2021 Counseling: Ayah Said

Ayah’s interest in social justice started at an early age. Growing up, she heard about her parents’ native Eritrea and the oppression its citizens faced.

Ayah took classes at Cypress College because of the Charger/Pledge program’s free tuition for students who graduate from any high school in the Anaheim Union High School District. What kept her engaged at the school was the Legacy Program. Through it, Ayah spoke at events, helped represent the club at Kindercaminata, and aided in planning student activities such as debates, a financial literacy panel, a mentor-mentee networking mixer, a racial trauma mental health workshop, and a colorism workshop.

For the future, Ayah wants to combine her passion for social justice with health care administration. Her next step is to transfer to Cal State Long Beach; after that, she wants to advocate for health care as a human right.

“I believe that a sustainable and equitable healthcare system that recognizes health as a right and not a privilege, will percolate into different facets of society like our education, criminal justice reform, environment, and more.”

Counseling student Ayah Said poses in front of blue background with Legacy Program sash.

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

My parents are from a small country in the Eastern region of Africa, called Eritrea located on the coast of the Red Sea. My mother escaped the country that was in war with Ethiopia to gain independence, at the age of 7. In Eritrea, it is prohibited to leave the country without government permission. If you are caught trying to escape you are imprisoned. Fortunately, my mother and her family safely left and she lived in a multitude of countries from Sudan, to Saudi Arabia, to Italy, to Canada, before coming to America. My father escaped the country later in his life, living in Sudan, before gaining a visa to come to America.

Growing up I quickly learned about the human rights violations that Eritrea faces. It is in every sense a totalitarian dictatorship, lead by one dictator who rose to power right after Eritrea gained independence from the 30-year war with Ethiopia, propelling another 30 years of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of thousands of citizens, politicians, religious leaders, journalists, government critics, without access to families and lawyers. There is a mandatory national service program after the age of 18, that is for indefinite periods extending for much longer than the legal limit of 18 months. The right to leave the country is still restricted and people are prevented from travelling abroad without government permission, which has led to thousands of Eritreans to flee the country.

My interests lie in advocating for the voiceless, whether it be through healthcare, local organizations, the global Eritrean movement, etc.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I am passionate about the intersection of healthcare and social justice.

Counseling student Ayah Said in graduation regalia in front of the Cypress College pond.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I chose to begin my education at a community college because it was cost efficient and flexible. While attending school, I was also working a part time job. The community college experience would allow me the flexibility to take certain courses online if needed, attend night classes if needed, and save money. Also, Cypress College offered dual enrollment classes at my high school, allowing me to gain a head start in my college education. What solidified Cypress College as my college of choice was the Charger/Pledge program that offered free tuition for students who graduate from any high school in the Anaheim Union High School District. Furthermore, Cypress College has a higher transfer out rate compared to various local community colleges, supporting my goals of transferring within two years. In addition, Cypress College was the closest college to my house, enabling me to be in close proximity to my siblings in order to drop them off and pick them up from school.

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

I was invited to speak at one of the Black History Month events in 2020, “Understanding Culture through the film Black Panther.” That was my first involvement at Cypress College. Further, I successfully helped plan events for the Legacy program cohorts including student debates, financial literacy panel, mentor-mentee networking mixer, racial trauma mental health workshop, and colorism workshop. Each of these events included a keynote speaker that contributed to the facilitation of the workshop.

In addition, due to my interest in the health field, I have participated with ROP and received a Biomedical Innovations certificate. Social activism is an additional facet that I am passionate about. I participated in the Muslim Youth Leadership Program that took place in Sacramento and gained hands-on training in the areas of civic engagement and media advocacy, as well as debated important public policy issues ranging from police conduct, public safety, pharmaceutical company regulations. I also met with elected officials like Senator Ed Hernandez to lobby legislation.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

I was only on campus for a semester and a half but Kindercaminata was an event that the Legacy cohort scholars helped plan and we came out in strong numbers. We had face painting, multiple games, candy at our booth and we had so many kids come to our table. It was memorable because as Legacy scholars we showed and represented the program, and it was truly a bonding experience and one of the last in person interactions we had before the pandemic.

Student Ayah Said holds a Cypress College pennant in front of the Campanile.

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?

Professor Rhymes, Professor Lind, and Professor Armstead for being the support system that I desperately needed coming into Cypress College. Professor Armstead for guiding me reiterating that he was there if I needed help. Professor Lind for making Ethnic Studies digestible no matter how heavy the topics we learned were. Professor Rhymes for literally grabbing me during one of the Cypress college events for new students and telling me about the program and continuously encouraging and advocating for me throughout my time at this college. I without a doubt would not be here speaking to you if it were not for her. Also, Dr. Schilling for being supportive at the events that I spoke at or organized. She has always affirmed my opinions while at this college.

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

The college has supported me through student support programs like the Legacy Program.

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

I will be participating in the Cope Health Scholars program at Kaiser Permanente where I have the opportunity to shadow physicians, nurses, administrators and learn about patient care. Hopefully get accepted to the summer internships that I have been applying to, as well as working with the Legacy program in some capacity to support the longevity of the program. I will be planning to CSULB. Go Beach ! and continue to pursue my degree there and hopefully get involved with campus clubs and programs there as well.

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

I am passionate about the intersection of social justice and healthcare, which is influencing me to consider pursuing public health or law for my graduate school. I hope to be working as hospital department heads, at an executive level that may allow me to advocate for public health policies that will contribute to our growing healthcare system. I believe that a sustainable and equitable healthcare system that recognizes health as a right and not a privilege, will percolate into different facets of society like our education, criminal justice reform, environment, and more. I hope that my degree will allow me the opportunity to advocate for an equitable healthcare system and my career goal is to contribute to an evolving healthcare system that can sometimes feel incredibly fragile.

What are you most proud of?

In the start of 2020 I picked up a book titled “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes. The essence of the book reiterated the notion of saying yes to anything and everything that scares you, because ultimately that is the most efficient way to facilitate self-growth. When I was asked to participate in one of the Black History Month activities, I had to ignore the initial “No” that sat at the tip of my tongue and told myself that facing my fear could open up opportunities for me. I am proud that I said yes that day, because since then I have participated on campus and been offered the chance to speak and organize multiple events.

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

If you are able to get involved on campus in whatever capacity, do it! This college wants to hear from students to continue to improve the campus. Also, try building relationships with instructors and faculty because those relationships may allow you to participate in opportunities you didn’t even know existed.

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

I am fortunate due to the fact that no one in my immediate family has died due to COVID-19. The only impact that I have faced is decreased focus and engagement as a student, especially during the beginning of the pandemic. Working with the Legacy Program helped me engage with the campus, despite feeling isolated from it. The program offers various community-focused events that encourage students in their studies, like their weekly study hall Zooms, workshops related to mental health, jam study sessions and Jeopardy study sessions. Organizing student-focused events like student debate panels that encourage students to engage academically and have fun with debating topics like reparations and capitalism was a beneficial experience.

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

My mother for being the epitome of the woman I will always strive to be like.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I want to express my gratitude for having me here and for allowing me the opportunity to share my story. Cypress College will always be recognized as a significant step in my educational journey.

2021 Science, Engineering, Math: Lia Thompson

Lia has made her own higher education plan. She went to work directly out of high school to afford college, and as she continued to be promoted, she had less time for classes.

When Lia decided something had to give, she dedicated herself to school and extra-curricular activities at Cypress College. It was there that she got involved with STEM2, L/LRC, SI, where she tutored other students. Her scholarly passion is genetics, and she will study Biochemistry at UCI this fall after participating in summer research at Cal Poly Pomona.

Now that she’s excelled in her academic career, after a slight detour, Lia encourages others to go at their own pace to achieve their goals and never give up.

SEM student Lia Thompson poses in front of blue backdrop.

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

I grew up part of a big family in Cypress. After graduating high school, I knew I would need to work to pay for college but because I didn’t have any work experience, getting a job with a full school schedule would have been difficult. I decided to take a semester off so I could get my foot in the door. I got a job as a cashier and excitedly began college in the spring. After about a year I got promoted to a full-time position and had to take fewer classes. Eventually, I decided that my schooling was more important to me, so I decided to quit that job and begin working part-time as a tutor. I was then hired to work at the school and have been loving that ever since. It allowed me to focus more on my schoolwork which helped me finally graduate.

On the occasions that I have free time, I like being outdoors — hiking, exploring, and rock climbing. I also really enjoy dancing and meeting new people.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I love learning how things work. Growing up, I loved watching all kinds of documentaries with my brother and luckily that curiosity has persisted. I really enjoy school and am looking forward to continuing my education.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I decided that attending a community college would be the best option for me because I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I am very glad I chose Cypress because it allowed me to learn broadly and explore my options before deciding on a major.

Lia Thompson poses on piazza in front of SEM building wearing graduation regalia.

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

I have had the opportunity to work at the school as an Learning Resource Center tutor and an Supplemental Instruction leader. I tutor mostly chemistry courses and I am the SI leader for the cell biology course with Dr. Adel Rajab. I have met so many amazing students, and helping them understand the difficult concepts taught in these courses has been so fulfilling.

I am also part of STEM2 which has given me a chance to learn from amazing people in a variety of different professions.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

One of my favorite things I participated in was the summer dance festival. I loved learning the choreography and performing with my friends. Although I knew I wanted to pursue a career in STEM, I found myself drawn to dance classes and have taken many of the courses offered at Cypress. They have been a much-needed change of pace from my academics.

Who are the faculty and staff who have helped you get where you are today?

I’d like to thank:

Dr. Adel Rajab who inspired me to pursue genetics. I have taken several classes with Rajab and have enjoyed every one of them. I was very nervous about talking to professors and he helped me come out of my shell a little bit. He was understanding and took the time to answer all my questions and always pushed me to do my best.

Professor Lenore Landis for making chemistry interesting with all the in-class demonstrations and overall, just being an amazing professor. I am so glad I was able to take so many of my chemistry courses with her. She helped me get a deep understanding of the material which helped me not only with my subsequent classes but also with my work as a tutor.

Professor Gary Shin for being so funny and doing a great job of making biology fun and accessible.

Professor Garet Hill for bringing some much-needed silliness to at-home learning.

Professor Maha Afra who helped me grow into a more thoughtful and understanding person.

Student Lia Thompson sits in front of pond and fountain on Cypress College campus.

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

I had an amazing counselor named Mareena Morrow that is part of the STEM2 program. She made my schooling process much smoother by helping me figure out what classes I needed to take and giving me important information about the transfer process.

I also think the SI program has been helpful to me as a student. Many of my classes had SI leaders and I enjoyed attending the sessions not only to better understand the material but also to build friendships with my classmates. It’s a great program that I can’t recommend enough.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College?

This summer, I will be participating in research at Cal Poly Pomona, looking into how plants respond to their environment; in the fall, I will be starting at UCI.

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

After receiving my bachelor’s in biochemistry from UCI, I’d like to pursue a Ph.D. and ultimately work as a genetics research scientist. I am interested in genetics because there is so much we still don’t know and there is so much potential to help prevent the suffering caused by genetic diseases.

What are you most proud of?

Honestly, passing my English classes. Writing is something that has always been very difficult for me. I have a hard time getting my thoughts onto the page in a way I am happy with and it makes me dread writing. Unfortunately, an important part of research is writing papers, so it is something I need to get more comfortable with. I have been working at it and doing well in those courses helped me prove to myself that I can work past it. It is still difficult for me, but I am making progress.

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

Take your time and enjoy the journey. I did not graduate in two years and that’s OK. The great thing about community college is being able to learn at your own pace.

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

It has been hard. I do much better when I can keep my home life and school life separate, but I have done my best to adjust. I tend to get distracted at home so having Zoom study buddies has been a huge help. Honestly, the main thing getting me through this is knowing that things will eventually go back to normal.

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

I would like to thank my friends and family for being so understanding when I have to study. My coworkers at the LRC and my fellow SI leaders for making work here so much fun and my SI coordinator Janelle Salinas for being so understanding and supporting the SI leaders in every way she could.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Just keep pushing through, you can do this!

2021 Social Sciences: Wilfredo Carrasco

Wilfredo grew up between southern California and El Salvador, and began studying at Cypress College in 2018. He is glad he stuck to his studies in Human Services and didn’t give up – even when times were tough. That includes a difficult final year in which he lost his father to COVID-19 and contracted the virus himself.

