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For the first assignment in his public speaking class in fall 2016, 30-year-old Jeff Landay was instructed to introduce himself to his Folsom Lake College (FLC) classmates via a three-minute presentation. He began by showing a startling photo of himself taken in 2006 as a patient at Bethesda Naval Hospital. To him, this one snapshot encapsulated what he had endured and would also serve to motivate him for what was to come.
Following a tumultuous childhood, Jeff enlisted in the United States Marine Corps immediately upon graduating from Oak Ridge High School in 2004. In January 2006, his Camp Pendleton-based 3/5 unit (3rd Battalion, 5th Marines) was deployed half a world away to Fallujah, Iraq. During a routine patrol on May 21, 2006, the humvee he was traveling in struck a roadside bomb that left one member of his platoon dead and seriously wounded three others. Jeff was barely alive, but somehow summoned the strength to drive the battered vehicle out of harm’s way. "They all thought that was Jeff's last act, to get that truck back to safety to get his comrades out," his mother, Michelle Landay, said.
Marine Cpl. Jeff Landay was transported to a hospital in Baghdad, then to Germany, and eventually back to the States. Jeff was in a coma for nearly a month having suffered a traumatic brain injury in which they had to remove the left side of his skull to alleviate the swelling. “By every account, I should have died. Technically, I was clinically dead three times,” Jeff recalls.
Upon his hospital release and at the age of 19, Jeff returned to Citrus Heights and faced a long recovery that included relearning to speak, struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the physical and emotional toll of a cumulative 52 surgeries to repair his injuries. Jeff’s harrowing life-and-death story was featured in the 2007 documentary, To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports, and in a segment on ABC World News. The battle scars on his body became his badges of pride alongside the three Purple Hearts he had been awarded for his service to his country.
It was also during this time that Jeff began taking classes at Folsom Lake College using education benefits provided by the G.I. Bill and with additional support from the college’s Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) department. He appreciated that the structure and self-discipline that had originally been ingrained in him as a Marine also fit well with that of academia. Jeff quickly endeared himself to students and staff with his combination of brutal honesty and unbeatable optimism.
The natural class clown also found comradery and compassion from other student veterans that frequented FLC’s Veterans Success Center. He enjoyed helping the “kids,” as he refers to them, most only several years his junior, with their coursework. “Jeff has inspired many veterans and non-veterans here at FLC. His ability to look beyond his injuries and stay focused on the future inspires everyone he comes into contact with…including myself!” shared Veterans Success Center staff member and fellow veteran Ken Walker. “When students get overwhelmed, they can always think about how Jeff has the same commitments and does not give up or even skip a beat. He inspires others to stay in the fight and press on!”
It was also at FLC in that same communications course where he was tasked to tell his story that he discovered he had a knack for public speaking. After receiving an associate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Social & Behavioral Sciences in December 2015, he returned to FLC to earn a second degree in Communication Studies. He plans to transfer to Sacramento State and pursue a career as a motivational speaker to hopefully inspire veterans and civilians alike. “We all have struggles,” notes Jeff.
It was that first public speaking engagement that gave him the confidence to share his inspiring story with others. When asked who would play him if his story one day gets the Hollywood treatment, Jeff said with a laugh, “Ryan Reynolds, because it would have to be someone pretty.”
Bria-Marie Tennyson dreamed of being the first in her family to go to college. She was thrilled when she discovered that Sacramento City College was more affordable than a 4-year university and would give her a top-notch education. Her plans for the future were set. But, life has a way of derailing even the best-laid plans.
When Bria-Marie’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she had to help care for her and support the family. She could no longer afford classes, so she dropped out. As time passed, Bria-Marie forgot about her educational dreams, but she never forgot Sacramento City College.
“I’d seen myself as a caregiver for ten years. I thought, ‘I’ll just take a class or two.’” Bria-Marie wanted to return to school, but her confidence was low, and she couldn’t afford much. That might have been the end of her story, but thankfully, Sacramento City College’s dedicated faculty and staff met her with individual care and support.
“I saw opportunities that were available to me, so I grabbed every one. I got involved in student leadership and I started visiting my professors during their office hours. They’ve become my mentors. I call them my campus parents.”
Bria-Marie got involved with the Student Success and Support Program, which provides one-on-one success coaching to help students stay on track. Doing so kept Bria-Marie connected to her professors, who saw just how much potential she had. This support was just what she needed to soar – and soar she did.
Now, Bria-Marie is majoring in history and minoring in education at UC Berkeley. She plans to become a history professor to empower a new generation of students the way her professors at Sacramento City College empowered her. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those professors. I only hope I can do that for someone else someday.”
Folsom Lake College is more than tests, textbooks, and juggling schedules. Just ask Guelta Laguerre. Guelta traveled to California from her home country Haiti to study, and what a journey she is on.
Back home, Guelta attended a Mission of Hope school. The school relies on the generosity of sponsors who want to do their part for the children of a nation that suffers from severe illiteracy due to malnutrition and poverty. Only 50 percent of Haitian children ever attend school in the country that Guelta refers to as destitute.
The school’s sponsorship program is quite personal. Through photos and letters, each sponsor connects with an individual child. And that was the case for Guelta. What makes her story different is her devotion to her faith, her vow to get an education, and the tenacity of Guelta’s sponsor, a Rancho Cordova resident.
When Guelta graduated from Mission of Hope in 2012 and moved on, her sponsor didn’t. She kept wondering about her young student, and even traveled to Guelta’s Haitian village to search for her. With Guelta’s picture in hand, the traveling sponsor went up to villager after villager, gesturing to the picture with a questioning look on her face. Finally, a family friend of Guelta’s pointed her in the right direction. The student-benefactor relationship now had new meaning.
Guelta always wanted to help her fellow Haitians by going to college and learning to grow abundant crops to feed her starving nation. The United States was a logical choice to pursue her dream because it’s home to her newfound friend. However, a slight problem existed. Guelta didn’t speak English.
