If there’s one word that defines the mission of Dawn Career Institute, it’s service. Service to the students, service to the employees and service to the employers who will ultimately hire the newly minted professionals the school trains.
“Our mission is to cultivate an environment that enables individuals to thrive in pursuit of fulfilling personal, professional and academic goals,” says president and CEO Cheryl Zapata.
Zapata provided the name for the aviation academy her father founded in Dover in 1976. That school would eventually become the present-day Dawn Career Institute in Wilmington.
“He was looking for a word that meant a ‘new beginning,’” she says. “I was about 16 years old and had my thesaurus nearby. I suggested ‘dawn.’”
Zapata has utilized her leadership and marketing skills to spearhead a number of important initiatives through the years, including the development of health and wellness programs, the establishment of a learning program for distance education and an award-winning website. She was also instrumental in expanding the facility to 49,000 square feet, increasing enrollment from 100 to 1,000 students and assembling an outstanding management team which includes daughters Jena, chief operating officer, and Jessica, director of online education and student affairs. Zapata bought the school from her parents in 2010.
Zapata keeps her finger on the pulse of the labor market to ensure that DCI’s programs are meeting employers’ needs. In 2011 the school was one of only 13 institutions to receive the prestigious School of Excellence award from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. In order to be considered, schools must show that a majority of their student graduation and graduate employment rates from all programs meet or exceed the average rates of graduation and employment among ACCSC accredited institutions.
“I love that award because that meant that we had to exceed the minimum requirements for five years consecutively, so it’s really a good thing,” says Zapata.
Last year, Zapata decided to join the Better Business Bureau after repeated inquiries from prospective students. “I think it’s a great testament to what the BBB does, the brand and the reputation they have in associating with quality businesses,” says Zapata. “And there’s not that many of my peers who are accredited so I like to be able to say we’re unique in that we sought it out and that it was valuable.”