Computer Applications Faculty
I grew up in Bakersfield, CA, the son of an oil rig laborer, who was the son of a Slovak immigrant coal miner, and a homemaker, the daughter of a Croatian immigrant woman who ran a boarding house. I was an “oops” baby, coming into this world 15 and a half years after my brother and 20 years after my sister.
Not only did my parents not attend college, they didn’t even attend high school. I think in a different era, my father would have grown up to become an engineer as he was quite bright and even taught himself trigonometry. As my parents were not readers, I didn’t grow up surrounded by books.
I preferred playing and watching sports more than reading. However, from an early age my mother instilled in me the importance of education, especially attending college. So I always knew I would attend university, although the concept seemed foreign to me in elementary school.
I moved to Roseville, and my freshman year at Roseville High School was tough – new school, new home, new town and on top of that my father was seriously injured in an oil rig accident that left him unable to work again. Our lives would never be the same.
However, one wonderful thing happened and that was meeting Henry Valenzuela. I had left Bakersfield hating Mexican Americans because I felt betrayed by my childhood friends who didn’t accept me anymore because I was white. However, after making friends with Henry, I felt that God melted away all prejudice I had toward Mexican Americans.
It was miraculous and life changing. I did well in high school and was a 4-year CSF honor student despite not working very hard. I was then accepted to UC Davis as an EOP student.
Although I was successful at getting into college, I had no guidance with the choice of a major. I dabbled in pre-med before I realized I didn’t have the drive, calling or grades to be a doctor. I finally settled on psychology as a major with the intention of becoming some sort of counselor.
Overall, I struggled as a student and was not prepared for the rigors of a UC education. Despite receiving consistent offerings of help from the EOP office, pride kept me from going to any workshops or sessions – I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was an EOP student.
Not taking advantage of all the support that the EOP center offered is the biggest regret of my college career. I believe I would have become a more confident and directed student if I had. My ADD may have been diagnosed at that time. So, my message to all Mission College students is this: take advantage of all the resources (counseling, tutoring, library, MESA, DSPS, EOPS, TRIO, HSI-STEM, just to name a few) you can at Mission.
Mission College is your equipping ground for becoming a better and more confident student; for getting on a pathway toward a major/career, and for opening your mind to new cultures, races and languages.
In my junior year I took Intro to Linguistics from Dr. Lenora Timm. She was the greatest teacher I had ever had; she was so passionate about her field that she made me passionate about it as well.
I took Greek, German and Spanish at Davis and although I didn’t change my major, I did take more linguistics courses. On a hot June day, I graduated with a degree in psychology and nearly a minor in linguistics. Later that same night I hopped on a plane bound for Mexico City, where I would spend the next 14 months as a volunteer with Latin America Mission.
My year in Mexico and Honduras was the best year of my life. I fell in love with LatinX people, their culture, their generosity, their land, their history and their food. I learned to play guitar, became more confident in my Spanish, and traveled throughout Mexico and Central America. It was really freeing to be in a less competitive environment and feeling accepted for who I was rather than what I had achieved.
After returning to the states, I enrolled in a Master’s in Linguistics/TESOL program at San Jose State University. After graduating, I taught ESL for a number of years in San Jose. I then followed my wife Becky to Pennsylvania, where she worked on her internship in dietetics.
There weren’t many jobs there teaching ESL, but because of my TESOL degree and computer background, I got a position managing a computer lab at a nearby language school. We then moved to Corning, NY, where my wife got her first dietitian job. Again, there weren’t any ESL teaching jobs, so I instead landed a computer support position for Corning, Inc.
But California seemed to beckon us home, so we left Corning to return to San Jose, where I took a faculty position in the ESL department at Mission. I have been teaching at Mission for over 25 years.
Although, I have taught or worked in a number of academic institutions (junior high, high school, university) and in industry, I would say that the community college is the best place at which to work and teach. And we have THE best students!
My advice to students is to think about a career while you think about a major. Unfortunately, most students do not have the time or financial resources to explore and change majors as they had years ago when I was an undergrad. You want to pick a major and a career derived from a major that will count.
In choosing a major, don’t just think about the things that you are passionate about...you might be passionate about 100 things! Think about what you spend your time doing. What are you good at? Use some of the wonderful tools here at Mission, such as Career Coach, to explore.
When you find an area of interest, arrange to shadow someone working in that area. Studies show that students on a pathway are more likely to finish a degree and pursue further education. Also, when you are on a pathway, you don’t become as worried about trying to avoid taking certain courses or certain instructors because they are tough.