Wilfredo will graduate this year and although he struggled, he is filled with gratitude for the support system that got him through to reach the goals he set out for himself.

Social Sciences student Wilfredo Carrasco poses in front of blue background.

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

My name is Wilfredo B. Carrasco. I have been a student at Cypress College since the Spring of 2018 and I am the Class of 2021 Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Social Studies pathway. I was born in East Los Angeles and at the age of 1 went to live with my loving maternal grandparents in San Salvador, El Salvador, in Central America for the next six years.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I am very passionate about my education and being a positive role model to others, especially to the younger generation.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I chose to attend Cypress College because it has an excellent Addiction Studies Certificate program that had all the classes I wanted and needed to take to get my certificate. In addition to being close to my home, it was also very affordable, and I took the opportunity to use financial aid and scholarships to help me pay for my education.

Student Wilfredo Carrasco wears graduation regalia and poses in front of Cypress College pond with fountain in background.

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

I was the president of the Human Services Club for 2019-2020 and the club’s secretary for 2018 to 2019.

We are a group of students helping other students by encouraging and promoting school and community activities. We help those who have home and food insecurities by doing food drives, clothing drives, personal hygiene drives, jacket drives, and school supply drives.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

Kindercaminata – For two years I helped with Kindercaminata, which is designed to provide local school children a first day college experience – with the end result being an expectation in their own minds, and the mind of their parents that a college education is something they will complete.

I also took part in the Human Services Club Spring Celebration

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?

Mr. James Tapia, Mr. Gary Zager, Mr. Virgil Adams, Nicole Ledesma, Professor Victoria Castle, Dr. Eldon Young, Mr. Keith Vescial, Jen, Mr. Alex Herrera,  Norman, the entire Social Sciences Department, the Human Services professors, and all my fellow students and friends from the Human Services Club.

Wilfredo Carrasco poses on Cypress College campus wearing blue and gold.

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

The entire staff has helped and guided me through my academic journey. All my professors have encouraged me to keep working hard with my studies. I am especially grateful to the Social Sciences Department for supporting and believing in me all these past few years.

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

To take a few psychology courses at Cypress and then transfer to Cal State Fullerton or Hope University.

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

To become a substance abuse counselor. I would like to be of service to people who are struggling with the disease of addiction and provide help, resources, and hope.

What are you most proud of?

The fact that I have not given up. I have fallen very low in my lifetime but with hard work and perseverance and help from God, I am here today accepting this honor.

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

Never give up. Keep persevering, especially through the hard times. And know that you are not alone in this academic journey, you have an entire caring staff at our school that will help you every step of the way to achieve your goals.

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

Yes. I lost my father to COVID-19 last November and most of my family has had it, including myself in February.

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

Jesus Christ, God, my mom Marina, my brother Jesse, my cousin Brenda, my sister-in-law, Shea, my family, and my church,

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It is truly an honor and a blessing to be a student at Cypress College. It has been a very challenging and rewarding experience. I would to thank everyone on campus for being a source of inspiration throughout my academic journey. Thank you, and God bless.

2021 Language Arts: Hiroki Funahashi

Hiroki came to Cypress College three years ago from Japan. He was drawn to the Flight Attendant program and Cal State Long Beach nearby, which he hoped to attend someday. Shy at first, and feeling his fluency wasn’t strong enough, Hiroki joined the Forensics team to work on his English. He felt embraced by his teammates and coaches, and as he began to perfect his speech skills he conquered more challenges, even winning first place at a tournament. The support from students and teachers gave him a sense of community and bolstered his confidence. He feels he’s grown as a person and is ready for transfer to CSULB to major in Communication Studies.

Hiroki Funahashi, Flight Attendant and Communications Studies student, poses in front of blue background.

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

I grew up in Nagoya, Japan, and had lived there until I came to the United States. These past three years living in the states have been great since I’ve become more interested in western culture. I enjoy going to see movies, traveling, going to a coffee shop, playing tennis, and hanging out with my friends.

I’m enjoying a big adventure now here in the states being away from my family. Even though my life in Japan wasn’t very successful, I can see my life in the states has made me grow a lot.

What are you most passionate about and why?

I would say I’m most passionate about film. I’m not a very curious person, so it’s difficult for me to get into something. But film has been my big hobby for a long time, and I even considered building my career in the film industry. It simply gives me joy and teaches a lot of things through it.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I chose Cypress College because Cypress is one of the few colleges that has a flight attendant program. Also, I’ve visited Long Beach and was familiar with the area, the size of the college seemed not too big nor too small, and there are few Japanese students, so I can challenge myself to focus on my English fluency.

Student in graduation regalia poses in front of Buen Cypress backdrop.

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

I’ve been on the Forensics team since fall 2019, and it really helped improve my speaking skills. I was having a hard time making friends because I don’t really talk in class in general. But my teammates are very friendly and welcoming, so I could continue joining the team even though giving a speech was still not very comfortable. I also worked a front desk position at the LRC and was a PAL for English 100 classes. Both jobs were very challenging, because they require communication skills and English abilities, but all of my coworkers and my professors are very helpful, so these experiences made me more comfortable talking with people and made me realize what I’m capable of.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

It would be either how I was feeling defeated during my very first couple of weeks at Cypress due to all the struggles I had in every class or when I won first place at my first speech tournament because I didn’t expect it at all and I saw all of my teammates were so excited about it.

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’d like to thank Profs. Samantha Simmons, Stuart Rosenberg, and Michael Frey. They are the ones who helped and pushed me to try hard a lot when the campus was open. They have also been good friends/mentors.

Also Profs. Joshua House and Jennifer Page for welcoming me to the Forensics team and making my speaking skills improved. Profs. Keith Vescial and John Payne have helped me motivate during this pandemic. Prof. Kathryn Wada and all of my coworkers from the LRC also have helped make my school life at Cypress easier.

Student Hiroki Funahashi poses with Cypress College "We Journey Together" pennant in front of library.

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

Cypress College has supported me a lot throughout my academic journey. Offering tutoring services was really helpful. International Students Office also supported me as I didn’t know anything about American

college. The LRC gave me an opportunity to work on campus, and that was very rewarding because I got to talk to a lot of people and became more familiar with the college in general. I’m also thankful to faculty members behind the scenes who made my campus life enjoyable and kept me updated with college news.

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

I’m going to transfer to CSULB and major in Communication Studies. I’m still not sure what I’m going to focus in this field, yet this major will help me be able to communicate with people more naturally. And that skill would help me seek my career in the hospitality industry. I’m also hoping to travel around the states to see more of the country and have more life experience.

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

My biggest goal for now is to be able to work in the United States or other countries. That’s something beyond my control, so my goals after that are not very clear. But I think seeking my career in the hospitality industry would be right for me. Just to have my own family and to be able to live by myself and not relying on or making my parents worry about me would be my ideal goal.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of what I have achieved at Cypress and how much I have grown as a person. I didn’t think I can be a presidential scholar or even qualified for the Outstanding Graduate. I didn’t do well in high school in Japan, so I didn’t have confidence in myself for a long time. This is something I am still working on, yet looking back what I have accomplished at Cypress, I can clearly see that I am not the same as I was three years ago.

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

My biggest advice to Cypress College students is definitely to go see professors during their office hours frequently. That’s one thing I kept doing even during this pandemic. It made me get to know them and made them get to know me better, so that environment encouraged me to ask more questions. Because of the relationships I have made with my professors, it became more fun to go to their class, and I’m pretty sure that I would not have been successful if I didn’t make these connections.

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

To be honest, this pandemic has affected me positively in my opinion. The beginning was horrible as most people experienced, and what’s worse, I could have been gotten deported due to the regulation former President Trump almost made. It didn’t happen, fortunately, but due to this pandemic, I have changed my academic plan. I was originally going to do the OPT program after finishing my flight attendant degree, but I figured that doing an internship would be hard to do, so I’ve decided to transfer to a four-year university, and that makes me be able to stay in the United States longer. A lesson I learned from it is that being flexible to a situation is very important in life.

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

I’d like to thank my family in Japan. It must have been a tough decision to send me to another country, especially because I’m the baby of the family. My parents also need to support me financially since I’m not allowed to work in the states. But they never complained about what I do in the states and always support my decisions. I could not be there for them whenever something happened in my family, but I saw that they always tried not to make me worry and to make me focus on my studies. I know how lucky I am to have their support at my age, so I hope I can return the favor by receiving this honor.

My time at Cypress made me finally proud of myself and made my family proud of me, and this couldn’t have happened without all the support I had at Cypress. So I’d like to say thanks again. It was not easy, but I could see how much I grew as a person throughout this time. I saw myself as a failure for a long time but these achievements taught me to have more confidence in myself and always be honest to myself. I won’t regret my decision of studying abroad and choosing Cypress. It means a lot to my life.

2021 Health Science: Abigail Villegas

Abigail is studying and working in health care – and has been affected by health care concerns as well. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her grandmother and mother were both hospitalized. Her mother recovered but after a month and a half Abigail’s grandmother passed away.

Although it was a difficult final year, Abigail is graduating in Health Information Technology and will take her RHIT exam. She was hired in a Revenue Cycle Management Office as a Medical Billing Specialist and plans to work full-time to further her knowledge in the field of HIT.

Abigail Villegas stands in front of the campanile wearing graduation regalia.

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

I was born and raised in Long Beach, California. My favorite hobby is reading. I love to read a bit from every genre.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I feel a genuine passion for learning. I enjoy being able to learn new skills that I can apply toward helping others. I am especially passionate about my field, Health Information Management. There are many opportunities the field has to offer that could make a great impact in helping advance and innovate healthcare.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

Cypress College was recommended to be by a few acquaintances. One of them mentioned that Cypress College has a high graduation rate and holds its students to a higher standard. I was not feeling challenged where I was before and decided to give it a chance.

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

I was not involved in student activities, but the HIT program has been an unforgettable experience. I have come so far in these past two years and have changed for the better.

Health Information Technology student Abigail Villegas stands beside a staircase on the Cypress College campus.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

My favorite memories are the ones I created with my fellow classmates. We all joined the program together and have made it to the finish line. We found a strong, encouraging support system that carried each other. I would not have made it this far without their friendship.

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?

Jennie Larez, Patti Spitler, and Carol Wilhelm have been an incredible help getting me where I am today. They have all been incredibly supportive, shown a genuine care for students, and made themselves available to talk or answer questions. I had more classes with Professor Jennie Larez, and I will definitively say she has challenged me the most. Through her classes, she has pushed me to be a better student and helped me be successful in a way I did not think I was capable.

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

Whether it be financial or educational, Cypress College has supported me by offering all the necessary tools I needed to succeed.

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

I am planning to take my RHIT exam when I graduate. I was hired in a Revenue Cycle Management Office as a Medical Billing/Credentialing Specialist and am planning to work full-time to further my knowledge in the field of HIT. I am hoping to return to my education in a few years to receive my bachelor’s degree.

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

After a few years, I would like to expand my horizons and enter different part of the field. I would like to lead a diverse career, but I would hope to manage a Health Information Department in a hospital one day.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of what I have accomplished as a student. I never considered myself a great student in high school and I carried that belief with me into college. I feel proud that I am graduating, my GPA of 3.8 as of last semester, and that I was even nominated for

the Scholar of Distinction Award let alone represent my division. I never imagined I would be able to accomplish this much, and I am proud that I have made it this far.

Abigail Villegas, health science student, holds a Cypress College pennant on the campus grounds.

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

If you do not try, you are already failing. Fear of failure is a crippling feeling and will hinder you from being successful.

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

Yes, my family was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This whole year has been an epic struggle starting with the transition to remote learning and there were many times I wanted to quit. I kept telling myself to at least try and see how the semester would go. Last semester, my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, and myself were infected by the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, my grandmother had to be hospitalized with my mother following one week later. My mother was able to recoup and came home one week later. My grandmother after a month and a half passed away. While I wanted nothing more than to quit, the thought of my family kept me going. All I could think was that I was not going to throw away what my family has sacrificed for me and that my mother needed me. I prayed for strength, hoped for the best, and I was able to pull through the semester.

