Office Location: HM-114
Department: Hospitality Management
Faculty since 1996
M.S. in Recreation and Tourism, Cal State University East Bay
B.S. in Hotel/Restaurant Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
A.S. in Hotel/ Restaurant Management, St. Louis Community College.
Department Chair, July 1998 – June 2017
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I was raised by a single mom of modest means who instilled in me that college was not an option; it was a must! I don’t remember ever considering or being allowed to consider any career pathway that did not include earning my education.
And for as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a dentist! I recall that I was never afraid of the dentist and only really considered that one career pathway for most of my youthful years. Performing well in high school, I was accepted into a 6-year dental program and thought I was all set. My friends and peer family members were all primed to go to a four-year college immediately upon high school graduation. At this point I must interject that at nowhere in the post high school landscape did the community college option surface. In fact, I have memories of my friends and I speaking poorly of those “slackers” who could only get into a community college. This was common sentiment in the University City suburb of St. Louis back in the 1980’s; that the community college was for those who could not get accepted into a “real” college. So here I am in my senior year, dental school bound and feeling pretty impressed with my academic, athletic, and really, overall performance to-date. Life was good and was only going to get better.
But one fateful day, I drove a friend to take a fitness test for the Naval Academy (Annapolis) and that’s when my life took a radical turn. During this time, a movie out called Taps portrayed the trials and challenges of the first black cadet to attend a military academy. This movie was mine, as well as my mom’s only exposure to places such at West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy. The more I learned about the rigorous, prestige and elite admissions process in order to be admitted to Annapolis, or another academic military organization, the more intrigued I became. Out of pride and curiosity, I wanted to test my limits and wound up applying for, and receiving, an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Co. I had also convinced myself that I might one day get to fly F-16 fighter jets. While I performed well enough in high school to earn an appointment, it was the case at the academy that I found myself on academic probation the entire time! It was my first major failure in my life, as during the early summer of 1987 I was academically dis-enrolled from the United States Air Force Academy. I departed with a GPA that was just under 2.0; totally foreign territory for me up until this point in my life. After this, I tried to reach out to the colleges that had originally accepted me but with the low GPA, no one was willing to take me. In the span of three years I had gone from someone who had been accepted into each and every college applied for, including the Academy, to not being able to get into any college at all, well … almost any college. Ironically, the community college that I had put down as being “just for the slackers” would be my saving grace.
So, I’m back home, feeling depressed, embarrassed and disappointed but still maintaining the sentiment that college was a must. I didn’t make the connection while growing up, but at age 12 I began working at a snack shop that my uncle owned on the Mississippi River, at the foot of the Gateway Arch. But as previously stated, while growing up I was focused elsewhere, and my growing up jobs could have been any jobs; they just happened to be at a tourist snack bar and fast food. My sister chimes in and advises me to go “try out” the food service classes at the local community college, since I had all those years working in food. In fact, in addition to working for my uncle I also did the ubiquitous fast food gig during my senior year, as did all my college-bound friends.
I listened to my sister, registered for hospitality classes at the community college, and naturally exceled in them. I also happened to secure a job at the newly constructed Courtyard by Marriott hotel, not too far from my home. Turns out I had a knack for working in, and then supervising, fast-paced food service businesses. I was quickly promoted in my work at the Courtyard Marriott. At the time there was so much synergy between what I was learning in the classroom and actual related work experience. I had also picked up a second job supervising food service on Mississippi riverboat cruises, just down the river from where I worked as a child.
After two years and earning my AS Degree, I once again found myself in great academic standing, so my next step was applying to 4-year universities. I’d done well enough (again) to gain acceptance to every four-year university to which I had applied. I had also received multiple grants and scholarships and recall clearly that I was bragging (just a little) about having my first year of college all but paid for. Life was getting better and I was once again becoming impressed with myself. After all, I had failed in a major way, but was not only bouncing back, but doing so in good order.
I narrowed my choices down to Cornell University and UNLV – The University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Cornell’s tuition proved too expensive, so I ended up for the first time in my life in front of slot machines, craps and blackjack tables and video poker machines. Losing all my tuition and rent money within a few days at the casino was a harsh lesson to learn and I had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and to pay my tuition during my first term at UNLV. Earning a Master’s degree was always in the plan as well, but during these tough times I could not envision earning my MS immediately after graduating from UNLV. In fact, it would be well into my tenure as a full-time faculty when I would earn my MS degree.
After I graduated and earned my bachelor’s degree, I was offered several positions as a director or manager. With each promotion I had to pack up and relocate, and eventually wound up in the Bay Area. My sister lived in Hayward at the time, so it was very nice being in proximity. Both my sister and her husband were educators. My brother-in-law taught, was a Chair and retired from Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay), and my sister taught in two departments and retired from Chabot Community College. I was working now at Stanford University, loving life here in California but was seriously contemplating an offer that would have required me to move to San Antonio Texas, which was one of my destination places to live due to the abundance of close family present there. Here again my sister offered her wisdom and advice. She had seen a job announcement for a full-time instructor at a “small” community college near Great America. What’s so funny is that teaching never crossed my mind until my sister nudged me to just give it a try! Lo and behold, here I am, 23 years later at Mission College and loving what I do!
My advice to students: Pay attention to ALL aspects of your life, personal, professional, and other. Do not assume that because everything seems on track in one area that all is well and in good order across the scope of your life. Stay open to opportunities that may come your way but be forward thinking and deliberate. Take responsibility for the decisions you make and be thoughtful about who you surround yourself with. The consequences of some actions are fleeting while the impact of others will stretch across a lifetime. Set worthwhile goals and judge questionable choices and potential circumstances against their ability to help or hinder you in reaching your goals. Finally, develop a trusting relationship with a few wise people in your life that you’re willing to listen to!