So instead of taking her first science class when she landed in Sacramento, she took English — at Sac State’s English Institute — as a second language learner. She studied and learned, worked hard and learned more. All while suffering personal loss and a sometimes-overwhelming guilt for not being there for family. Yet, she sailed through the English classes. Guelta was ready for college.
At Folsom Lake College, Guelta was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a student ambassador, club president of International Life and bound for UC Davis’ freshman class, 2018. There she is continuing her studies in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program.
Guelta has an active social life, and even has become accustomed to some American food (never chicken teriyaki). And what Guelta considers a gift from above, she now has two families. She will live with her sponsor family until the day she can return to Haiti and make a difference.
So far away from home, Guelta has found a home—at Folsom Lake College.
Becky Yang is on a mission. She wants everyone to have access to a dentist and understand the importance of taking care of their teeth. That’s why she went to Sacramento City College and earned an associate degree in Dental Hygiene.
Her hope is to find a job helping her community by offering her newly acquired expertise and find a work family like the circle of friends she counted on at SCC. Community college rescued Becky from heartbreak and gave her the support she needed to pursue her goals. She says her counselors were extremely helpful by encouraging her to persevere, even after two rejections to the dental hygiene program and the unbearable grief of losing her parents during that time.
Becky gives credit to the open-door policy of counselors, where she often went to simply have a good cry. When she was considering college, she knew she didn't want to go far from home. Her parents needed her, and money was certainly an issue. Becky is the oldest of eight children, and she grew up in a home where English is not the primary language and her dad’s earnings were stretched thin. She needed to help them, and she needed extra help at school.
Becky did finally get into the dental hygiene program. Every step of the way, counselors, instructors, the staff, and colleagues supported her through all her difficult circumstances. She says she is so grateful for their empathy and and their offers of a shoulder to lean on while insisting she not fall behind in school. And now Becky is a role model for her seven younger brothers and sisters. She can stand tall and prove to them that if she can overcome all the obstacles she faced while earning her degree at SCC, they can too. It will be special moments for Becky when her siblings, one by one, walk the stage to receive their degrees.
Navjot (Navi) Kaur is a math superstar who will generously tutor anyone who thinks they can’t be one too. That’s Navi in a nutshell, but that fails to include her immigrant upbringing where English had to be learned, her amazing work ethic that netted her a 4.0 GPA, or her incredible contribution to Folsom Lake College.
Despite her heavy class load and difficult course choices, Navi managed to serve as president of the FLC Math and Engineering Club, participated as a student representative on the hiring committee for the math, science, and engineering dean, was the director of finance for the FLC Clubs and Events Board, and was a student representative for the Folsom Lake College Technology Club.
Her instructors at FLC agree that Navi is indeed a singular sensation. Whip smart, humble, and helpful, she not only believes in herself, but also believes everyone has the potential to learn and do something great.
The first-generation college student’s parents think she’s special too. Although they live in India and did not complete high school, they have emotionally supported and encouraged Navi’s choices and are very proud (Navi’s sister also lives here and is studying computer science).
Now Navi is off to UC Davis to obtain her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in communication controls and signal processing. “I’m becoming a leading woman in tech, my way," Navi shares. She still tutors at FLC. According to Navi, if she can be an electric engineering major and a research scholar because of her academic experience at FLC, then the other students there can reach their dreams, too.
Ariz Ebrat has an associate degree in nursing, is a registered nurse and a full-time student at Sacramento State. His career path is set and he is well on his way to achieving it. Ariz’s accomplishments are admirable, but what is outright inspiring is how he overcomes his extreme circumstances, follows his inner compass that always points positive, and makes a remarkable journey each day to get through school.
It’s no wonder why Ariz wanted to become a nurse. He’s essentially been one since he was 14. After his family escaped the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and migrated to America as refugees, Ariz and his mother have been trying to make a go of it, despite mom’s disabling poor health, financial difficulty, and little encouragement. In fact, Ariz was his mother’s sole caregiver throughout high school and still is.
Knowing he wanted to advocate for people like his mother, Ariz joined Sacramento City College’s (SCC) Allied Health Learning Community just two weeks after he graduated from high school (the first in his family to do so). While completing prerequisite courses, Ariz balanced his family obligations, studied, scrambled for scholarships, and worked part-time on campus as the lead student ambassador for the health learning program he had joined.
Ariz completed his general education units and attained an associate degree in nutrition and another in biology. And after volunteering at UC Davis Medical Center and observing first-hand his “dream” profession of nursing, he applied and was offered a spot in a collaborative project that helps nurses bridge the transition between SCC and Sacramento State.
Throughout it all, Ariz gives nothing but credit to the professors at SCC whom he says truly care about him and his experience, especially when life almost became too much to bear. They lent a much-needed hand when he needed it most, and were sincere in their interest in his success.
Ariz tells younger students that a college degree is the new high school diploma and so much more. The main purpose of college, he says, is to become educationally well rounded and discover a career path. He also confirms – without hesitation – if he can do it, others can too.
Jason Ward, an amateur psychologist who always wondered why people do what they do, wanted to broaden his small-town view of things. So, he became a student at Folsom Lake College. And through his participation in several on-campus clubs and social events, Jason was offered an opportunity to study abroad via the Los Rios Study Abroad program.
As he toured the sights and observed the people in Rome and Florence, Italy, his worldview changed. " The most important lesson I learned from studying abroad, is that life is full of opportunities. Opportunities can be easily overlooked and then they pass. It would have been easier to stay in the comfort of my home in Placerville. But then I would not have walked the streets of the Renaissance, not seen The David, not made new friends and not experienced life in a foreign country," Jason shares.
Back home with world travel tucked under his belt, Jason was excited by opportunities that stretched ahead and where his college education could take him. He had a plan.
Jason believes that his degree from FLC in psychology will give him an edge when it comes to getting into UCLA, law school, and his desire to practice criminal law. He says the supportive staff, faculty, and student-led clubs he discovered at FLC, “a community hidden gem,” has given him the tools he needs to make big leaps in his education and career.