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

I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me along the way. My parents especially have done so much for me. My father supported me financially no questions asked as to what I was studying but was proud that I was in school. My mother for being my number one supporter. She always told me I did not have to be the best, I just had to do my best.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am extremely grateful that I was part of the HIT program at Cypress College. This program has challenged and has helped me grow in so many ways as a person. The person that I have become throughout this program equipped me to deal with the past year, especially the last semester, as I have.

2021 Kinesiology: Jonathan Gad

Jonathan took his love of sports and turned it into a career path. Originally from Egypt, Jonathan moved to Buena Park at age 5, when his family secured a visa. He always enjoyed playing sports and being part of a team, so Kinesiology was a natural fit when selecting a program. A professor encouraged Jonathan to join the Cypress College athletics department as an intern, to shadow trainers and observe what a degree in Kinesiology could lead to. He credits guidance like this, and his strong faith, with supporting him through a productive, involved experience at Cypress College, and what will help him with his next steps at Cal State Fullerton this fall.

Kinesiology Presidential Scholar of Distinction Jonathan Gad poses in front of blue wall.

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

My name is Jonathan Gad, and I’m a Cypress College student. I was originally born in Egypt and I grew up there until I was about 5 years old. In 2006, my parents were blessed to win the visa lottery, which gave my entire family (my parents, my sister, and me) the chance to move to the United States, and I’ve been living in Buena Park ever since. Beginning in middle school, leading into high school, I was always participating in sports. I played Wwter polo, swim, cross country, and wrestling. I love to be a part of a team and learn how to grow in school. I love learning and I love working hard. Most of all, I love God!

In my sophomore year of high school, I became a Christian, and my entire life changed. I started reading the Bible and applying it to my life. I saw how much power was in the word of God and in pursuing a relationship with God through the word and prayer, I was transformed, and still being renewed, into a completely different person. My life belongs to God and my interests are reading the Bible, journaling, going to church, and seeking ways to honor and glorify God more in my life.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I’m most passionate about working hard for the Lord and not for man. While I love to serve and seek the well-being of people’s health as a future healthcare professional, I’m more passionate about pursuing the will of God in my life.

Kinesiology student Jonathan Gad poses in graduation regalia in front of College Complex building.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I choose Cypress College because I didn’t know where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do straight out of high school. I choose Cypress College because of the incredible opportunity they offered students: to attend Cypress College for free under the guidance of counselors and caring professors. I went to Cypress College because they were close to my home and because I felt like that’s where I was supposed to go. And I praise God because that was exactly where I was supposed to go. Going to Cypress has been one of the best decisions of my life!

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

In my first semester at Cypress College, I enrolled in the Legacy Community: a one-year transfer program that provides students with resources and guidance on how to navigate their first year of college. Apart from choosing to go to Cypress College, joining the Legacy program was the second best decision I made. They blessed me with the opportunity to visit campuses and take tours, grow in my confidence, meet new mentors and make new friends, and give me a great first-year experience that projected me toward success.

In my first semester, I took an introduction to Kinesiology class with professor Sergio Cutrona. He inspired me to find out more about the type of career I’d want to pursue with my degree by getting first-hand experience of that job. His encouragement lead me to become an intern with the Cypress College Athletic Training Clinic. From October 2019 to the closing of campus due to COVID-19 on March 2020, I was shadowing the Cypress College atheltic trainers and getting a first-hand look at what a career in the Kinesiology field is all about. I attended school games, treated Cypress athletes, and learned the ins and outs of being an athletic trainer in a clinical setting. During that time I accumulated close to 300 hours of shadowing experience at Cypress College!

I also joined the Honors program in my first semester at Cypress College and have experienced classes with some of the most wonderful college professors.

Student Jonathan Gad poses in Legacy Program T-shirt in front of pond on Cypress College campus.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

When I was a part of the Legacy Comunity I attended the Kwanza Celebration: an annual celebration hosted at Cypress College. I this event I collaborated with a group of Legacy students to put together the event and through the process, I was able to meet many personable people including President JoAnna Schilling! This was one of my most memorable moments at Cypress.

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

I have to thank LaRon Armstead, the Legacy counselor, for inspiring me to be more ambitious and being more diligent toward pursuing my goals. Regina Rhymes, the Legacy coordinator, for seeing potential in me and believing in me. Sergio Cutrona my Kinesiology professor for allowing me to be more passionate about pursuing a degree in Kinesiology and for telling me to get out of my comfort zone and experience things firsthand. Scott Tucker, the head athletic trainer at Cypress College, for taking me under his wing and mentoring me in my first year of college. I owe so much to these role models.

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

Cypress College has inspired me by the amount of effort and love I see they have for their students. In my first semester, I fell in love with Cypress College because I saw how many resources they offered for their students to succeed. Whether academic tutoring, financial assistance, food needs, disability aid, and a number of chances for growth to their student body, Cyprus College has supported me in the way they care and provide for their students. I felt blessed at Cypress College not only because I saw how much I was cared for, but also because I was equipped with amazing professors and amazing mentors.

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

My immediate plan is to continue pursuing my education in Kinesiology. I currently work in a physical therapy clinic in Newport Beach and I plan on continuing to gain more first-hand experience in different disciplines of Kinesiology. By the grace of God, I have gotten accepted into Cal State Fullerton, and I’ll be finishing my next two years of schooling there to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology: Pre-Allied Health!

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

I think one of my long-term goals would be to figure out what career to pursue once I graduate from Fullerton. It’s hard to know with certainty what I’d like to do for a career, and I hope to find it along the way. I do have a passion for teaching, so a potential long-term goal is to get my master’s degree in either Education or go to the specific schooling for the type of Kinesiology career I decide to pursue. I also have a dream of joining the military and becoming a medic. I don’t know what the future holds but I know that if I trust in the Lord He will lead the way!

What are you most proud of?

I think I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to get through community college in the two-year span that I had originally set out to do. I’m so thankful to my counselors for helping me plan my steps and teaching me what I needed to do in order to transfer. I’m also very proud to receive the presidential Scholar of Distinction award. While I don’t take any pride in myself for receiving the award, I praise God for allowing me to work hard and by His grace receive the award.

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

One bit of advice would be to eliminate your fear or doubt of getting involved with programs, internships, or clubs, and extracurricular activities. These experiences are what build you up as a person and as a student. They produce a special kind of appreciation for Cypress College and the opportunities it offers.

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

COVID-19 has made it particularly difficult to maintain motivation for school, but I think being accountable to my church friends and to my relationship with God has truly been what’s gotten me through this time.

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

I want to thank my older sister for going through college first and showing me that I’m able to go to college and graduate, too. I’m thankful for how she’s raised me and influenced me as a man, as a student, and as a Christian. I’m thankful for how she has encouraged and inspired me. All Praise Be To God!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I want to say that without God, none of my accomplishments would’ve been possible and I would never have gotten this far. Without God, my life would be miserable, unsatisfying, and meaningless. It’s God that gives meaning to my life and it’s only Him that can make life full and fruitful. I want to share that if anyone reading this or listening to this has not entered into a relationship with God and learned about the free gift of eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, the love of God, and the sacrifice Jesus paid for sinners on the cross, then I invite you to pick up a Bible today and read about the creator of the universe and His son!

2021 Fine Arts: Paul Scott

Paul has a passion for filmmaking and its transformative effects. He went through sort of a transformation himself after diverging from his first college path; he had enrolled at Cal State Fullerton but left after his mother passed away. He began studying at Cypress College after a hiatus and began working toward a Film, TV, Electronic Media AD-T and Creative Writing certificate. He will continue his education at Cal State Long Beach, where he will continue to transform and grow.

Film student Paul Scott poses in front of the campanile in graduation regalia.

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

I started singing, acting and writing as young as 5 years old. I took acting classes and went to writing camps as soon as a could-about 9 years old. I went on to be successful in the choir and drama programs at Los Alamitos High School, while pursuing performance into college. After a few years at CSUF in the Theatre program, I dropped out after my mother suddenly passed away, and decided to work in the industry. After a year, I (re)discovered my passion for writing and filmmaking, so I signed up at Cypress to complete my education.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

Any and all art- mine tend to be photography, filmmaking, writing, acting, and singing. The way art can move individuals and inspire change- that is what drives me.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I knew the theater program was wonderful, so I hoped the film program would also be thriving (it is). Plus it was close enough I could take the bus.

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

I was an active participant as a gallery student. After my work was accepted into the student show my first year, I decided to take gallery studies for two semesters, and loved learning the ins and outs of an art gallery. I also was President of the Creative Club for one semester. My final semester I joined the theater department’s musical production of Edges, which was so much fun.

Film student Paul Scott stands on the balcony of the College Complex building.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

Last year Janet Owen Driggs asked me curate an exhibition for the Dan Stevens gallery. I ended up creating “Heating Up,” an immersive experience taking guests into the streets of Climate Crisis protests that were happening around the globe, with a focus on Greta Thunberg and the Native American experience.

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?

Janet Owen Driggs and Ian Holmes.

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

Cypress allowed me to be my full creative self with excellent guidance from both professors and faculty.

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

I was accepted into the film program at CSULB. This summer I will be working as a writing tutor at a writing camp, as well as taking on a filming project with the city of Buena Park as director and editor of their Youth Theatre “Broadway Idol.”

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

Make films and plays and music that move people the way art has moved me (and maybe an Academy Award or two).

Student Paul Scott wears sweatshirt from CSULB where he will transfer in this fall.

What are you most proud of?

My perseverance and resilience. It may have taken me almost a decade to get this degree, but I have never felt happier or stronger than today. The journey was a long one, but we took it together.

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

Don’t give up on your dreams and passions. At the end of the day, no one can live your life but you, and your path is no one else’s but your own.

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

Art is so collaborative, so making films has been tough. Creativity is endless though, and art is a mirror. Without my self-expression through my art during this time, I would have only felt more isolated and alone.

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

My mom and grandpa, who can’t be here to see this moment, but I know they both would have been very very proud.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

School can seem hard when it’s all about grades and worrying about the future. Cypress helped me embrace the process, enjoy the growing, and enabled me to see school is more about the progression, not perfection.

2021 Career Technical Education: Alexandra Camacho

Alexandra learned to cook from her mother at the family’s home in south Los Angeles. At age 15, Alexandra’s world was shaken when her mother was deported to Mexico. Alexandra’s studies faltered, and she had to find an alternative to traditional high school.

When Alexandra started college, she initially resisted the idea of studying Culinary Arts. She began at Long Beach City College in hopes of becoming a videogame designer. She happened into a culinary course and it re-ignited her love of cooking.

She was set to walk the stage at commencement in spring 2020, then begin working a Culinary Voyage for Marriott, but COVID-19 derailed her plans. Undeterred, she simply took the extra time to earn an additional HRC degree and continue her plans for 2021.

Culinary Arts student Alexandra Camacho poses in front of a blue background.

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

I grew up in South Los Angeles with my sister, mom, and dad. At a young age, I was always fascinated with food. I always wondered how you turned a pair of ingredients into this extraordinary dish. I learned how to cook from my mom, and she would always supervise me whenever I cooked. Things were good until my mom was deported to Mexico in 2010. I was 15 at the time, and this experience forced me to grow up at such a young age. Due to this, I began falling behind in my classes. My sister took it upon herself to transfer me to George Kiriyama Community Adult School where I was able to not only catch up but graduate a year earlier than I was supposed to.

I attended Long Beach City College before transferring to Cypress College. Before attending any college, I wanted to become a Videogame Designer. For some reason, I was rebellious against the idea of majoring in Culinary Arts. While taking my prerequisites in LBCC, I took a Food Sanitation class that changed my perspective towards Culinary Arts. It was then when I remembered my love for food and took it upon myself to transfer to Cypress College. My interests include cooking, Baking, playing video games, researching new recipes, improving family recipes, story writing, and working on my cookbook.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I’m most passionate about new experiences, creating new dishes, traveling, and continuously enhancing my skills.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

Whenever I had free time in between classes or semesters, I would do my best to visit my mother in Ensenada. I remember one time riding on the bus, trying to figure out my next step. When I looked out the window, I saw the sign “Cypress College, next exit.” Right then and there, I researched Cypress College and instantly fell in love with the Hospitality Management program. Once I finally set foot on campus, I knew this was where I was meant to be. In my previous school, I was only able to finish one degree at a time. Here at Cypress College, I was able to accomplish so much more in less time and I was surrounded by the greatest minds this program could offer.

