When Marie Gates was 7, her family moved from Trinidad to Philadelphia. She grew up in Olney, dreaming of working in the fashion industry.

But after her son was born, she decided to become a medical assistant and moved to New York. The job paid just enough for her to get by. “I wasn’t struggling,” she explains, “but I was living paycheck to paycheck. I was always making a little too much for food stamps.” She began to worry about the future for her son.

One day, a doctor where she worked told her she would make a great nurse. Inspired, Gates began looking for schools that would allow a flexible schedule so she could keep working while taking classes. She found that the nursing program at Community College of Philadelphia would not only accommodate her schedule, it was affordable compared with other schools. Although it took her a year to regain her Philadelphia residency, she was able to obtain enough grants and scholarships to bring the total cost of the program to $13,000.

Gates spent three years juggling a medical assistant’s job at Fox Chase Cancer Center and attending classes at CCP. Now 31, Gates has completed her coursework and is awaiting final certification as a registered nurse. The day we spoke, the prestigious Cleveland Clinic had just called to offer her a job. She’ll be earning $30 an hour to start, twice what she made as a medical assistant.

The Future of Work is produced with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.