Jason advises that community college is a great place for someone who wants to explore everything the world has to offer. Community college is the perfect place to start, Jason says, it’s easy to get the classes you need, has a relaxing atmosphere, and is just a stop along the way to your bigger career ambitions.
Gurvinder Sidhu is the first to admit that acquiring his diagnostic medical sonography degree at Consumes River College (CRC) was rigorous. However, he did have insight while acquiring it that many community college students don’t. Gurvinder knew firsthand the benefits of a college education. He and his wife had already earned degrees in their native country India before moving to the United States.
As a practicing physician in his homeland, Gurvinder assumed that he could carry on his dedication to healing in his newly adopted country. But rules and regulations got in the way, and Gurvinder found himself starting over at CRC, a prospect he at first found a bit depressing.
Gurvinder didn’t realize he had a very American problem. He had to find a way to work and support his family and be a partner in raising two young children while maintaining a full schedule of college-level courses. Luckily, his wife and family were supportive, and so were the faculty and staff at CRC. Gurvinder says they understood his unique situation and helped. Their support and willingness to extend a hand is a kindness Gurvinder won’t forget.
He also won’t forget how prepared he was to enter the workforce once he had his degree in hand. The experienced faculty and staff were extremely knowledgeable, and he considers CRC’s ultrasound/sonographer program excellent. He found the practicing clinical hospital sites to be the best, and was impressed with the infrastructure, labs, classes, library, and sports complex at CRC.
Gurvinder says the job offers poured in after graduation, and he was hired immediately. He is happy with his good salary and his wife and children are very proud. He can affirm now that everything worked out. At CRC, he made lasting friends, and by practicing in a medical field, he is living his life the way he says he was born to do.
I believe in the crucial work that Los Rios is doing in our region. Each of the district’s four colleges provides exceptional academic programs and technical training, creating a stronger workforce and more informed public. Los Rios provides pathways to success for people from all walks of life, as demonstrated by alumni luminaries such as Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the California Supreme Court chief justice. The Los Rios Colleges Foundation’s Student Emergency Fund makes a profound difference in students’ lives, helping them to overcome unforeseen hardships, stay in school, and pursue their dreams.
At Cosumnes River College, the MESA program provides math, engineering, and science academic development to underrepresented community college students. The goal is to help them excel academically and transfer to four-year institutions as science, engineering, and math majors. This support is crucial in helping students from low-performing high schools reach their academic potential and become technical professionals.
Thanks to generous donors, the MESA Program received a mini-grant from the Los Rios Colleges Foundation to help them attend the Student Leadership Retreat (SLR). The SLR is chance for community college students to interact, network, and build leadership skills with other MESA students. This leadership and skill-building conference features hands-on STEM sessions, including chemistry study, engineering design, and coding.
CRC student Jun Li says, "The MESA Student Leadership Retreat provided us a platform to expand our network beyond just our own community. I befriended students all over California. We collaborated to solve problems and learned about interesting subjects that we would otherwise not be able to learn. But most importantly, my fellow MESA members shared stories that resonated with my experience and motivated me to be a better leader."
I wanted financial independence and to have a career that will last me the rest of my life. I also wanted a career that was challenging and that I would be making a difference in the world. Wierzbicki says he’s inspired by, “All of the anonymous people who push through adversities because they don't allow any obstacles to write their life stories.”
My major was Information Systems Assurance. I was attracted to the cybersecurity aspect of computer science because of political events happening all around the world centered around information warfare and cyber-crime. The various courses offered allowed me to test the waters of what interested me. I was able to pinpoint which direction I wanted to take in my new career.
Cosumnes River College classes were affordable. The staff seemed to enjoy their jobs and take their students seriously. I always felt safe on campus.
I graduated from University of San Francisco in 2005 with a BA in Media Studies. After graduating, I worked in commercial real estate and insurance for ten years. I decided to go back to school to explore my passion of computer science and technology.
It is never too late to change your career path. I went back to school and started my new career in my mid-thirties.
Brittany Tipton didn’t believe she was cut out for college. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to go to college, I didn’t think I would be able to get through college, so I joined the Marine Corps, ended up blowing out my knee and came home. [The Marine Corps] changed the way I thought about the world, the way I thought about myself as a person.”
After Brittany returned home, she decided to enroll in American River College, in large part because of the large veteran population. She credits much of her success so far at ARC to Mike Robinson and the Veterans Resource Center. “Mike Robinson is a huge support at ARC. I wouldn’t still be in school without him. [The] Veterans Resource Center helps students all the way through. Not many colleges have that.”
Despite the support she received from the Veterans Resource Center, Brittany unexpectedly found herself homeless and faced with the choice of paying bills or buying food. She applied for a grant from the Veteran Student Emergency Fund and was awarded $450 to help her buy food and move into safe housing. It allowed her to stop stressing and be able to focus on school.
“I encourage anyone who needs it to apply. Without that boost, I wouldn’t have been able to stay in school full-time and work full-time,” says Brittany. “I can get through the day because I know I have somewhere safe to sleep at night.”
Brittany expects to finish her degrees in Paramedics and Fire Technology in a few years, and then hopes to get hired at a Fire Department. With a few years of experience under her belt, she then plans to take the investigators exam.
Julia Wong made a strategic and financially-smart decision. Instead of going straight to a five-year accredited college and incurring all those expenses, she decided to enroll in an affordable program close to home and get a great foundation for a future career.
Her encouraging family agreed. They’ve always had Julia’s future top-of-mind, so when they discovered the Los Rios Community College District was offering high school students classes at no cost, they encouraged Julia to start taking some so she could get a head start on her dream career – architecture.
And she did. By the time high school graduation rolled around, Julia had already acquired units at Cosumnes River College, the only community college architecture program in the region that is recognized by several professional schools as being one offering classes that provides transferrable credits. For a promising architecture student like Julia who someday wanted to own her own architecture and design firm, Cosumnes River College was the perfect place to launch her ambition.