Alexandra Camacho poses beside trees on Cypress College campus wearing graduation regalia.

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

I have been involved in various aspects in the Hospitality Management program here in Cypress College. In fall 2019, I helped Chef Jeremy in his American Regional Class. I also helped train the students and help with service during Chef Amanda’s spring 2020 World Culture & Cuisine class. I was also the manager for the culinary/baking team for our Special Events class. We were working on the HRC Career Fair before the COVID-19 lockdowns happened. I loved helping as much as possible.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

I have many memorable experiences, but if I had to narrow it down to one it would be when I first attended Cypress College. Prior to attending, I always wondered if I was making the right choice. The second I stepped onto the Anaheim campus and walked into the kitchen, I knew this was where I was meant to be. I loved everything about it, the faculty, my fellow classmates, just everything gave me a sense of home.

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

I have been blessed to be able to thank the entire faculty and staff here at Cypress College. Chef Amanda Gargano helped me enhance my skills, taught me to think outside the box from a culinary perspective, and prepared me for the outside world when I did my culinary internship at Marriott in Seattle, WA. Professor Jeanette Jones & Professor Lisa Clark helped me be more comfortable in my own skin and not be afraid to use my voice. They both helped me not to be so shy. They both enhanced the leadership skills I never knew I had. Chef Stephanie instilled the patience I needed for both Culinary and Baking & Pastry Arts. She also gave me that confidence I needed to pursue Baking & Pastry Arts.

Lastly, Chef Jeremy was the first teacher I ever had when taking this path. He showed me the beginning steps to become the best chef I could possibly be. Each and every one of the faculty helped me get to where I am today, in a position I would have never dreamed of. I will take their guidance, leadership, and kindness wherever I go.

HRC student Alexandra Camacho poses in front of Cypress College pond.

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

In what way hasn’t Cypress College supported me? It was always easy for me to see a counselor whenever I needed to know how I was doing in my career path. The faculty in the Hospitality Management program were always there to address any questions and concerns. They also helped with employment opportunities whether you were barely starting out or about to graduate from the program. They’re the ones that helped me land my summer Culinary internship in Seattle.
At the beginning of the spring semester in 2019, I had to undergo emergency surgery. I was out of school for two weeks while I recovered. All the professors at Cypress College understood my situation and allowed me to catch up on my assignments. Even after coming back, they were cautious of my situation and tried their best to accommodate me.

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

I would like to become part of the Marriott Voyage Program so I can accelerate my career and strengthen my skills. Another path would be to join Marriott and eventually become a task force employee to be able to travel around and broaden my knowledge.

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

One day, I want to become an executive chef and travel the world to learn from different cultures to enhance my culinary skills. One day, I would love to open my own restaurant, catering company, or even my own hotel.

What are you most proud of?

There’s a lot I’m proud of; to narrow it down, I’ll do my best. In International Cuisine (now known as World Culture & Cuisine), I surpassed expectations by providing a completely different menu item. I was originally assigned Coconut Soup since I was out for two weeks due to emergency surgery. I completely failed at that dish, mainly because it wasn’t something I wanted to do from the beginning. I was at a crossroads, do I continue with this dish and try to improvise, or do I create something completely different? I decided to make something completely different — Malaysian-style Empanadas with Spring Oil and Creamy Corn Mousse. The fact alone that I made something completely different out of my own comfort zone made me exceedingly proud. Once I introduced this dish to Chef Amanda — along with the standardized recipes, plate diagram, and menu description — she was impressed. I knew this dish was it and I knew it would do extremely well for service at Cypress Bistro.

Another thing I’m extremely proud of was the fact that I did a Culinary Internship in Seattle, WA. It was my first time flying on a plane, working in the industry, visiting Seattle, and having to live on my own. Just as scared as I was, I was also extremely excited. Those three months helped me grow up as a person as well as improving my culinary skills. This would not have happened had it not been for the Hospitality program at Cypress College and the staff there that trained and encouraged me to pursue this.

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

As Melissa Joy Kong once said, “It’s the scary choices that end up being the most worthwhile.” Don’t be afraid to pick a different path or to take that internship in another state. Do what you need to do in order to become the best version you can possibly be. Whatever path you choose to take, Cypress College will help you in any of your endeavors.

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

Last year in Spring 2020, I was supposed to officially walk the stage and head to Chicago in June for my Culinary Voyage for Marriott. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, my dreams were shattered and I wasn’t able to do any of those things. It took me a while to realize that regardless of the circumstances, they don’t take away from everything that I have accomplished. Spending time with my family and learning and practicing different dishes got me through this situation. I even managed to finish my Baking & Pastry Arts degree. As much bad as this pandemic has brought, it has also brought some good. It taught me to appreciate life and to pursue my dreams.

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

There are a couple of people I would like to thank. I would like to thank my sister for pushing me to where I am today. Who knows what would have become of me had I not had her to guide my way. She’s the greatest sister that any sibling can ask for, and I know I can rely on her for anything. My dad pushed and helped me to believe in myself no matter what anyone said. He has had to overcome a lot to get to where he is today. Even if he thought I wasn’t paying attention, I noticed every sacrifice he did for our family, and I am extremely grateful for that. My mom helped me breathe whenever I was spiraling or wanted to drop out. She helped me realize how small my problems were. Her dishes were the ones that inspired me to pursue Culinary Arts. Regardless of the distance between us, she’s always there for me. Lastly, the one true friend I had at Cypress College, Katrena Heraldez. She helped me in many circumstances, from taking me to the bus stop to get back home to helping me believe in myself inside and outside of school. She’s that one friend that everyone needs in all aspects of life, and I’m so glad I had her by my side. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have such beautiful people in my life. Each one of them has enriched my life and has enlightened my life.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

When you’re joining Cypress College, you’re getting more than just a college experience. You’re also getting a second family that will be there for you even after graduating.

2021 Business/CIS: Jacklyn Williamson

Jacklyn grew up living in motels with her family in Orange County. When Jacklyn was 16, her mother passed away; when Jacklyn turned 21, she lost her father, too. Jacklyn had to support herself at a young age, and thinking about her future had to wait.

She began working in Downtown Disney at Haagen Dazs and continued to be promoted, ultimately being offered store manager at a Fashion Island branch. This sparked Jacklyn’s love of business and gave her the inspiration for entering the Business Administration program at Cypress College. She thrived in her classes, and was further motivated by being in the same graduating class as her brother. This spring, they will both graduate together, bolstering both her future career prospects and a family bond that has strengthened through tough times.

#CYPresidential

Student Jacklyn Williamson poses in front of blue wall as a Presidential Scholar of Distinction.
Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?

What are your interests? What is your story? My name is Jacklyn Williamson, I am currently a full-time student attending my last semester at Cypress College. I will be graduating May 2021 with my AD-T in Business Administration. I will be transferring to Cal State University Fullerton in Fall of 2021 where I will continue my education and receive my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

Growing up in and out of motels in the heart of Orange County, with no stable homes, times were tough, especially when it came to staying in one place let alone one school. At the age of only 16 years old my dad passed away, and by the time I was 21 my mom had left this world, too. I had to grow up at an early age. I learned to financially support myself before making that choice that it was finally time to go back to school, seven years later after graduating high school. While working at Haagen Dazs in Downtown Disney, I worked my way up to store manager. Owner Wayne Heck gave me the opportunity to manage his Fashion Island location. This is where I found my passion working with others and bringing smiles to people’s faces.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I am passionate about bringing joy into someone’s else’s day. I love interacting and socially bonding with my team and of course the guests. Most of all I am passionate about my own personal growth in life. I strive to set goals and achieve those goals on a daily basis. I want the life for myself and my future family that I know we deserve. I am passionate about having a secure home before starting a family so that my kids can have a childhood that I never got to experience.

Business/CIS student Jacklyn Williams poses with graduation regalia on Cypress College campus.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I chose to attend Cypress College because it was the school my dad was enrolled in before passing away. After 20-plus years, he wanted to go back and study computer engineering. I also chose Cypress College because I had siblings who were enrolled there already and I figured they were the motivation I needed to get back into school.

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

I started off going back to school with the intention of completing my general education courses and with a desire to continue to expand my knowledge in the business field because of my work experience. Once I started taking the classes related to my major such as my Intro to Business or my Accounting class, it gave me the confirmation I needed that I was on the right path. Already gaining the hand-on experience in my work life, it was exciting for me to learn more about why a business works the way it does and exactly what it takes to one day open up my own business or if I chose too go down the path of owning my own franchise, what that exactly means.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

While I’ve been a Cypress College student, one of the things I will remember most will be the summer of 2020 when I enrolled in a 5-week Macroeconomics course, which was one of the courses I dreaded most. I did this because I learned that I was getting closer and closer to graduating the same semester as my brother and so I pushed myself through the hard work and studying to accomplish this goal, here I am today graduating spring of 2021 with him by my side and I couldn’t be prouder.

Business student Jacklyn Williamson poses with her brother, who will graduate with her in spring 2021.

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?

If it wasn’t for professor John Dupuy and his Introduction to Business course, I wouldn’t have the confidence or the determination to want to follow my dream of one day owning my own Haagen Dazs franchise. I already had the hands-on experience but knowing more, learning more and participating in creating a group business plan was not only fun but it confirmed for me that it’s absolutely what I’m passionate about. I also wanted to thank Professor Corey Leis, my English professor, for having us do those breathing techniques. It’s something I have continued to do when I need to clear my brain and it works every time.

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

Cypress College has supported me throughout the years by having counseling available whenever I needed it in addition to access to the food banks which helped feed and clothe my family when times were hard. The huge two-story library was also one of my favorite places to go if I needed some peace and quiet to study or when I needed to access the printers when I didn’t have one of my own.

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

My immediate plans after obtaining my AD-T for Business Administration are to transfer to CSUF where I will be working toward my bachelor’s degree for Business Administration so I can broaden my future prospects.

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

My long-term goals are to someday open up a family business with my siblings. We haven’t completely narrowed down what the family business would be but we know it’s something we would all like to do and with each of us gaining the necessary knowledge, it is going to be possible to do. I love working with people and putting smiles on their faces. With Haagen Dazs being located in Downtown Disney, providing exceptional service was key and I loved that I was able to be a part of someone’s memorable experience. I always told myself that I could see myself being an owner at one of the many franchises and that was before I had taken courses and learned even more what it is like to own your own franchise. I aspire to make this goal of mine become reality.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the individual I have grown to be. I push myself to achieve the goals I set for myself to be successful and the fact that I am here today with the privilege of being nominated as the 2021 Presidential Scholars of Distinction is an absolute honor that I am beyond proud of myself for. I always wanted to go to college, I took AVID all through high school and even enrolled in my first Cypress College course back in 2010 when I was still in high school. Sometimes life gets in the way, I was veered into the working life where I was managing Haagen Dazs and if I am being completely honest, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have grown into this motivated, hard working, dedicated woman because of the promotions I earned and the path that they led me to follow.

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

If I could give one piece of advice to current and future Cypress College students it would be to not procrastinate and to just get assignments done as they are released. Writing notes and having checklists is what worked for me. It always feels good being able to cross something off of a list knowing you accomplished what needed to be done.

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

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic my position at Marriott International was terminated. Unsure of when I would be returning back to work, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for me to focus on school. It was the first time I was ever enrolled in 15 units and was able to focus solely on school. What I have learned is that I am someone who likes to succeed, whether it’s the work or school department. I learned that it’s possible to reach your goals if you just take the time to properly manage your free time. As someone who has lost both of my parents, and a best friend, I am someone who has already learned that life is short and to cherish every second of it but the COVID-19 pandemic has remined me to keep in touch with other loved ones and other family members who I don’t always remember to reach out too. I have also learned to make the most out of my free time. Its really easy to get in that vacation mode where you feel like you can just watch movies all day and eat junk food but there’s so much more of a rewarding feeling that comes from knowing that the day was filled with goals that were accomplished and checked off the list rather just completely wasting the day away.

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

I’d like to thank my siblings for being by my side, challenging and motivating me along the way. I wouldn’t be here, where I am without any of them pushing me and encouraging me to keep on going. I am forever grateful toward my Aunt Jen for taking me in, helping shape the path that I went down. I also want to thank all of my friends and co-workers from Haagen Dazs, Jessica Franks, Sammy Alvarado, Karla, for consistently believing in be and encouraging me to go back to school.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It is an absolute honor to be recognized and chosen by faculty members as this year’s Presidential Scholar of Distinction in the Business pathway. Thank you for this once in a lifetime incredible opportunity.