Your eyes are on the bigger prize – whether pre-professional or STEM or career education such as fire science, hospitality management or nursing. This world is hurting—environmentally, socially, and economically. My hope is that you find “... the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner).
Finally, as I emphasized earlier, take advantage of all the resources that Mission has to offer. We have awesome staff – classified, faculty and administrators – who want to help you succeed! Really!
A fun fact about me is that in high school, my friends and I would play ping pong every day after school. We decided to do something crazy and try to break the Guinness Book of World Records for Doubles Ping-Pong, which at the time was 68 hours. The year was 1976 so we were going for 76 hours!
We did play for 72 hours straight and even made the evening news on KCRA, but alas, it wasn’t quite enough. The record was set that year at 72 hours and 15 minutes! We were quite bummed but still glad we tried.
Adult Education Coordinator
I thought that my path to college was going to be smooth as things started out well: When I was a kid, I was so excited about going to college! My mom took me to her nutrition class at West Valley College. I had such fun sitting in those old-school chair-desk combos (it was 1990!), coloring, and observing the students interacting with the professor.
I also accompanied Mom to her aerobics classes at West Valley, and I loved dancing along to the hits of the day (“Vogue,” by Madonna and “Every Little Step,” by Bobby Brown were my jams)! My parents told me about the importance of education, but most of my excitement came from absorbing my parents’ love of education – they were always learning new things.
My dad and I spent weekends library-hopping, playing piano, and going to my favorite places: The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, the Exploratorium, the Stanford Art Museum, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and the aquarium. My dad also created “Dad’s Summer School” where I’d learn all kinds of things, with a heavy focus on English, math, music, and art.
However, by the time I was a high school sophomore, my path to college was becoming rough: my dad became ill, the company he worked for went out of business, and his area of engineering was offshored. By the time I graduated from high school, we ended up losing our housing situation, and a few years later, my dad passed away. My focus was no longer on college but trying to figure out how to support myself.
I worked in a variety of temporary office positions until I landed a position as a Lobby Ambassador Floater Coach (a fancy title for a receptionist who trains part-time receptionists) for Cisco Systems. Although the position didn’t pay much, and was a long-term contract (a.k.a., a “perma-temp” position), I felt grateful for a steady position I enjoyed.
Also, at this time, I began attending community college. Since I didn’t have a computer, my boss let me use my work computer to write my papers. After years of taking classes, riding the bus to and from school and work, and finally, scraping together a few ducats to buy Sophie, my used car, I transferred to UC Santa Cruz. I was so excited! I couldn’t believe that I was finally going to experience my dream of going to college.
Unfortunately, I graduated into the Great Recession. I was an absolutely flat-broke student (beans-and-rice every day broke); however, graduating into the recession gave a new meaning to the word “broke.” I worked a combination of temporary, short-term, and part-time positions until landing a position coordinating teacher education programs and the department newsletter.
A year later, due to severe financial issues at the college, I got notice that my
entire department was being laid off. I quickly found another position at the same
college and began graduate school. Over the years, I also worked as a tutor and a
summer instructor in addition to my daytime work.
Later, I worked as an aide in an adult school, where I discovered my love of adult education. After six years (yes, you’ve read that right – six years!) I finally completed my master’s degree in English Composition.
After graduating, one of my friends made me promise I’d take the time to find the right position – “no settling for something that just pays the bills,” she said. And, that’s how I became an Adult Education Transition Specialist for Mission College! I still remember feeling so excited when I saw the ad for the position.
I felt welcomed the minute I stepped on campus. I love this position because it allows me to walk alongside adult/re-entry and “non-traditional” students and encourage and support them.
In this position, I’ve learned that an important way to help students feel more engaged in a campus community is to make time to meet with them and listen to them. Lots of times, students are terrified about returning to college. Some of them feel as if they don’t belong in school, because they’ve been told that college is “for other people.”
I know it sounds trite, but please don’t give up! A lot of times, people will tell you that “if you don’t finish college now, then you’ll never finish it.” People who say this mean well, but it’s just not true.
Sometimes, life throws you some curveballs, so you’re not able to finish your schooling as soon as you had hoped. But, as long as you keep taking steps to work on your goal – writing out a plan, meeting with a counselor, and being realistic about how much time you have each week to work on your school work – you’re going to accomplish your goal.
Sometimes, students tell me that they think they’re too old to go back to school or that it’s going to take too long. I always tell them that you’re never too old! Also, the years are going to go by regardless, so you might as well work towards your goal and obtain a great education.