Julia loved her classes. Books were easily accessible and although sometimes she faced a waitlist situation at registration time, she says she eventually would be admitted as plans changed for some enrolled students, making room for Julia.
What Julia didn’t anticipate was her new exposure to a diverse college community where students found common ground through their studies. And, she says, there were always community events happening on campus which made it easy to meet people with similar interests.
Julia continues to walk her own path, and her dream of becoming an entrepreneur who owns an architectural firm came true. Be open to opportunities that come your way, she advises, and community college is one, big great opportunity.
As a first generation college graduate, Iveth Lopez Obeso’s graduation from Folsom Lake College (FLC) in May 2018 was a proud moment not only for her, but for her entire family.
When Iveth immigrated to the U.S. from Sinaloa, Mexico in 2000, she encountered linguistic barriers, radical cultural differences, and a blend of both economic obstacles and educational opportunities.
Iveth used her bilingual communication skills as a Student Ambassador at FLC to provide information to other students beginning their educational journey. “It was an honor and a learning experience to interact with the families of other first-generation students, helping to de-stigmatize higher education for underrepresented minorities.”
As a Student Equity Advocate and the founding president of the college’s LatinX Club which provides a support network for Latino and Latina students on campus, Iveth was also on the planning team for a regional event that brought nationally-recognized DACA scholars to FLC to discuss the current issues facing the fluctuating U.S. immigration policy and its effect on the “Dreamer” population, particularly students of higher education.
“My goal is to pursue a career in law to advocate for social justice, immigration reform, and human rights,” Iveth shared. With a strong work ethic and the passion and grit to make her dream a reality, she is currently attending UCLA.
Evelina Rybin is one of the lucky ones. Even in high school, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Evelina was going to go to American River College (ARC) and become a paramedic. She knew but didn’t care that college was going to be hard – but what she didn’t anticipate was a predisposition against community colleges coming from (of all people) a high school teacher, and a bias against her career choice harbored by her family and friends.
Yet, Evelina persevered. She enrolled at ARC after finishing high school and went to work on her prerequisite courses. But one of the preconditions for the ARC paramedicine program is a year of first-responder field experience as an emergency medical technician. Undeterred, Evelina found an EMT internship class that sent her to a few Cosumnes Fire Department stations. At the fire stations, Evelyn learned all about a fire internship offered at Los Rios’ Cosumnes River College. She took a fire technology class and was hooked!
Evelina is planning to graduate with an associate degree in paramedicine, one in fire technology, and another one in foreign language studies. She hopes to get hired at a local fire department, and she wants to pursue a bachelor's degree in fire science; maybe even a master's. While fighting fires, Evelina envisions teaching fire tech for the Los Rios Community College District, a place where she found shared passion, friendship, and a place to belong.
The doubters in Evelina’s life who disapproved of her choices have come around to accept Evelina’s determination to follow her passion, and are even proud of her accomplishments. And to the high school teacher who snubbed community college? Tell your students there are options for everyone at Los Rios, so they should enroll in classes, find an interest, and follow their hearts – Just like Evelina did.
It allows me to give back to an organization that has made a huge impact in my life. When I was first beginning my career in architecture, many of my first projects came from the Los Rios Community College District. I give because it allows me the opportunity to make a difference in an organization that has given me so much, both personally and professionally. I've been lucky enough to watch first-hand the growth that has happened across the Los Rios Community College District over the last 20 years, and I want to help continue the trend of opening doors to more and more students.
Marianna was a babe in arms when her mother graduated from Sacramento City College’s hygienist program. Decades later, as a mother herself, Marianna returned to school and hit the books 17 years after her last math class. At the beginning, she felt out of place, being surrounded by students that were half her age. But then she figured out that at community college you can customize your experience – if you root for yourself, are clear about your goals, and seek out the people who are willing to advocate for you.
SCC provided Marianna a place to practice and learn to be better. She was able to merge her visual, creative, and leadership skills with a new understanding of the value of relationships. She even went out and established enough of those relationships to get elected as the student body president – then later as student representative to the Board of Trustees.
Marianna knows life can get tough. But she says the professors that truly cared, helped her keep on her trajectory and never lost faith in her – and that’s the true value of community college.
Folsom Lake College (FLC) alumna Zainub Tayeb knew from an early age that she wanted to make the world a better place.
“While I knew that I wanted to study political science, my time and experiences outside the classroom at FLC really helped me solidify a career path,” said Zainub. “I fell in love with the work I did with the Student Senate and realized that higher education and social justice policy was something that I was really passionate about.”
This was further cemented when Zainub was invited to attend the Social Justice Training Institute held at the University of Kansas in summer 2017. With 49 other students from across the country, facilitators led participants through activities to further their knowledge of social justice issues and how they could be better leaders and educators on their respective campuses.
In fall 2018, Zainub transferred to UC Berkeley, an institution of higher education well-known for its cultivation of activists and advocates. Zainub said, “I am constantly being inspired by my peers in a time where people are using as many platforms as they can to organize social revolutions or start global conversations. So many voices are demanding long-overdue diverse representation in the media and politics and it is finally being realized. All these combined voices and instances fuel my passion and commitment to my education.”
Life isn’t easy for Carlo Lopez. Like many community college students, his family struggles, and money, housing and food are mostly a daily focus. Determined, Carlo fends for himself by relying on hope, ambition and services available, especially the STEM Equity & Success Initiative (SESI).
SESI is a comprehensive, multifaceted program intended to increase the participation and success rates of Hispanic and low-income students in STEM fields and careers. With SESI’s help, Carlo now knows the joy of academic achievement and wants people who are growing up in similar circumstances to know that joy too. His wish is for kids like him to hear what he heard at SCC: the sweet sound of a voice that says, I have your back.
Even when Carlo was just in middle school, he knew he could rely only on himself for a decent life. Nobody was around to expose him to life’s possibilities, so he took it upon himself to discover a world he knew little about. He applied for a library pass and researched jobs that require technology skills. He was looking for an alternative to a life of limited choices.