2020 Business/CIS: Brandon Nguyen

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Brandon Nguyen

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Brandon Nguyen

Brandon is a cyber defense major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Business/CIS Division at Cypress College. Growing up in Orange County, he found a love for computers at an early age and often enjoyed “fiddling” with them. Brandon’s love for technology continued to grow through online resources and high school clubs.

Since the summer of his sophomore year in high school, Brandon has taken classes at Cypress, first as a special-admit student and later as a dual-enrollment student. He became involved in the CyberPatriot Program, which prepares middle and high school students to compete in the CyberPatriots national cybersecurity competition. After graduating from high school, he became a cybersecurity mentor “so that I could give back what the mentors gave to me while I was in high school.”

Following his graduation this year, Brandon plans to continue pursuing his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering at UC Irvine—he was a freshman-admit student concurrently completing his first year at UC Irvine and his last year at Cypress—with hopes of landing an internship to gain industry work experience and further his career prospects.

“I have grown to be very passionate about technology and cybersecurity, as well as spreading my knowledge to others,” he said. “It’s kind of become who I am and what I’ve been known for.”

 

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

I grew up in the Orange County area and have always learned to love computers and fiddle with them at an early age. I was fortunate to find online resources to learn things like programming as well as participate in high school clubs, which grew my love for technology.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I have been with Cypress College since the summer of my sophomore year in high school, starting out as a special-admit student and later as a dual-enrollment student. I was initially introduced to the CyberPatriot Program, a National cybersecurity competition that the college trained high school students in the area for.

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

As I started in the Dual Enrollment program, I grew around its programs in the Business/CIS Division. After graduating high school, I became a cybersecurity mentor with the cyber program at Cypress so that I could give back what the mentors gave to me while I was in high school.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I have grown to be very passionate about technology and cybersecurity, as well as spreading my knowledge to others. It’s kind of become who I am and what I’ve been known for.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today? How has Cypress College supported you throughout your semesters?

The very first person and the reason I got into classes in Cypress College’s cybersecurity pathway is because of Professor Ben Izadi, who pretty much ran the CyberPatriot Program and was the main professor for the cyber courses. Other adminsitrators and faculty, like Business/CIS Division Dean Henry Hua and Professor Russ Alizadeh have worked very hard to make the program work and succeed. I would also like to shout out to the other cyber mentors who taught me and who I work with, as well as the Dual Enrollment staff.

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

My plan is to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering at UC Irvine (I was a freshman admit and am finishing up my first year right now). I am also looking for internships to grow my career and gain work experience in the industry.

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

The goal is to find a great career and grow in it. I am happy that I am able to find a field I truly enjoy working in.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of the support system I have, whether it be my family, the staff at this college, the staff at my high school, or anyone I’ve encountered that has made me the way I am today and helped me along my journey to get where I am.

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

I would say that no matter what our goals are, there are always people you can rely on and resources you can find to help meet your goals. Everyone here is rooting for you to get to the finish line.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to, again, thank all of those who have given me support along the way, like my family and friends as well as the education community who have always supported me and all my fellow students. And I hope to get that continued support as I move on afterwards.

2020 Career Technical Education: John Lasater

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, John Lasater, Career Technical Education

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, John Lasater, Career Technical Education

John is an air conditioning and refrigeration major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Career Technical Education Division at Cypress College. His initial educational journey was cut short in high school when he dropped out to help his aunt and uncle at the flooring store they owned. His aunt had lost both her legs to leukemia; his uncle was in a car accident on the way to visit his wife at the hospital, hit by a driver running a red light.

After his aunt and uncle closed their store, John took up carpentry and plumbing to be able to pay his own bills, then got married and had children. John and his family encountered a difficult situation, ending up homeless and bouncing from motel to motel for nearly 13 years.

“I got involved with the wrong people, doing the wrong things, and at that time, I thought it was for the right reasons, but I was wrong and it almost cost me my family,” he said.

John’s life changed when he found God, leading him not only on a path to reconcile his marriage and restore his relationship with his children and friends, but also straight to Cypress College’s Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Program via Professor Richard Hock, who attends the same church.

Now, following his graduation this year, John plans to continue his education, striving to eventually earn a master’s degree, and teach at Cypress College. “I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.

2020 Fine Arts: Kylie Christensen

Presidential Scholars of Distinction, Kylie Christensen, Fine Arts

Presidential Scholars of Distinction, Kylie Christensen, Fine Arts

Kylie is a dance major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Fine Arts Division at Cypress College. She found a passion for music and the performing arts at a young age, and discovered that it gave her something positive to focus on after the untimely passing of her mother from breast cancer. In high school, she was a member of Sound FX, a national championship show choir, where she had the opportunity to travel across the country and perform at prestigious venues, including Lincoln Center and the Grand Ole Opry.

After high school, Kylie was accepted into a performing arts college, but couldn’t afford the tuition, so she made the decision to attend Cypress College instead. She started as a music major, then switched to dance and psychology after her first semester. Following her graduation this year, she plans to complete a second associate degree in psychology before transferring to pursue her bachelor’s degree. Kylie ultimately hopes to earn a master’s degree in dance and become a college-level dance instructor.

“I want to choreograph and direct concerts to continue to bring the love of the arts to audiences and performers,” she said. “The arts are what got me through the toughest times in my life, and I want to share that with the world!”

2020 Health Science: Christina Williams

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Christina Williams, Health Science

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Christina Williams, Health Science

Christina is a psychiatric technology major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Health Science Division at Cypress College. Throughout her life, she has been a caregiver. At a young age, she cared for her ailing father, who passed away when she was only 12 years old, and she ended up caring for her three younger brothers because her mother had to work significantly more to provide for the family.

Christina’s higher education pursuit began one class at a time while she worked two jobs. After six years of slowly treading toward her educational goals, Christina and her husband decided to prioritize her education, so she entered the college’s Psychiatric Technology Program. While in the program, she was forced to deal with several personal tragedies, including her mother’s diagnosis with kidney cancer and her brother’s suicide.

“The loss of my brother forever changed me, and it changed my purpose and goals,” she said. “I have always had an interest in helping people, but now I want to focus on those that face adversities.”

Following her graduation this year, Christina plans to work as a psychiatric technician and determine where she would like to pursue a registered nursing program. She ultimately aspires to earn a master’s in nursing and open group homes that offer care to those who suffer from mental illness and/or addiction. She is also passionate about advocating for mental health and self-care education in schools.

2020 Kinesiology: Frankie Islas

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Frankie Islas, Kinesiology

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Frankie Islas, Kinesiology

Frankie is a kinesiology major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Kinesiology Division at Cypress College. He has always been involved in sports in one way or another, whether through playing baseball and football, or cheering on his favorite teams. He loves the outdoors and staying active.

Frankie chose to pursue an education at Cypress College to play on the college’s successful baseball team. Following his graduation this year, Frankie will be transferring to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. Ultimately, he hopes to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and become a professional physical therapist.

“I am most passionate about making the people around me happy,” he said. “This is what mainly drove me to choose kinesiology, so one day I will become a physical therapist and be able to help people who have injuries and get them healthy as fast as possible.”

2020 Language Arts: Nate Garcia

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Nate Garcia, Language Arts

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Nate Garcia, Language Arts

Nate is a communication studies major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Language Arts Division at Cypress College. Growing up, he had a number of interests and passions: to be an animator; to be like his MRI technician dad; and to turn his politics and government interest into becoming a lawyer. He was a good student throughout high school, yet, Nate admits, “I still wrestled with confidence issues about my academics and who I was as an individual.”

He chose to attend Cypress College while he figured out what he wanted to do. “Once I got to Cypress and took a few classes I realized I was right where I was supposed to be,” he said. “At Cypress, my love for politics, debate, and art collided when I took my first communications class.” Nate developed a passion for rhetoric and critical thinking, something that was further galvanized when he joined the college’s speech and debate team. There, he grew his confidence and found a support system in his team.

Nate will transfer to Cal State Fullerton after graduation to complete a bachelor’s degree in communications. After that, he hopes to attend UCLA to pursue a master’s degree in communication as well as his jurisdoctorate. Ultimately, he aspires to become a communications professor and lawyer.

“I know a lot of work lies ahead of me, but every time I think I’ve reached my full potential, there has been someone there showing me that I can do even more,” he said.

2020 Library/Learning Resource Center: Anh Nguyen

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Anh Nguyen, Library & Learning Resource Center

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Anh Nguyen, Library & Learning Resource Center

Anh is a liberal arts major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Library/Learning Resource Center at Cypress College. She immigrated to the U.S. five years ago and originally chose to attend Cypress College to improve her English skills in the English as a Second Language Program. She soon realized that pursuing higher education would be the most effective way to be successful in America.

At Cypress College, Anh has been involved in the EOPS Program and has worked at the Math Learning Center as a statistics tutor. She enjoys helping others and cares about other people, so she plans to pursue registered nursing “so that I can contribute my work to improve [people’s] health and help more people.”

Following her graduation, Anh will continue her studies at Cypress College in the Registered Nursing Program. After completing the program, she plans to find a job in healthcare and continue to pursue education by earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing.

“Being a part of the Cypress College family has helped me become more confident in myself to pursue one of the most competitive majors in the U.S.: Registered Nurse,” she said.

2020 Science, Engineering, Mathematics: Connor Kilzer

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Connor Kilzer, Science, Engineering, Mathematics

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Connor Kilzer, Science, Engineering, Mathematics

Connor is a pre-engineering major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Science, Engineering, Mathematics Division at Cypress College. After graduating from high school, he chose to attend Cypress College because it “seemed to be the best fit for me as I transitioned into higher education.” In his first semester, he was accepted into the (STEM)2 Program and eventually became a family group leader. He also became a supplemental instruction leader for CHEM 107 and PHYS 222 in the LRC.

Following his graduation this year, Connor is transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. After that, he hopes to work as a biomedical engineer designing robotic prostheses and other medical devices to expand and innovate the medical field. He also plans to pursue a master’s degree.

“The farther I go into my education, the more I want to learn,” he said. “This passion has driven me to excel in my classes and achieve my goals as both a student and future STEM professional.”

2020 Social Sciences: Sarah Queneau

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Sarah Queneau, Social Sciences

Presidential Scholar of Distinction, Sarah Queneau, Social Sciences

Sarah is an anthropology major and was selected as the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Social Sciences Division at Cypress College. She originally decided to return to school to pursue certification through the college’s Mortuary Science Program because “I love culture and felt that I could create custom funerals that encompass the beliefs of the deceased and the ones attending.” After taking an Anthropology of Death class from Professor Becky Floyd, however, she felt encouraged to change her major.

Following her graduation in fall 2019, Sarah transferred to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She plans to pursue a graduate degree that will lead to fieldwork and ultimately writing ethnographies about death and dying from a cross-cultural perspective.

“I aim to be able to take this information and write books, not just for academia, but for the general population,” she said. “I want them to be able to read about the similarities and differences in people across the world, hopefully closing that gap of the idea of the ‘other,’ while also relieving some of the anxieties that we have about death.”

2019 Business/CIS: Sagidah Karakra

Cypress College’s appreciation and value for diversity, along with her older sister’s academic success at the college, motivated Sagidah Karakra to pursue higher education at Cypress College. Sagidah has been involved in a number of extra-curricular activities, including the Muslim Student Association and Business Club. She found her niche in accounting after participating in Accounting Career Day and this semester served as a supplemental instruction leader for Accounting 101.

Sagidah is graduating with an associate of science degree in business administration. She is transferring to Cal State Fullerton in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She one day hopes to become an accounting professor like the ones she’s had who have motivated her to work hard and never give up on her educational goals.

When asked what she is most passionate about, Sagidah said it’s “inspiring students to excel.”

“I want to make a positive impact on the success of my students,” she added. “I hope that I can continue to support and inspire accounting students to work hard and stay motivated when it comes to achieving their goals.”