Fun fact about me: I’m downright obsessed with music! And, believe it or not, I’m kind of shy and introverted. Nobody believes me when I tell them that, though! Growing up, my mom signed me up for a lot of activities over the summer, so that I could come out of my shell.
Many of the other stories I read from Mission College folks start with a supportive family. I did not have that. At 14, I dropped out of high school and left a deeply dysfunctional home. Finding a stable living arrangement was always a challenge. But I was lucky when it came to finding work. I had a very kind employer who paid me fairly and encouraged me to find a way back to my education.
I found out that I could start off taking non-credit courses at my local community college even without a high school diploma. If I did well, then I could try credit courses. It took me 3 years, but I earned an AA and a transfer agreement. I felt like I had a chance to start my life over.
I transferred to a great state school, but my high hopes got lost in drug and alcohol
abuse, and I dropped out without earning a single credit. For the next few years,
my problems multiplied.
After I sought help for my addiction, I reapplied to the state college system. I wrote my application essay about what I had learned from my difficulties at the previous school. I was very surprised when I got an acceptance letter.
I studied sober this time. I got a bachelor's degree in English. Then I completed my master's degree. I got a job right out of school doing something I loved: I worked in a library with young people, many of whom had significant challenges in life. I won awards for teaching them technical skills. I transitioned to doing more technical work myself. I was living a life I had never dreamed was open to me.
I moved to Silicon Valley when my husband landed his dream job. I took time off to have children. Then, a pandemic hit. All of that left me with a gap in employment which I feared would tank my hard-earned career.
But now I’ve landed a job here at Mission College, doing both things I love, helping students and technical work. And in a community supportive enough to feel comfortable sharing my story. I’m so happy to be here.
The advice I would give to today’s student: in the face of anything that feels like a personal failure, always give yourself permission to ask for help and try again.
Mary Ann Medrano
Career Transfer Advisor
To be able to say I have an educational background is a privilege. Growing up, I was not taught the importance of education. I grew up watching my family work hard. Working hard in the fields and warehouses. Some still do. No one in my family stressed how important it is to go to college.
I am a first generation, minority, and low-income student; however, I did not qualify for any financial aid because my parents worked so much overtime that I was not able to get any assistance. Also, I did not grow up with the expectation that I would go to college because after high school, everyone in my family must find a job and make money.
A high school diploma was good enough. Since my family stressed getting a high school diploma, I became an exemplary student in all honors classes and graduated in the top ten of my class. I was fortunate enough to be around others who were college bound.
They talked about college often and made sure I met deadlines with them. I did the SAT and ACT. I even blindly filled out college applications. I ended up getting accepted to the colleges I applied to. I chose to go to the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) right after high school. UC Davis was a safe option for me; it was far from home, but still close enough.
The first year in college was going great until my grandparents passed away. My world fell apart, and I wanted to be at home. I did not want to be away from my family even if it was just an hour away. I was still registered for classes and failed them all. I did not know I had to drop my classes on my own. I lost my scholarships. I was working on campus and stopped showing up to my shifts. I should have lost my job.
Luckily, my boss at the time knew my work habits and knew it was unlike me to stop showing up. He contacted me. I did not reply. He found out who was my academic advisor, and he contacted her. She reached out to me A LOT. I avoided her, but I finally gave in.
I told her everything. Those two did not give up on me. My advisor recommended I go back home and had me on a contract, so I could return to Davis. It required me to take classes at my local community college to stay on track. I took a year off from Davis, and my boss secured my job so I could return. They checked on me often while I was away. Eventually, I did go back and finished successfully at Davis.
I have learned that life happens. My educational background was nowhere near a straight path. I had so many turns along the way. I have learned that going to school is a process – sometimes a long one. I had many barriers and could have walked away, but I had people who believed in me, and I surrounded myself with people with aspirations.
I constantly thank everyone who helped me along this journey and feel like I owe them so much. Yet they told me that I do not owe them anything. They taught me I owed it to myself. I wanted more than a high school diploma; I wanted to go to college. It was my goal, and I wanted to set an example for my family. We are more than just hard work in the fields and warehouses. I am changing that mindset. I am paving a way for the future generations.
My advice to students – always remember to be involved with service learning. Surround yourself with positive people, and be kind to yourself with whatever obstacle that comes your way, especially when trying to reach your goals. Remember to always persevere – “The harder the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” – Moliere
A random fact about me is that I am an introvert, even though when people meet me they think I am an extrovert. I feed off of other people's energy, but I like being left alone and out of the spotlight. It was hard to share my story. The only reason I am telling my story is for our students and for my colleague, Thuy Trang. I want our students to know that it is ok to be uncomfortable because it will help you grow.