That library pass opened a world of possibilities. Carlo taught himself to code by poring over free tutorials. His accomplishment had moved him to accept SESI’s help and pursue a college education at SCC despite his life’s brutal reality and an average GPA.
Now, Carlo is a full time student, studying computer science, and looking forward to earning a degree and transferring. He plans on a career of helping people, beginning with those who think college is not for them.
It can be done, Carlo tells those students. There is a way financially, and there is help academically. Follow your dream, think big and go to college.
I know that giving to the Los Rios District will benefit the entire Sacramento region. An education can mean a better job, a more stable financial situation, or fulfillment of a dream to the many students served by our four colleges. Whenever and however I donate, I want to know that my time and resources are benefiting my neighbors, coworkers and peers in our communities. The Los Rios colleges make a difference for individuals and all of us who call the Sacramento region our home.
Breece Phipps’ life is on the up side. And for someone whose life has experienced more than its share of downs, his journey is quite remarkable. Breece graduated recently with degrees in mechanical/aerospace engineering, mathematics and interdisciplinary studies. The first-generation college student even plans to someday assist in the advancement of multi-planet exploration. He credits maturity and tenacity for his success, and the new beginning he found at Sacramento City College (SCC).
As a teenager, Breece became a statistic of America’s battle with opioids. Like so many others, his addiction was leading him down a path of self-destruction. Bad decisions led to dropout status at college — and for a while — even incarceration.
Breece now says college is the catalyst to changing the trajectory of his future. And when he looks back at his years at SCC, he realizes that his success came not just from his own persistence to learn, but also from the community he found there. He loved hearing the multitude of languages on campus and learning of the different ethnic backgrounds of his fellow students. He looked forward to getting on campus every day because he knew everybody there was supportive and cheering him on. For Breece, SCC provided the faculty, administration and vast amount of resources he needed to thrive throughout his time there, and he says, it felt like family.
Anthony Hopkins was six years out of high school and sporting several failed attempts at college. Even dead-end jobs were elusive. He was 24 when he returned once again to Sacramento City College, this time placed on academic probation due to his poor GPA. He knew he needed a confidence boost in his ability to learn.
So, Anthony changed the equation. This time he found “family” support at RISE. RISE (Respect, Integrity, Self-Determination & Education) is an SCC campus organization that welcomes students with a holistic set of support services. The staff and classmates were there for Anthony socially and emotionally, along with study techniques and tactics to adjust his mindset toward academics.
Anthony was and continues to be motivated to solve racial disparities in society. He reengaged with college at SCC because he says he had professors who he felt represented him and truly cared about his success as a man of color. He knew he wanted to study social systems to ponder why Black and Brown people weren't succeeding at the same rate. Anthony chose the field of education where he could make the most impact.
Anthony received his AA in sociology from SCC, a BA in American studies/education at UC Berkeley, and an MA in social studies teaching and curriculum at New York University. And he studied photography along the way too.
After a decade of schooling and working in New York, Anthony has come full circle and returned to RISE, this time as a professional in a paid position. He is grateful to the organization that gave him his start and savors the opportunity to pay it forward by helping students — who he understands to be walking a similar path.
CRC's Honors program's alumna and Sacramento native, Sarah (Hutter) Wilterson is a graduate student at Princeton University, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and neuroscience scheduled to defend her dissertation in 2021, embodying the spirit of inquiry she acquired while at CRC.
As Wilterson explains, “For me, CRC was so many things. I started taking my first classes on campus when I was about 14—homeschooled growing up, I was able to start enriching my education through courses like math by the time I was in high school. After this initial introduction to community college, I graduated [high school] and enrolled as a fulltime student at CRC studying in equine science, believe it or not. I originally intended to spend my life working with horses.”
Wilterson marvels at her transformation from a teenager pursuing supplemental advanced general education, to pursuing an associate’s degree in equine science, to her current passionate work as a psychology doctoral candidate at Princeton. This evolution, she says, was made possible largely by the flexibility and support she enjoyed as a student at CRC. When asked why she initially elected to explore Psychology, she answers:
“No great philosophical reason— I just wanted to take one of the courses. I ended up talking to a lot of people. My time in the honors program offered a group of dedicated mentors. Finding people who will support you is important. Really important. The Honors Program is a great way to meet mentors who can help as you move through college and beyond.” Looking back on her CRC experience as a whole, Wilterson adds, “Being involved in such a diverse range of programs over the course of so many stages of my academic and professional career, I truly feel I got the ‘full experience’ at CRC.”
Reflecting on some of the differences between life at Princeton and while at CRC, Wilterson notes that the CRC Honors Program’s, “Small classes, and material that professors are genuinely excited about, are great for exploring topics in the way that the experts wish you could.” In comparing her time at Princeton and CRC, she says “The experience is a bit like the difference between swimming laps and a water park: sure you enjoy swimming, but the water park is special.”
Speaking of the connection between her academic past and present, Wilterson says:
“We've just started our fall semester [at Princeton] and every new group of students makes me think of [CRC Honors Program faculty member Dr. Rick Schubert] as I strive to pass on the gift that [he] gave me. I teach a Research Methods Lab, and my favorite phrase this year is, ‘But why—who cares?’ The students seem to respond well to the challenge of that question.”
Still connecting on a regular basis with the academic orientation she developed while at CRC, Wilterson reaches back to concepts from her time at CRC to connect to her students at Princeton today—carrying forward the spirit of critical inquiry she internalized as a student in CRC’s Honors Program.
Schubert explains that there is a question he asked of Wilterson and her fellow students on a weekly basis in the Honors seminar she took with him while at CRC and still asks of his Honors students today. After requesting a summary of the reading and receiving a ready answer from his seminar students, he always follows up with “But why—who cares?"
His question is an invitation to Honors Program students to go beyond a surface understanding of the reading to a critical engagement with the material that leads students to do their own original work alongside the author of the material. The Honors Program at CRC invites students to think beyond the surface what to the why, transforming students from passive consumers of academic information to actively productive scholars in their own right.