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
I was born in the city of San Bernardino, California. As a young child, I grew up in Palestine. I moved here to Orange County when I was 7 years old. Growing up, I had a very difficult time adjusting to the new life I had in Orange County. English was not my first language. As a result, I struggled tremendously in school. However, I’ve always been hardworking and motivated when it comes to achieving my goals. I enjoy writing and being involved on campus. I especially love creative writing. My goal is to write my own book one day.

Why did you choose Cypress College?
I decided to attend Cypress College because my sister once attended this college as well. I was amazed by how academically successful she was at Cypress College, that is, thanks to the programs she was involved in. Her success at Cypress College made me want to attend and explore my career options. I was also amazed by the long-lasting relationships she built with faculty members at Cypress College. The faculty members at Cypress College showed my sister that they valued diversity. This factor alone made me want to attend Cypress College. Choosing to attend Cypress College has been the best decision I’ve made for myself.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
I’ve been heavily involved in the MSA (Muslim Student Association) and the Business Club. In the MSA and Business Club, I took on leadership positions like being the Inter-Club Council (ICC) representative and secretary. I attended weekly ICC meetings to represent both the MSA and Business Club. My main goal in the MSA was to raise awareness about my religion and to provide a support system for Muslim students.

Through the Business club, I was able to network and meet other students who were the same major as me. Being part of the Business Club significantly impacted my college career. I decided to major in accounting because of one crucial event I attended and participated in. Attending and participating in the Accounting Career Day in the Business Club was a life-changing experience. I learned more about the accounting profession and networked with professional accountants as well.

This spring semester, I have worked as an Accounting 101 Supplemental Instruction (SI) leader. I conduct weekly review sessions by utilizing collaborative learning techniques and study group activities. Becoming an Accounting 101 SI leader has been one my biggest accomplishments this semester. As an SI leader, I assist students struggling in financial accounting. I pass on what I’ve learned in Accounting 101 to my students. My favorite thing about my job is knowing that I have an impact on student learning. My students know that I care about their success in Accounting 101, and I know that they appreciate everything that I do for them. Whether it’s conducting an exam review session or clarifying any confusion about lecture material, my students appreciate the guidance and feedback that I provide them in Accounting 101.

What are you most passionate about? Why?
Inspiring students to excel. I want to make a positive impact on the success of my students. This is all due to my current job as an SI leader. Working as an SI leader this semester has been a very rewarding job. I hope that I can continue to support and inspire accounting students to work hard and stay motivated when it comes to achieving their goals.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?

The accounting faculty at Cypress College have significantly impacted my college career. Professor Ann Sheridan-Solis has been my biggest support in my time here at Cypress College. She has inspired me to work hard and stay motivated in achieving my educational goals. Professor Sheridan-Solis has taught me the importance of networking and becoming involved on campus. Professor Sheridan-Solis inspired me to become an Accounting 101 SI leader.

Professor Samreen Manjra also impacted my educational career. I got the opportunity to work closely with Professor Manjra as an SI leader. Professor Samreen Manjra motivated me to apply for scholarships this semester. Thanks to Professor Samreen Manjra, I was awarded the Sheron Huston Memorial and Cindy Blume Memorial scholarships. I’m so incredibly thankful to have met and worked with the accounting faculty at Cypress College.

Professor Kathleen Troy has continued to inspire me as well. I’ve enjoyed having her as my management instructor for two semesters now. Professor Troy has given me the best advice in achieving my educational and professional goals. She truly cares about the success of her students. I appreciate everything that she has done for me.

Professor Thomas Reynolds (TJ) II inspired me to explore creative writing. Because of Professor TJ, I’ve realized how much I enjoy writing. He has has continued to support me and has challenged me to grow in my writing capabilities. I’m thankful to have met an individual like him.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
After Cypress College, I’ll be transferring to Cal State Fullerton. I plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in accounting. My goal at CSUF is to expand my network and build more meaningful relationships with business students and faculty members. I plan to become involved in the accounting society and Beta Alpha Psi at CSUF.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
My long-term goal is to become an accounting college professor. I have a lot of respect and admiration for my college professors who have always motivated me to work hard and to never give up when it comes to accomplishing my educational goals. As a result, I want to do the same for my students. My current job as an SI leader has significantly impacted my goal of becoming an accounting college professor.

What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the progress I’ve made these past couple of years. I’m most proud of graduating high school in two years. With English being second my language, I thought that I could never accomplish my goals. I’m also most proud of becoming an Accounting 101 SI leader. Becoming an SI leader has been the most rewarding job. Lastly, I’m most proud of the relationships that I have developed with my peers and instructors. I’m so incredibly thankful to have met such individuals here at Cypress College.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
Build your network and take advantage of the resources you have on campus. It’s important to form good relationships with your peers and instructors. I think this will open up so many opportunities to progress and succeed. Be proud of your accomplishments and hard work. There are no limits to what you can accomplish, except the limits you place on your thinking. Lastly, step out of your comfort zone and try new things.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am so thankful to be representing the Business and CIS Division as one of the inaugural Presidential Scholars of Distinction. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities and support the Business and CIS faculty members have provided me with. I’m proud of the contributions I’ve made to the Accounting Department, Business Club, and Business and CIS Division. Attending Cypress College has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Thank you, Cypress College!

2019 Career Technical Education: Claudia Espinoza

Claudia Espinoza was born in Santa Ana, but at the age of 2, moved to Mexico where she grew up for 14 years. At 16, her family moved back to California where she spent long days going to school, completed homework in the afternoon in a language she barely understood, then attended ESL classes until 10 p.m. Through hard work and dedication, she started to speak and write in English within a year.

After high school, Claudia earned a medical assistant certificate from Santa Ana College and continued pursuing an associate degree until realizing that she was not passionate about the field. It wasn’t until she started working as an assistant manager at a restaurant that she discovered her love for hospitality.

Claudia is graduating with associate of arts degrees in hospitality management, and food and beverage management. She is transferring to Cal State Long Beach in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and ultimately aspires to become a director of food and beverage at a full-service resort.

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
My name is Claudia, I was born in Santa Ana, California. At the age of 2, my parents decided to move back to Mexico, where I grew up and lived for 14 years. At the age of 16, my parents decided it was time for us to come back to the United States in hopes of a better life and future. Moving to the United States was a major change in my life; I was in a place I did not know, and I did not speak any English. I started going to high school soon after we moved. That first year of high school was the most challenging. I remember I cried out of frustration at the end of the first day of school because I did not understand anything, but after that, I set my mind on working hard to learn English and being able to communicate and understand what was happening around me. My days were long. I was going to my regular classes in the morning, then going home after school to do homework, which was another challenge. To be able to do my homework, I had to translate all of it to Spanish on Google Translate to be able to do it, after finishing I translated it back to English so my teachers could understand and grade my assignments. After homework, I had to go to ESL classes at Santa Ana College until 10 p.m. and start all over again the next morning. Thanks to all that hard work and dedication, I started to speak and write English within a year. I graduated from NOVA Academy Early College High School in 2010.

After high school, I continued attending Santa Ana College where I achieved a medical assistant certificate. When I was close to completing the requirements for the associate degree, I changed my major to Spanish. I knew then that I liked working with people, but what I was pursuing was not my passion. I did not know exactly what I wanted to do until I started working in restaurants. I worked as assistant manager at a restaurant, and that is when I discovered my love for hospitality. After a break from school, I decided to go back to school and pursue a career in hospitality and food and beverage. Now, I am close to completing my courses to earn my associate degrees in hospitality management, and food and beverage management. I will transfer to Cal State Long Beach this upcoming fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.

Why did you choose Cypress College?
I chose Cypress College by suggestion of my sister. One day I was talking to her about my plans of going back to school and she suggested that I look into the HRC program, so I did. After going through the curriculum, I became interested and enrolled in the program.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
I have been involved in the Hospitality, Restaurant, and Culinary Arts Program. As a student in this program, I had the opportunity to be part of the management team on opening week for the Cypress Bistro, and was part of the team that operated the front of the house of the Cypress Bistro through the fall of 2018. I was also involved in Hospitality Career Expo 2019, where students have the opportunity to gain some hands-on experience creating and executing an event.

The HRC program has played an important role unfolding my path. I have learned and received information that has helped me understand my options in the hospitality industry. Our professors are passionate about their careers, and share their passion and experience with their students. They also are committed to our education and prepare us to be successful in this industry.

What are you most passionate about? Why?
I am most passionate about learning new things. I also love traveling and food, which is why I majored in hospitality and food and beverage management. I believe there is always room for improvement, and we can learn new things every day. Learning new things helps me to have an open mind to new ideas, especially in this industry because there are always new trends and technology changing the way we do things. I love visiting new places and learning about their cultures and their food.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?
All of my instructors in the HRC program have contributed to my academic success, especially Professor Lisa Clark, who has motivated me with her passion for hospitality and her dedication toward her students’ education and success. She is encouraging and her enthusiasm is contagious. I am extremely grateful for having her as a professor.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
My immediate plans after graduating from Cypress College are starting my education at Cal State Long Beach in the fall of 2019 and earning my bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, while working in the industry.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
My long-term goals are to become a director of food and beverage at a full-service resort, travel the world, and maintain a healthy balance in my life.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being where I am right now. I am doing what I love, and I am about to graduate from Cypress College and transfer to CSULB. This would not have been possible if I had not had the support of my family and my professors.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
One bit of advice that I would give to current and future students is: “Don’t be scared of dreaming big.” If you work hard for what you want, you can achieve anything you set your mind on.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” -Pele

2019 Counseling: Jessica Button

Jessica Button has said she’s come further than she ever thought realistic. A fun-loving girl with endless creativity, she chased many different opportunities that deferred her degree completion, but for a third time, she found herself registering for college classes at Cypress College.

Jessica is graduating with her associate of science degree for transfer in business administration and associate of science degree in marketing. She is transferring to Cal State Long Beach in the fall and is the first graduate from the leadership team of FITE (From Incarceration to Empowerment) Club, a new club that was started last fall.

“I am ecstatic to be graduating today as a role model to those who also thought they’d never get this far,” she said. “We can all graduate successfully and change our lives. We take this journey together!”

2019 Fine Arts: Nhi Nguyen

At the age of 19, Nhi Nguyen emigrated from Vietnam to the United States with her mother. In a completely new environment and having to cope in an unfamiliar language, Nhi initially intended to earn a degree in a health science field because she thought she would have a higher chance of finding a stable job; however, her first art professor helped her believe in her skills and abilities, and inspired her to pursue art instead.

Nhi is graduating with an associate of art degree for transfer in studio art. She is transferring to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in graphic and interactive design. She also hopes to pursue a master’s degree and dreams of becoming a successful graphic designer.

“No matter what language an artist speaks, I can understand what he is trying to represent and express through his art piece,” she said. “So, art seems to have a power of speaking in a universal language, which is why I’ve been interested in art.”

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
My name is Nhi Nguyen. I grew up in Vietnam. When I was 19 years old, my mother and I moved to the United States. I am interested in designing, crafting, and drawing. My hobbies are singing and swimming.
I have been attending Cypress College since fall 2016. I became part of the EOPS program in fall 2017 and started to work in the Career Planning Center on campus in fall 2018. As I am not a native English speaker, English is a significant challenge for me. Moreover, because of my Vietnamese accent, I also feel self-conscious and hesitant when communicating in English. However, with all the help and enthusiasm of my professors, my coworkers, and my friends at Cypress, my English has improved a lot, and I feel more confident when using English.

This is my third year at Cypress. I am working on my associate degree for transfer in studio art and will be graduating this spring. Next fall, I am transferring to California State University, Fullerton, to earn my bachelor’s degree.

Why did you choose Cypress College?
As I am looking forward to transfer to university to earn my bachelor’s degree, I chose to attend a local community college. Fortunately, I decided to go to Cypress College, which is one of best decisions I have ever made.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
Being an EOPS student, I have received many supports from the program such as counseling and book awards. In addition, while I am one of the student workers in the Career Planning Center on campus, I have not only earned experience and am involved in campus events, but also had opportunities to help other students and introduce them to the beneficial career counseling services offered at the center.
Even though I am interested in art, I started my first semester as a health science student, since it seemed there would be a higher chance to get a stable job with a health science degree. However, my first art professor at Cypress really inspired me. He not only taught valuable knowledge and assigned interesting projects, but also helped me believe in my art skills and ability. Hence, I chose art with a concentration in graphic design as my major.

