CYProud: Melissa M. Whitewater

Student success comes in many different forms, and Cypress College is proud to recognize and celebrate the variety of paths our students take to achieve their dreams. Whether it’s transferring to a four-year institution, or receiving an associate degree or certificate and heading into the workforce, we want all of our students to know we are on this educational journey with them and are pleased to feature distinguished #CYProud students for 2021.

CYProud Student Melissa Whitewater wears graduation regalia and stands by a tree on the Cypress College campus.

Melissa Whitewater juggled a lot when she first started at Cypress College. She was a reentry student with a newborn, so she had to figure out how to get back into the flow of school while raising an infant. This could be why she was cautious when she dipped her toes in the water of the medical industry, by studying Health Information Technology to become a medical coder. She soon realized, however, that she wanted to do more to help people directly and decided to become a doctor. She is transferring to UCLA to study psychology before going on to medical school and graduating as a physician. Melissa has clearly learned how to manage her time, and then some.

Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?

Where do I begin? I think to tell my story would mean I’d end up with a best-selling novel. So, for the sake of time, I will do my best to sum up my life’s story in the simplest way. After all, to know my story is to know the woman that I am today. I grew up in a family of five: myself, two siblings, a mother, and a father in the city of Azusa here in California. I didn’t realize until I was much older that my parents suffered from generational traumas. They grew up as minorities having to live through the toxicity of their parents’ problems and struggles. And so, as it would come to be, I grew up with similar experiences of what it meant to be a minority going through those same traumas. Even though my parents struggled within their personal lives, they always made it a point to show my siblings and me the importance of unconditional love. I think that is the one thing I appreciate the most from my parents that they instilled within me and has shaped who I am today.

Both of my parents passed away at young ages from illnesses. My father didn’t get to see me graduate with honors at high school, and my mother didn’t get to see me become a mother or start off my academic career later in life. Analyzing my life from hindsight, I’ve come to see that those lost experiences were why I “fell off the wagon,” for lack of a better phrase, and didn’t start my college education until I was 31 years old. I am everything non-traditional but I have come to love my non-traditional ways because they are proof that ANYTHING is truly possible!

I worked hard all my life after high school to earn a living for myself and became pregnant at the age of 28. My son and my experiences in many ways have helped me to realize my time on Earth is precious. After my son was born, I made the decision to devote the time I have left toward helping others. To do so, I overcame adversities, statistics, and generational trauma to raise my son and pursue my educational dreams. With the help of my family and friends, I have graduated from Cypress College with two Associate in Arts degrees and am a UCLA CCCP Scholar transferring to UCLA this fall 2021 to major in psychology. One day I will become Dr. Whitewater and will pave the way for my son’s future while touching thousands of people’s lives as a future physician. 

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I have many passions but I think I am most passionate about being able to help others. I find myself often being sought out for advice from others, or “playing doctor” as my son would say, for fixing his “ouches.” It is in those moments that I feel the most capable and receive instant gratification. Knowing that I can change someone’s life, even if it’s for something small is an indescribable, priceless feeling for me. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I wanted to become a doctor; however, I lived through many negative experiences growing up that made me believe I wasn’t capable or deserving. It took a lot of growing, self-healing, and encouragement from my family to instill within me a new confidence toward my mindset. Being able to pursue higher education to become a physician and help more people in an impactful way is my ultimate passion.  

Student Melissa Whitewater stands in front of the Cypress College pond with the Science, Engineering and Math building, as she holds a "We journey together" pennant.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

Initially it was my son’s father who encouraged and supported my decision to go to college. His ability to see something in me more deserving and capable before I saw it within myself was the reason why I decided to look into going to college after a 13-year break from school. I am forever grateful to him for that. My son’s father’s side of the family is a huge part of my life. They have been a great support system and influence toward my successes. My aunt Victoria Whitewater is the reason why I chose Cypress College. From the state of Montana, she researched programs she thought I’d find an interest in and discovered that Cypress College had a great Health Information Technology (HIT) Program.

I originally was in the HIT program at Cypress in 2018. Once I entered the program, I discovered that my truest passion wasn’t going to be behind the scenes of the health care industry as a medical coder but rather at the forefront as a physician. Because of that, I withdrew from the program to pursue a pathway toward medical school. The program and instructors were great; however, I do not regret leaving the program because I am now pursuing a career pathway that I am much more passionate about.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?

My first years at Cypress were non-traditional, so as a first-time mother to a newborn I couldn’t involve myself in any events or clubs like I would have liked to. All my time was dedicated to homework, studying, and raising my son. The little time I did have I had to remember to sleep. Joking aside, over the years it has gotten much more manageable with juggling my academic career and being a mother. I am currently part of UCLA’s CCCP Scholars program and intend on joining more club organizations and events at UCLA in the coming future. Cypress College has shaped and paved the way for me to learn how to balance both an academic career and motherhood.

Who are the faculty and staff (in your major, an academic or other support program, etc.) who have helped you get where you are today?

I owe a good part of my success to my counselor Jennifer Zier from the SEM department. I would be lost without her! Not only was she a great motivation to me, but she believed in me when at times I had doubt in myself. Counselor Zier always went above and beyond with keeping me on the right track with my academic goals. She was communicative and made herself readily available to me when I needed her. I had many counselors throughout my time at Cypress, but counselor Zier was by far the most professionally and emotionally invested in not just her job as a counselor, but in seeing that my academic career was just as important to her as it was to me. Thank you, Counselor Zier, if I could I’d take you with me to UCLA!