Schubert explains how excited he is to see the impact this approach has on the academic progress and growth of students like Wilterson:
“I’m deeply gratified to know that Sarah is still carrying forward, and sharing with her own
students at Princeton, the spirit of critical inquiry that she acquired as a student in CRC’s Honors Program. That spirit is central to what our Honors Program is all about.”
He emphasizes that all interested CRC students are invited to apply to the Honors Program, which offers not only enhanced IGETC-satisfying General Education courses, but an array of co-curricular opportunities and support services. Honors students have the chance to attend and even to present at academic conferences and symposia, to participate in special field trips and social events, and to receive support from the program’s counseling and academic advising services.
Explaining how CRC acted as a vehicle for change for her and what she continues to gain as a CRC Honors alum, Wilterson says:
“CRC is a continued source of support and guidance. I only ever took one actual Psych class, during my time at Cosumnes, but I got the full experience. I got to talk to a lot of people I might not have met otherwise. I asked questions. Professors took the time to explain to me what each career path could look like. That made the biggest impact--to have people sit down and actually talk with me and together we outlined what I want my career path to look like.”
Wilterson is proud to count herself a member of the CRC family who continues to actively benefit from her robust educational experience at CRC and who continues to grow professionally with the support of her mentors at CRC.
CRC and Honors Program alumnus, Chris Adams, is a true community leader. He runs an educational non-profit. He is a civil rights activist, serving as Sacramento Chapter Leader for the People's Alliance for Justice. He provided community support surrounding the Stephon Clark case. He helped get AB392 (The California Act to Save Lives) signed and was present at the bill's signing.
Having graduated from CRC in Spring 2019, Adams, now living in West LA, is pursuing his Bachelor's degree in sociology at UCLA, where he continues his devotion to political activism and community service. Adams is also extremely passionate about football. He began college after finding out that the career in collegiate football he envisioned for himself at the time would require a foundation in his own college education. As he explains, "I came into wanting to football coach and just needed my BA for that. Earning my degree in sociology is really going to help with any of my future goals."
One thing Adams has learned from his work in advocacy is how to work with a variety of people. Given his experience with many diverse community groups in Northern California during his time at CRC and now with the people in his growing community in LA, Adams says he's been able to figure out how different groups of people work with each other. He describes his recent education in and outside of the classroom in terms of "Learning a lot about how to interact with people. Getting a degree will help me if I want to get into law school, getting a BA will help me do the things I want to do with education and employment beyond where I am today."
Growing up, Adams claims he was never good at school, "I said I couldn't do it," Adams explains, commenting on his self-doubts. "I never thought that I would be an honors student. But then, I did really well for two semesters and got invited to join honors – I think you get a note that you're eligible. And so it was ironic, because just as I was saying I couldn't do it [...] I got the notice. So, when I was finally invited to honors, I was scared initially. I was scared to challenge myself – I thought if I took honors, my GPA would drop and I wouldn't get into the universities." But Adams' successful transfer to UCLA underscores how the CRC Honors Program opened doors for him and increased his self-confidence.
Reflecting on his experience in Honors, Adams notes "The CRC Honors program is really like a close community – everybody kind of knows each other, you'll end up sharing a lot of the same classes. Honors is not a requirement – [program participation is elective], so everyone has chosen to be there – they want to challenge themselves. As Adams explains, "Most of these people wanted to go to university and many of them end up going to those universities. The honors community as a whole [has] bigger goals outside of their immediate experience. It's a like-minded group – they all understand there is a lot of work, but we all try to help each other. We are to share openly with one another without fear of judgment and to help one another. We know it's going to be hard, so we're all sharing this experience and want to be there for one another. If we saw someone struggling we had others there to make sure we [are] okay, to check in on each other." Reflecting more broadly on the program, Adams notes the level of educational support Honors provides: "They are able to prepare you for any university."
While Adams currently getting himself established in LA, Adams notes,"Keeping active in Sacramento is still important to me." His focus is on continuing to grow his network of strong mentors. "I've been meeting a lot of professionals who've studied law and are able to give me a lot more information. Making a bigger impact on the community as a whole is my immediate plan for the future."
Adams already runs a non-profit called Game Changer. "It's supposed to be able to train people with life skills including how to interview, etiquette, study habits, ways to network. Eventually, I'd like to turn it into a general education preparation school that offers counseling and other resources. There's a grant coming up I am applying for to see what little steps I can start to take to make it bigger than it already is." When asked how his time in the CRC Honors program has contributed to his success, he replied "I just really got a great experience. I got to understand that if you do the work and challenge yourself and ask for help...asking for help is the main thing. Just put in the work – you can do anything you set your mind to."
Cosumnes River College and Sacramento State graduate (cum laude) Sarah Aboueljoud will tell you something surprising. The Dominican University of California bound, future physician assistant says she cut class in high school, graduated without the know-how to study effectively, and walked away with the false assumption that she was bad at math.
Sarah remembers vividly the day she discovered the math lab at CRC. She says that was the day she learned college is not so much about getting the correct answer as it is learning how to solve problems. By the end of her first year, and with the help of caring professors who taught her how to be a good student through positive academic habits, Sarah actually was a good student.
At CRC, Sarah says classes felt more intimate because teachers knew her by name. She found them welcoming, accommodating, and willing to listen. They understood that life gets in the way sometimes, Sarah remembers, but the teachers had a passion for learning and giving their students the tools to thrive.
A tool to thrive that Sarah relied on was the campus itself. She loved spending time at the fountain and listening to the sounds of the flowing water, and her favorite building at CRC is the Winn Center. To relax, Sarah would walk the hallways, soak in the rays from the large windows and admire the art and photography on the walls. Otherwise, Sarah spent her days hanging around her newfound home away from home, the anatomy lab in the science building. She credits the campus for supplying the learning environment she needed.