What are you most passionate about? Why?
I am passionate about art. The first reason why I love art is that there is no right or wrong answer, so I can express myself, my feelings, and become more creative. There are meanings that can be interpreted from art elements and principles, which are “formulas” I use to tell the stories through my paintings, drawings, and designs. I also use these “formulas” to “read” and understand the story, feeling, and context of an artwork. Then, no matter what language an artist speaks, I can understand what he is trying to represent and express through his art piece. So art seems to have a power of speaking in a universal language, which is why I’ve been interested in art.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?
I really appreciate the time I have experienced at Cypress College and I am thankful to all my passionate, incredible, and amazing professors and counselors. I would like to say thank you to my art and media art design professors: Edward Giardina, Carleton Christy, Janet Owen Driggs, Katalin Angelov, Daniel Gross, Rema Ghuloum, my EOPS counselor Alan Reza, and my supervisors Deann Burch, Belinda Allan, and Zola Aponte.

  1. Edward Giardina: my first art professor at Cypress College. I was inspired from his first lectures about the elements of art. He is a great professor who not only helped me with my art projects and letters of recommendation, but also gave me advice about what major I should pursue and which university I should transfer to.
  2. Carleton Christy: my drawing professor. I enjoyed his class a lot. He is hilarious, so I never felt stressed in his class or while talking with him. He encouraged me to do my best and allowed me to explore and use different art techniques. He taught me many new skills. He has been always willing to help me. Since I am not a native English speaker, he even helped me look up words in the dictionary when I was having trouble with English.
  3. Janet Owen Driggs: my art history professor. I learned a lot from her lectures and she made me love art history. One of the amazing things she taught me was to “read” an image.
  4. Katalin Angelov: my first digital art professor. Besides her interesting lectures, she has everything for a great professor: kindness, warmth, and understanding.
  5. Daniel Gross: my graphic design professor. He also works as a graphic designer, so while working on his class assignments, I earned experience and got advice that is valuable and important for my profession.
  6. Rema Ghuloum: my color theory professor. She has a great understanding about colors, so I learned, explored, and worked on many different projects that applied the variety of color theories, which are so amazing and valuable to my major.
  7. Alan Reza: my EOPS counselor for two years. Besides discussing my academic plan, he also talked about my artworks and gave me some interesting project ideas.
  8. Deann Burch, Belinda Allan, and Zola Aponte: my supervisors in the Career Planning Center. I always feel their kindness toward me as well as other staff. I can see their enthusiasm while instructing students and their passion for their work and the center.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
After graduating from Cypress College, I will be transferring to California State University, Fullerton, and working on my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in graphic and interactive design. Meanwhile, I plan to work on campus in order to improve my English communication skills as well as to help other students. I will also look for a job that is related to my major, so I can earn more work experience.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
My biggest dream is to become a successful graphic designer. I am interested in working on logos, brand identities, layouts, and poster designs for movies, magazines, product advertisements, social issues, etc. In addition, I like creating motion graphics that provide the audience with information about a company, topic, or issue. Besides taking digital design courses, I also take other classes such as drawing, color theory, and animation to gain more knowledge and improve my art skills, as well as to obtain an ability to work with other types of art such as digital illustration and animation. The interactive design program at California State University, Fullerton, is another branch of design that I also want to pursue. Then, after getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts, I also plan to earn a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts.

What are you most proud of?
It has been my honor to be on the Cypress College President’s Honor Roll with a GPA of 4.0. Furthermore, I am the 2019 Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Fine Arts Division. I won the 2019 Sheron Huston Memorial Scholarship and the 2019 Freddie Czerniel Transfer Scholarship that was offered by the Cypress College Fine Arts Division. In addition, I am the winner of the 2019 Cypress College Holiday Card Contest. My product advertisement project that includes three posters and a motion graphic is displayed at the Students’ Show 2019 in the Cypress College Art Gallery. Also, my still life drawing and animal digital illustration were selected for the Student Exhibition in May 2018, and my ink drawing was chosen for display at the Student Exhibition in May 2017.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
I would like to say do your best, so you will have no regrets about anything. Also, think about your interests, strengths, and skills while choosing the major and career path that you would like to pursue. If you like and are passionate about something, you absolutely can do well at it, so believe in yourself and your abilities. Then, do not struggle with yourself because there are tons of service on campus such as counseling, financial aid, the health center, open computer lab, and tutoring that are really helpful and can help you find your solution.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am really happy that I will be graduating. I also appreciate my time at Cypress College. I have learned valuable information from various subjects and numerous practical skills. I am really thankful for the help and support from the campus services as well as the inspiration and encouragement from all my Cypress College professors.

2019 Health Science: Evelyn Hernandez

A first-generation college student and single parent when she first started on her educational journey at Cypress College, Evelyn Hernandez said the college has been her home away from home since day one. She is a proud member of EOPS, a program she learned of by happenstance.

“I recall accidentally walking into some random office hoping they’d be able to help me, and it was the best mistake I ever made,” she said.

Evelyn is graduating with an associate of science degree in radiologic technology. After earning her American Registry of Radiologic Technologists credential, she hopes to work in computed tomography (CT) and possibly cross-train in a catheterization lab. She also hopes to attend Cal State Northridge in the future.

“I want to continue growing and set an example for my kids,” she said. “I want them to be proud of the person I worked so hard to become. I want them to know anything is possible with hard work and a little effort.”

#CYPresidential

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

I’m currently married with two wonderful little girls, and I’ve lived in Orange County for most of my life.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

Choosing Cypress is the best decision I’ve ever made. I love the campus, the atmosphere, the diversity. From day one I felt it was my second home away from home. I had made an attempt to start college at a different campus before, and it was just the complete opposite. Cypress and its faculty have always felt welcoming when I felt the most insecure. I was a first-generation college student, a single parent, didn’t know anything about the application process or even where to go. I just remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed and vulnerable. I recall accidentally walking into some random office hoping they’d be able to help me and it was the best mistake I ever made. Thank you, EOPS; without you I wouldn’t be standing here with my peers!

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

I was a proud member of EOPS for two years. The staff was amazing—you could really tell how invested everyone in the program was with the students. They helped me stay on track and push myself; to be honest our success is just a reflection of their hard work at hand. Thanks, Alan Reza!

What are you most passionate about? Why?

Definitely helping others. Someday, I want to make the same impact my professors and program director had on me, with others. I want to pass on my knowledge with that same enthusiasm they carry; they have a gift, and I’m thankful for that. Who knows, maybe becoming a Cypress College professor in the future could be next on my checklist.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?

Many have helped me get where I am today. My family, friends, and staff, but I’d really like to thank Ms. Lynn Mitts. I’ve always sold myself short, but she’s always made me feel like I could accomplish anything when I didn’t even believe in myself. I’d also like to thank Dr. Michael Frianeza; his enthusiasm is the reason I sealed the deal and decided to become a radiologic technologist on day one. Mr. Barry Siegel, who has selflessly poured his heart and soul aiding us all throughout the program. Ms. Phan Pak and Mr. Gary Binoya, for helping us swim not sink, your patience and support was just what we needed. Thank you all for always going above and beyond!

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

After completing my studies I hope to continue to grow in my facility. Computer Tomography (CT) is definitely my next goal.

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

I definitely need to start working on my bachelor’s, sooner rather than later. I want to continue growing and set an example for my kids. I want them to be proud of the person I worked so hard to become! I want them to know anything is possible with hard work and a little effort.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my mom: rough life, single parent of three, always working hard to make ends meet. I’ve never told her, but she’s MY role model. Thanks for doing the best that YOU could for us. We love you, even if you don’t hear us say it often enough.

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

No one is born a professional, a little time and perseverance goes along way. Be patient, work hard, and you’ll be a recipe for success. Most important of all, always help those around you; someday they’ll be able to give you a hand when you most need it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I want to thank all the people that have been on this journey with me, especially my friends and family. It’s been a hell of a ride and it’s finally coming to an end. Thank you for ALL your support, you guys were my rock!

I also want to thank my Clinical Instructor and the rest of the staff in my clinical site. Thank you for taking the time to teach me everything you know; I’m eternally grateful. I’m sure I was a headache sometimes, but thank you for not giving up on me. I hope to continue to grow and to make you all proud. Remember, I’m only as good as the sum of all your best parts, thank you!

2019 Kinesiology: Jane Woodward

Jane Woodward was a four-sport standout in high school, participating in varsity women’s volleyball, basketball, track, and tennis at Woodrow Wilson High School in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. After high school, Jane moved to Orange County on her own to attend Cypress College and play on the college’s volleyball and beach volleyball teams. She finished her career at Cypress with 321 career kills and 122 blocks, earning a 2018 all-Orange Empire Conference First Team selection and earning a spot on the 2018 All-State Tournament Team.

Jane is graduating with an associate of science degree in kinesiology. She is transferring to Cal Poly Pomona on a volleyball scholarship and will pursue a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology. She aspires to become a physical therapist and high school volleyball coach.

“I am most passionate about being the best version of myself that I can be,” she said. “Coming from a troubled background, losing my mother at a young age, I have an internal drive to succeed and make the most out of my life.”

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and attended Woodrow Wilson High School there. I moved down to Southern California after high school by myself in order to start a life here and attend Cypress College, as well as play volleyball and beach volleyball for the school. I spend my time balancing school, collegiate athletics, and work at Angel Stadium.

Why did you choose Cypress College?
I chose Cypress College because of the exceptional academic opportunities that the school has for kinesiology students, as well as the success of the volleyball team in previous years and a desire to join the team and work with the coaching staff here.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
I have been involved in two sports here at the school: volleyball and beach volleyball. It took me two years to get my degree in kinesiology here at Cypress, so my semester course loads were heavy, and I spent countless hours in the LRC, but it was all worth it.

What are you most passionate about? Why?
I am most passionate about being the best version of myself that I can be. Coming from a troubled background, losing my mother at a young age, I have an internal drive to succeed and make the most out of my life. I also have a strong passion for athletics and all kinds of sports, as I feel the most at home in a sports-like atmosphere.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?
The faculty here at Cypress that have helped me substantially along the way are of course my coaches: Nancy Welliver, Nicky Cannon, and Chris Gomez. I also would like to acknowledge Jeff Cutkomp for his unwavering support and class schedule guidance, and Dana Bedard for all of his help.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
I plan on attending Cal Poly Pomona to study exercise physiology and earn a bachelor’s degree. Once I complete my time there, I want to one day work as a physical therapist and high school volleyball coach.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
My long-term goals are to one day be a physical therapist, ideally for a professional sports team, as well as coach women’s volleyball. I would love to travel the world, live a healthy lifestyle, and most importantly: be happy.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of how I spent my time here at Cypress, earning my degree in two years with a solid GPA while trying to figure out how life goes away from home, on my own, and at the same time playing two collegiate sports and working in order to support myself.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
If I were to give advice to current and future Cypress students, I would just do my best to inspire them to work their hardest and work to be the best versions of themselves, always. Particularly when things get tough and it feels like there is no point or no direction to your life, there undoubtedly is, but you just have to work hard in order to find it.

2019 Language Arts: Jene Viray

Born in the Philippines and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Jene Viray is an international student at Cypress College who is graduating with her associate of arts degree in communication studies. She hopes to transfer to Cal State Long Beach in fall 2020, and until then, will continue working in the college’s International Students Program to gain practical work experience.

In addition to working part-time in the International Students Program office, Jene was cast and has performed in the college’s dance productions, and was a member of the Cypress College Forensics Team. She aspires to earn a master’s degree in speech language pathology and become a certified speech therapist with the goal of helping children improve their speech and ability to communicate.

“I find joy in helping others in a way that can encourage their success and well-being,” she said. “Knowing that my actions and words have the power to impact other peoples’ lives positively is rewarding in itself.”

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
I am an international student born in the Philippines and raised in United Arab Emirates. Living away from my family has been a challenge. Fortunately, through Cypress College, I was able to meet other students who have kept me company and have been so supportive of me. I am truly grateful for each one of them.

