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Alumni Spotlight: A New Life as a Paralegal

Alica Danesh

Alica Danesh got her DCE certificate, and dream paralegal job, with financial assistance from the WIOA program

The onset of the COVID lockdown seemed a perfect time for Alica Danesh to reinvent herself, go back to school and seek out a new career. Dedicated to helping others, the journalism instructor had authored two children’s books and was as a substitute teacher for special needs students. But she had long harbored an interest in law.

It was time to make a move, she thought. Alica was turning 30 and saw the milestone as “a new beginning.” The single mother was determined to get a paralegal certificate, but money was tight; she needed some financial help to make it happen.

She explored her options and ended up choosing the DCE Paralegal certificate program, graduating in just four months and quickly jumping into a meaningful new job — a remarkable achievement made possible by assistance from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

“The WIOA program changed my life,” Alica said. “I would not have been able to afford the UCI Paralegal program without it. I was able to have nearly all expenses covered including textbooks, and my case carrier helped guide me from the start of the application process through the completion of my program. It helped provide a better life for me and my son and I am forever grateful.”

Today she’s happily employed as a paralegal at Moore Law for Children in Laguna Beach, specializing in family law, education, and family formation cases such as adoption and surrogacy. Alica serves as a direct liaison with clients, advancing her life mission of serving others.

Her own experience dealing with the family law system, coupled with a recommendation from one of her DCE instructors, inspired her to seek a paralegal position helping children and families facing challenging circumstances. Alica was able to practice speed interviews during the program, which turned out to be extremely helpful in landing her dream job.

“Moore Law for Children combines everything that I’ve ever been passionate about: children, family, education, and helping others,” Alica said. “Joining this team has been an honor and privilege. It is truly a blessing to work alongside such incredible women dedicated to protecting the rights of children, our most important clients.”

Assistance and opportunity

The WIOA program provides financial assistance for displaced or disadvantaged students who enroll in approved DCE certificate programs. Funds can be applied to course fees as well as required books and materials, with out-of-pocket expenses determined on a case-by-case basis. To determine eligibility, students must apply at a local California Employment Development Department WIOA One Stop Center.

Students can choose a WIOA-approved program that suits their career goals by checking the DCE website or contacting a Student Affairs Specialist. A wide range of popular programs are eligible in addition to paralegal, including data science, business analysis and predictive analytics.

Once WIOA funding is approved, students can make an appointment with the UCI Student Services Office where a specialist helps select courses and devise an enrollment plan. Not to worry if the process seems unwieldy; DCE and WIOA counselors can assist every step of the way.

“When I called UCI DCE I asked them about financial aid options, and they told me about the WIOA program,” Alica said. “Griffin Dooley at One Stop helped me do everything remotely. It was a lot of paperwork, but it was definitely worth it.”

A path to a better life

After earning a master’s degree in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Alica served as an adjunct journalism professor at Saddleback College while also spending time teaching special needs children. She had plenty of options when it came time to find a paralegal program, but UCI stood out to her.

“I applied to UCI and UCLA and was accepted to both,” she said. “I chose UCI because I found their accelerated program very attractive. Being able to complete a typical two-year program in four months was a huge advantage. It was a big undertaking being a single, working mom but I am so happy that I was able to accelerate my entry into the workforce. I would not be in the role that I am in today had I not earned my paralegal certificate.”

Approved by the American Bar Assn., the Paralegal certificate program provides roughly 300 hours of expert instruction from practicing attorneys and paralegals from law firms, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. Curriculum provides a deep foundation in all the knowledge and hands-on career preparation that can set students up for success in the legal field.

Paralegal students also have access to DCE Career Services, a valuable resource that includes a 24/7 mock interview platform, online resume review service and one-on-one career counselling sessions to discuss topics such as resume creation, interview techniques, job search strategies and LinkedIn profile reviews.

“I found all of my professors in the UCI Paralegal program to be helpful and inspiring,” Alica said. “And Dakota Serafin and Kai Williamson in Career Services were very helpful with the job interview process. We did speed interviews with recruiters, which I was extremely nervous for, but it definitely helped improve my interview skills in real life.”

Alica graduated with a 4.0 GPA, but that’s clearly not the end of her lifelong education. She intends to keep learning and growing in her role as a paralegal every day — and she hopes to serve as a role model for others seeking to make their dream of a better life come true.

“I could not have gotten to where I am today without the help of WIOA and the UCI Paralegal program,” she said. “And I hope to inspire those who are on the fence about making a career change. Take the first step. Apply. Work hard. The possibilities are endless.”

Learn more about the Paralegal Certificate Program.