I also want to thank Professor David Kensinger from the Communications Studies Department for not only having the best communications class on campus but for taking me out of my shell and teaching me how to better communicate in a public setting. His class was enjoyable because of his ability to make his students feel comfortable and safe. I dreaded the first day of communications class until he showed me a different perspective on communication.

I’d also like to thank my Spanish professor, Arturo Navarro. I enjoyed the time I had as one of his students. He always picked on me to answer questions in Spanish (I dreaded it every time) but it was his way of helping me to learn, and I am grateful that he challenged me in the ways that he did. Professor Navarro and Professor Kensinger were two of the most influential professors that I had the pleasure of having as teachers. They both helped me to grow in ways that were impactful toward my academic success. Thank you all so much for investing in my future in the ways that you did.

Cypress College student Melissa Whitewwater poses on the steps leading to a campus building and holds a UCLA bound sign.

How has Cypress College supported you throughout your time at the college?

Other than the influence and support of my professors and counselor, the Financial Aid Office and the Cypress College Foundation gave the utmost academic support throughout my time at Cypress. If it weren’t for the support of both the Financial Aid and Foundation offices, I would not have been able to continue the pursuit of higher education.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?

I am transferring to UCLA in the fall of 2021 and majoring in psychology.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I plan to go to medical school to become a physician. My son is half Diné (Navajo), and I’d like to be able to practice close to the Navajo Nation reservation where I can treat the Diné people who are underrepresented in this country. My ability to impact those in dire need as a future physician is my life’s purpose and being able to raise my son close to his cultural roots is my aspiration.

What are you most proud of?

Wow, this is a great question! I have many things in my life to be proud of; however, I am most proud of myself. I never thought I could be capable of so many accomplishments in my life. Despite all my hardships, I have found it within myself to continue forward and make the best of my life, even when at moments my best was limited. I like to say that I lived my life backward, because I chose the non-traditional route of life. But it is all the “backward” moments that gave me the greatest experiences in life that not many people can survive. For that, I am most proud. My life has aligned and it’s all forward from here on.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?

DON’T GIVE UP! Life isn’t meant to be a breeze; we need these challenges in life to grow and to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, that we are destined to be! I know this is going to sound cliché, but I promise you, if I can do this, you can too! Don’t be afraid to reach out for help whether that be from family and friends or professors and counselors, this is your future, so invest in yourself and speak up.

How have you been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? What has gotten you through and/or what have you learned from it?

The Navajo Nation reservation was the most affected area within the nation per capita of COVID-19 cases. The pandemic uncontrollably took over the reservations in the worst ways and at an alarming rate. Many of my family members and friends live on the Navajo Nation reservations. The lack of awareness and resources caused many loved ones to become hospitalized and/or lose their lives to COVID-19. Although I was physically safe by staying indoors during the pandemic, I felt extremely helpless not being able to physically help my family and friends during the pandemic. I got through it by sewing. I sewed masks, and collected sanitizer and Lysol for members of my family to take back to Arizona to use and disperse to those in need. I’ve learned that it’s never too soon to be prepared for a crisis. Today, I make it a point to educate those around me about the Navajo Nation in hopes of spreading awareness and knowledge.

Cypress College student Melissa Whitewater wears a casual shirt as she stands on the second-level piazza on campus in front of a CYProud sign.

Is there anyone in particular you’d like to thank?

I’d like to thank my mom Karen, my grandma Amelia, and my dad Johnny for being with me in spirit and guiding me through life – for doing the best they could as parents and raising my siblings and me to be great kids, and now accomplished adults. I’d like to thank my siblings Albert, Steven, and Lisa for encouraging me when I didn’t believe it was possible. Thank you to my niece Elena, and my nephews Dylan, Andrew, Messiah, Izaiah, and Damien for motivating me to be the best aunty I can be. Thank you to my son and his father for being my biggest fans and pushing me when I feel like giving up, for showing me that my purpose is bigger than my fears and that I can do absolutely anything that I put my mind to.

A huge thank you to all my Whitewater/Begay family, for loving me and supporting my dreams. You all are my hype squad I don’t know where I’d be without you all. Mom Teri, dad Howard, Má’sání, Aunt Vickie, Uncle Rick, Chawa, Nika, Tana and kids, Sunny and kids, Cody, and Ashley. Thank you to my cousin Elaine for being more like a sister than a cousin to me, and always having my back, for being my son’s Godmother and being there for us whenever we need you. You inspire me and I love you so much! Finally, a big thank you to my best friend Valeri Goins for encouraging me through the late nights when I didn’t think I could do it all – for teaching me about perspective and rooting for me always. It takes a village to raise a child and pursue an academic career at the same time, so thank you to everyone who I may have missed (both family and friends); I couldn’t have done it without all your love and support.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am honored to have been nominated as a featured student for the 2021 CYProud and hope that my story inspires many future Cypress College students. I feel blessed beyond measure and am thankful that Cypress College paved the way for me. I’m officially a Cypress College alumni! Thank you, and Buen Cypress!

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