights. In her previous work in the food industry – from Burger King to Jimmy John’s to the university dining hall – she worked her way up to management time and again.

Her ultimate goal is to work for herself someday, grow her money in real estate, and return to Haiti to open a school or orphanage in the countryside. It’s a long way from where she is now, facing the immediate challenges of full-time school and work in the U.S.

But Charles has the determination to withstand naysayers, and this time, a pathway to accelerate her efforts.

“I’m going to get there,” she said. “I’m not wasting time anymore.”