Sarah was amazed how easy Los Rios Community College District made it to get an A.S or A.A degree and open a world of career possibilities. With every class she took, she says she learned something about herself and new skills to apply to her personal life.
Sarah readily admits that going to CRC eased her transition to a four-year college and allowed her time to mature and figure out what she truly wanted. She is convinced that community college helped guide her by mapping out a career path toward the profession she loves.
Sarah is the first in her family to study for an advanced degree, and is proud to set a new standard for higher education within her family. What she’ll take to grad school is what she acquired at Cosumnes River College: the means to be successful.
Sacramento City College graduate Quynhnhu Nguyen’s collection, “Entropy,” recently won first place at the college Fashion Department’s annual fashion show. She also won in the Most Marketable category at American River College’s fashion show in 2017 with her collection called “Controlled Chaos.” As suggested by the dark, moody, urban style of both collections, Nguyen is intrigued by fluctuations of emotions and how slivers of optimism and hope can be found in the darkest of places. We asked her a few questions about herself and what inspires her.
My experience at SCC started in 1998. My firstborn was three years old and I just received my GED. I didn’t want to be a waitress all of my life so I decided to go to college and do something better with my life. My mom also drilled it into my brain that I had to go to college and I was floating in the sea of academia for a good while before I found out what I truly enjoyed doing.
I wasn’t interested in fashion until I took my first sewing class with SCC Professor Lynne Giovannetti back in 2013. I was a Biology major and focusing on taking courses to get into the Nursing program. I couldn’t get into one of my science classes so I decided to take a sewing class. My mother has an AA in Fashion Design from West Valley College and she would make me fix my own clothes and help her sew basic shirts and pants when I was a child but I wanted to learn from the beginning. The course was fun for me, we started out with basic sewing stitches and learned to make potholders, a drawstring bag and an apron or bag. I ended up making two aprons, one was simple and the other one was a reversible one.
My general aesthetic is applying the skills I have learned and allowing myself to be creative with my designs from concept idea to the final product. I love to challenge myself with new ideas and playing around with techniques that I have not worked with before. I like classic designs with a play on my own interpretation of current styles.
Is there a story to the designs? Where did you draw inspiration? Did you have a goal in mind when conceptualizing these designs?
I express visual story with my collection. I had just won the Most Marketable category with my Controlled Chaos collection from ARC in 2017 and I wanted to showcase the Entropy collection at SCC the following year. Both collections were about an array of emotions that I was experiencing during my journey. The idea was to tell a story of how emotions always fluctuate and that one moment you are feeling all of these negative emotions and the next you are calm and rational. I worked with real leather, lace and textured fabrics. Four pieces were mainly black with hints of white which was my color story of how dark my emotions were with hints of white which represents serenity and hope. The middle garment was a simple A-line dress which was color block with diagonal seams and a square neckline. The bodice was made out of corded lace and the skirt was a black and white woven wool textile. The white was more pronounced and evoked innocence. The Entropy collection focuses on the strong sensual female. My goal is to have my client feel empowered and beautiful when they wear my designs.
The first thing I designed was a tote bag. I created a basic pattern by analyzing the paper bags at the grocery store and drafted a paper pattern to use as my template. I’ve come a long way from that project.
It felt awesome. It took me over twenty years off and on being in college. I was thrilled to be sitting with the graduating class of 2019 along with my peers. It was a difficult journey struggling to finish college with the demands of life. I say, “Better later than never.” Graduating from the Los Rios Community College District meant that I had the power to showcase my skills and creativity because I was tenacious with my studies and I discovered that I also loved to teach other students who wanted to experience what the Fashion Programs had to offer.
I plan to teach in the future. I have been a teacher’s assistant for three years and I plan on applying for an Instructional Assistant job and gain more experience. After that, I would love to get accepted into the Faculty Diversity Internship Program and become an adjunct professor at LRCCD. I have met so many wonderful people along my journey and I plan on networking and reaching out to explore the fashion industry, the art industry and our community. I’ve been working on a community project with the fashion club called Hopefull Totefull where we would make tote bags for first time chemotherapy patients from Sutter Memorial Hospital. We have donated over one hundred totes so far so I would love to have a chance to expand on that project.
I graduated from CRC with my Associates of Science in May 2014.
I began attending CRC in spring of 2011 knowing that there was a lot I wanted to achieve. Professionally, I didn’t have very much going for me, and I needed to change that.
I always had a love for computers, particularly information security, so I began by taking some general requirement classes as well as some CIS classes to get myself back into education.
My major was Computer Information Systems Security, in which I attained my Associates of Science. It was always something I had a huge passion for, and with the growing field of Information Security/Cybersecurity being needed by nearly any organization conducting business over the internet, it was also a lucrative degree in which to invest my time.
When I was taking my CISS 310 class, I chose to go with the hybrid course, which was more of an online class than on-grounds. I was surprised by the abundance of engagement the professor of this course, Lance Parks, had with the students (including myself). He was always there to answer questions about topics or concepts, and always made sure to follow-up with me so that I understood them.
There were times where I would meet with him during office hours to discuss things that didn’t make sense to me, and every time I would walk away having a much better understanding. Even after I completed CISS 310, I would continue to take my other required CIS classes with him. Over the years, he has become my mentor while navigating my educational and professional career.
Since then, we have become good friends and communicate often. It is this level of commitment professors of CRC and the Los Rios Community College District possess regarding the success of their students.
At one point, I began getting frustrated with the educational path I was on to the point that I made the decision to stop attending college and focus on gaining professional experience.
This is something that I still struggle with, but I have learned that continuing your education leads to pathways previously unknown. There have been topics and areas of study that have fascinated me and led me to pursue more knowledge about them. I’ve never shut the door to education, because there is still so much that I do not know. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. That has been my take-away with regard to higher education.
Going to community college right after high school can be overwhelming if money is tight and scheduling classes around a work schedule feels like threading a needle. Fortunately, community college students are discovering that help is there for the asking, and community college can be an option for everyone.
Just ask Navjot Randhawa. The aspiring early childhood teacher who worked two jobs and maintained a 3.6 grade point average at Cosumnes River College knows all about being overwhelmed. She dropped out of community college shortly after high school out of exasperation and went to work. But the yearning to teach was powerful as were a couple of family role models. Her brother is a sixth grade teacher and her mother, a retired teacher who taught elementary school in India, encouraged Navjot to get back into the college arena. This time – Navjot promised herself – she was going to approach education differently.
Navjot re-enrolled and discovered the Early Childhood Education Program at CRC had a Pathways to Success Program at CRC’s Child Development Center. The Center was a lifeline for Navjot. The program there promotes a student-centered approach to foster the spirit and diligence to be a successful student and lifelong learner, exactly the skills Navjot needed to pursue her goals.
At the Center, Navjot found a community of professors and students who, like her family, shared her passion for teaching, and the resources, textbooks, and computers to use for studying. Navjot received an AA degree in Early Childhood Education, an Associate Teacher Certificate and an Early Childhood Education Master Teacher Certificate, and plans to transfer and obtain her master’s in child development.
Navjot who likes to hike and volunteers at the Montessori Country Academy, squeezes in some fun with friends at their own entertainment space, a converted garage. She tells anyone who will listen her formula for success: get involved and Los Rios Community Colleges will come to you.
Susana Barraza has a plan. She has specifics and a timeline and she radiates full confidence that it will happen. She wants to gain experience in Washington D.C. (where she interned with the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute), reach the PhD level, return back home and run for public office.
Susana’s plan is especially remarkable because when she graduated from high school (barely), she had no plan at all. She’s the eldest in an income insecure immigrant family, and her parents expected her to work after high school. She entertained the idea of community college only because her best friend was going, so she enrolled at SCC.
Susana’s ambitions changed when she was selected to attend the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities' (HACU) Capitol Forum as a SCC representative. Each spring, SCC students at this forum lobby their elected Congressional representatives hoping to shape and promote future legislation that will benefit all students, particularly those in underserved communities. SCC is the only campus in the region to expose students to these opportunities.
Attending the HACU Capitol Forum changed Susana’s view of what she could dream and even impacted her entire family. Susana understands now that growing up in an immigrant household doesn’t predispose her to the types of jobs her parents have, and she is worthy of the opportunities offered to anyone with an education.
Now that she has her AS in Business Administration from SCC and a degree in economics at Sac State, Susana is giving back at SCC. She is working with the HSI-STEM Equity and Success Initiative Project, a federal grant made available to recognized, Hispanic-serving institutions. Her job now is to support/mentor underserved and low-income students in school by being an advocate for them and an advocate for equity.
Through education, Susana learned that her heard voice can be heard, and she can advocate for herself, her family and her community. Barraza for Congress? Why not?
After growing up in a tough neighborhood in Oakland – where there was more temptation than opportunity – DeWayne discovered Cosumnes River College (CRC) spoke to him. He connected to CRC's campus because of its serenity and positive atmosphere. He found he could think and reflect more easily without the added pressures of inner-city life.
CRC is where DeWayne discovered the joy of learning. And it is at the Oak Park Community Center where DeWayne shares his learning discovery with youth and teens who can benefit from real-life inspiration. He is there as a mentor, Youth Development trainer, and outreach & development coordinator; he has even advocated for them as an ambassador at city council meetings.
One thing DeWayne wants to do is make people feel the way his instructors at CRC made him feel – enlightened and inspired. DeWayne transferred from CRC to Sac State to study sociology and marketing and began establishing his own brand and non-profit as an artist named Consci8us. “My work, my music, and my coursework all work together. I feel like I’m manifesting everything I’ve worked for.”
Becky Yang is on a mission. She wants everyone to have access to a dentist and understand the importance of taking care of their teeth. That’s why she went to Sacramento City College (SCC) and earned an associate degree in dental hygiene. Her hope is to find a job helping her community by offering her newly acquired expertise, and find a work family like the circle of friends she counted on at SCC.
Community college rescued Becky from heartbreak, and gave her the support she needed to pursue her goals. She says her counselors at SCC were extremely helpful by encouraging Becky to persevere, even after two rejections to the dental hygiene program and the unbearable grief of losing her parents during that time. Becky gives credit to the open-door policy of counselors, where she often went to simply have a good cry.
When Becky was considering college, she knew she wanted to stay home. Her parents needed her, and money was certainly an issue. Becky is the oldest of eight children, and she grew up in a home where English is a second language and her dad’s earnings were stretched thin. She needed to help them, and she needed extra help at school.
Becky did finally get into the dental hygiene program. Every step of the way, counselors, instructors, the staff, and colleagues supported her through all her difficult circumstances. Becky is so grateful for their empathy and caring, and their offers of a shoulder to lean on while insisting she not fall behind in school.
Now, Becky is a role model for her seven younger brothers and sisters. She can stand tall and prove to them that if she can overcome all the obstacles she faced while earning her degree at SCC, they can too. It will be special moments for Becky when her siblings, one by one, walk the stage to receive their degrees. She’ll be there, representing her parents who would be so proud.
Felipe Rodriguez knew he wanted to fight fires since the day he happened to be at a station as a child for a toy drive. They were giving away toys to families in need. But college seemed like a long shot.
And there was another calling for Felipe too. He wanted to serve his country in the Navy. As a son of immigrants, he had a warm appreciation for freedom and opportunity and wanted to give back.
When his stint in the Navy was complete, it was time to get back to firefighting. Felipe was all in. With the help and inspiration of his favorite counselor who advised him on how to access all the Los Rios campuses to meet his class needs, Felipe was able to balance his schedule between work and school. He achieved his immediate goal of becoming a firefighter by taking many fire science courses and completing an AA in Social Science. But Felipe sees building a solid foundation for higher education as his real Los Rios accomplishment.
The first to graduate from college in his family, Felipe says getting an education can be tough, but you’ve got to keep going. He is the first to say: Los Rios and Folsom Lake College offers a foundation for life.