Why did you choose Cypress College?
I chose Cypress College for its reputable faculty members and student services. There are various programs and services on campus that have been so helpful to my success, from the tutoring services at the Learning Resource Center, to free flu vax at the Health Center. The availability of these services has definitely affected my academics and overall well-being. Nonetheless, the faculty and staff are very welcoming and professional. My professors have all motivated and inspired me to be where I am today.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
I have spent the majority of my time here as a part-time student at the International Students Program office. It has allowed me to interact with prospective and new international students while also enhancing my professional skills. Besides work, I personally enjoy dancing, and I had the pleasure to be casted for the spring 2019 dance concert as a student volunteer. Last but not least, I was part of the Forensics Team and had the opportunity to compete and represent Cypress Chargers at the Phi Rho Pi National Tournament, and it was quite a memorable experience. Meeting other forensics competitors only reaffirmed my passion for the communications field.

What are you most passionate about? Why?
During my past volunteer experience with various paralympic organizations such as the Boccia International Sports Federation and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation, I have met such inspirational athletes who all embodied sheer determination and commitment. Throughout these experiences I realized the importance of communication in all aspects of life. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to work in the communicative disorders branch of communications. I find joy in helping others in a way that can encourage their success and well-being. Knowing that my actions and words have the power to impact other people’s lives positively is rewarding in itself. Thus, my ultimate goal of being a certified speech therapist will definitely allow me to work in a field that I am most passionate about.

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?
There are various faculty members who have helped and guided me throughout my studies at Cypress College. The staff at the ISP office — Yongmi Han, Gina Marrocco, and Deepa Tharani (our academic counselor) — have all spent time to ensure that I am following the right path to completing my degree. I must also say that all of my past professors have always managed to ignite my curiosity and thirst for knowledge. There are far too many names to mention, but I really am grateful for each of my professors. I also want to thank Professor Jennifer Page, my forensics coach, for always believing in me. Finally, I also appreciate all of the faculty and staff in the Language Arts Division who all have influenced my success.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
Upon graduation I intend to do optional practical training for a year before transferring to Cal State Long Beach for my bachelor’s degree.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
Once I complete my bachelor’s degree, I want to pursue my master’s degree in speech language pathology and ultimately become a certified speech therapist. I aspire to work with children and help improve their speech and ability to communicate. I believe that speech therapy is vital during childhood because it is at its most effective stage.

What are you most proud of?
One thing I am most proud of is my experience living abroad. As an international student, I have learned the importance of the people I surround myself with. Living and adjusting to a whole different culture has also taught me patience and perseverance. All these experiences have indeed made me proud because they have led to my personal growth.

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
You are not alone. One thing I want current and future students to realize is that we all take this journey together so no one is ever on their own. Whatever it may be and no matter how silly it may seem, they should not be afraid to ask for help. At the end of the day, their peers, the faculty, and staff are all rooting for their success.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Buen Cypress!

2019 Science, Engineering, Mathematics: Selina Jaimes Davila

Selina Jaimes Davila has been a high-achieving student from a young age and worked hard to graduate with high honors from Huntington Park High School, only to be rejected admission by four Cal States. Uncertain of her next step, Selina ended up at Cypress College pursuing a diagnostic medical sonography certification until deciding that she wanted to pursue a degree. After changing her major three times, she discovered a passion for mechanical engineering.

Selina is graduating with associate of science degrees in mathematics, physics, liberal arts in math and science, and pre-engineering. She is transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and later hopes to earn her master’s degree from UCLA. Passionate about helping others, Selina hopes to work in the prostheses industry and also aspires to become a STEM counselor for undocumented students.

“I have faced many challenges on my path to graduation: poverty, no transportation, lack of guidance, my undocumented status, coming from divorced parents, being a first-generation student, starting in the lowest math course, and not having a place to live at times,” she said. “No matter what, I overcame the barriers placed in front of me.”

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

I was born in Iguala Guerrero, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when I was only 3 years old. Growing up in Huntington Park, California, it was difficult to find a sense of belonging in a place with different people, a foreign language, and a completely new lifestyle. Despite the tough transition, I have managed to adapt and strive for success. Throughout middle school and high school, I was part of the Honors Program and AVID Program. I graduated with high honors from Huntington Park High School in 2013. I am what you might call a “teacher’s pet.” I am also the first in my family to pursue higher education. In my free time, I like to go hiking and watch movies. I enjoy hearing other people’s stories and learning about where their journeys began.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

When I was growing up, my parents would work all day to create a better future for our family. They never had time to help me with my homework, and they never talked about higher education. In my senior year of high school, I got rejected from four California State Universities despite having a 3.9 GPA. I was devastated because I worked hard to get into a good university. Still, I believe everything happens for a reason.

After high school graduation, I wasn’t quite sure what career I wanted to pursue. I didn’t even know that attending community college and transferring to a university was one of my options. I first heard about Cypress College from my friend Janette, who was interested in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program. She invited me to visit the campus with her, and I said yes. After attending orientation, I took the placement test. I was placed in the lowest math level (Math 10), so I signed up for the math lab in the continuing education school on campus. After that day, everything fell into place.

I spent my summer at Cypress, Monday through Friday. In one month, I completed two math classes. According to Armando, who oversaw the Math Lab at the time, that was a record! After that month, I knew I had found where I was meant to be. I can’t say that I chose Cypress College; Cypress College chose me. I began my academic path here before I realized that this is one of the best community colleges in California. I thank God for always guiding me and placing me in the right place with the right people. My time at this school have been the best years of my life, because they enabled me to grow into an educated Latina.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
During my freshman year, I was pursuing a Diagnostic Medical Sonography Certificate. I also began volunteering in the Radiology Department at the PIH Health Hospital in Downey. As a volunteer, I scanned the mammogram X-rays into the system, shadowed the ultrasound technologist, and walked the patients to their rooms. I really enjoyed my year-and-a-half spent volunteering there because the staff was incredibly kind, and I enjoyed caring for patients. However, through this experience, I also realized that I wanted to pursue something more than a certification. If I was going to school for about three years to get a certification, why not put the same time toward a bachelor’s degree? It took three years of trial and error before I decided on an academic path. I changed my major three times before finally discovering my passion for mechanical engineering.

As a mechanical engineering major, I love conquering difficult math and science courses. I have always enjoyed rising to a challenge, so the vision of being a Latina woman in the engineering field lit a fire in me. With a concrete goal in mind, I got to work chasing my dream of lifelong learning. I took the most rigorous calculus and physics courses on campus. When I proved that I could succeed despite being the only female in my engineering classes at times, it fueled my determination.

On campus, I have taken advantage of every opportunity available to me. Each educational opportunity has changed my life completely. First, the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) offered me invaluable academic guidance. I built a strong relationship with my counselor, Eva Palomares, and she supported me throughout my academic journey. Through this program, I ensured that I was on a successful academic path and made my transfer process easier and much more enjoyable. I also participated in the TLOP program at University of California, Irvine, where I got to challenge my fears and complete an obstacle course where I realized that I am a leader by heart. It comes naturally to me to take the lead when others can’t. It wasn’t easy overcoming fears or having to rely on others, but I learned that working with the support of a team makes things easier.

Next, the Puente Program gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my culture. It’s been 20 years since I left my birthplace, Iguala Guerrero, and immigrated to the place my parents call the dreamland. It earned this nickname because they believed that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. Still, leaving my home country made me feel that I had lost my culture and identity. In Puente, I reconnected with my roots by reading Latino novels that made writing essays enjoyable. Having Dr. Therese Mosqueda-Ponce and Mr. Obed Silva as role models was such an inspiration. When I went on my first Northern Trip with the Puente Program, it opened my eyes to all my possible paths for transfer. In summer 2015, I was selected to represent Cypress College at the UC Riverside Puente Leadership Conference, which selects one student from each California community college. At UCRP, I was surrounded with incredible, educated individuals who had similar backgrounds and struggles as me. I didn’t have to fear people finding out I wasn’t born in this country. I didn’t have to hide my smallpox vaccination scar on my right arm because no one there was going to bully me for having a “Beaner Mark.” For the first time, I shared that I was undocumented and my peers received me with open arms and love. It was breathtaking to experience that sense of belonging and to know that I was meant to be there with my Puente Familia.

Lastly, joining the (STEM)2 Program has provided me with the opportunity to flourish as both a professional and a leader. Through the program, I had the privilege to complete a summer research experience at California State University, Fullerton, on physics education with Dr. Gina Passante in 2016. That experience led to my acceptance at UC San Diego’s STARS Program this past summer, where I had the opportunity to work in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department with Dr. Nicholas Boechler for eight weeks. These research experiences have allowed me to develop my networking and professional skills. Most importantly, I was able to get hands-on experience in the engineering field before transferring! On top of that, I was extremely honored to have Dr. Boechler ask me to continue conducting research with him.

Through the (STEM)2 Program, I have also attended national conferences like SACNAS and HENAAC, where I met STEM professionals from across the nation. I have also been able to tour the science and engineering labs at several different universities like Stanford, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Davis, Berkeley, and many more. The (STEM)2 Program’s annual university trips have helped me to explore my options and envision what my life will be like once I transfer out of Cypress. If it weren’t for this program, I wouldn’t even know that these types of opportunities were possible for me. Finally, through my role as a peer mentor for the (STEM)2 Program, I have been able to develop my leadership skills and serve as a role model for my fellow STEM scholars. I’ve received so much support during my time at Cypress, and my position allows me to pay it forward by mentoring other STEM scholars. I feel privileged to help and support our scholars on their educational journey because I know firsthand that being a STEM major isn’t easy. Overall, I have seen myself grow as an individual and become more confident in my ability to take on new challenges. I feel lucky to be able to give back to the programs that have done so much for me.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

I am most passionate about helping others by mentoring them. I have learned and grown so much these past years at Cypress, and I have been able to help others by sharing my story. I use my platform to voice the need for additional educational opportunities for undocumented students, especially those who come from low-income backgrounds. There are many students who live in the shadows due to their fear of being deported. As an undocumented student, I have to work harder than my peers because of the color of my skin and the stereotypes of my culture. We, “the undocumented,” are hard workers and we value everything we have. We make sacrifices every day for our loved ones. Even stepping out of the house is a sacrifice because we might not come back. We value having a roof over our heads, being able to have a shower instead of buckets of water, and a chance at an education that our parents and grandparents never had. My parents taught me to be humble and to appreciate what I have and our roots show us how to be luchistas!

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?

Every step of the way, I have been extremely fortunate to have the support of my professors, faculty, and peers. These awesome individuals have encouraged me when I needed it the most, on the days when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even in my most difficult moments, they saw a potential in me that at times I did not see in myself. With that, I would like to thank: Jane Gross, Garet Hill, Christina Plett, Torri Draganov, Massoud Saleh, Dr. Brinda Subramaniam, Allison Gotoh, Dean Richard Fee, Anthony Hall, Laurie Morvan, Hoa Tran, Keith Vescial, Obed Silva, Will Mann, and all my professors for being patient with me when I didn’t understand the material and for helping me build a strong foundation in my education; Dr. Therese Mosqueda-Ponce, Eva Palomares, Ernesto Heredia, and Dr. Deidre Porter for their guidance; the STEM Staff, Yanet Garcia, Rosa Mejia, Lyndsay Madru, Mareena Morrow, Luis Miranda, Anella Aquino, and peer mentors for being my family; Lily Perez, AnnMarie Ruelas, Dee Sato, and Julie Angevine for always being there for me; Nicole Ledesma, for being such a great role model and being the sister I never had; Mal and Kay Bruce, for their scholarships and support; the LRC’s Gonzalo, Ally, Nancy, Dean Treisa Cassens and Veronica for helping me get my first job on campus; the Cypress College maintenance staff, for allowing me to stay late on campus and opening the SEM door for me at 6 a.m. the next day; and last but certainly not least, Dr. JoAnna Shilling and Marc Posner, thank you for allowing me to share my journey.

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

My immediate plan after graduation is to sleep for a week straight! Then, I will go for a hike and spend time with my family and friends. This fall, I will be transferring to one of the best hands-on engineering universities: Cal Poly SLO. I worked tremendously for the last five-and-a-half years to pass all my classes, prerequisites, and recommended courses to be able to attend Cal Poly SLO, which only takes 5% of transfer students. I was in tears when I received my acceptance letter because I never thought I would be accepted to such a prestigious university. Cal Poly SLO’s motto of “Learning by Doing” is what caught my eye because I am a visual learner and learn better by seeing how things work rather than just reading about it. I am most excited to create and design things at their machine shop and for the projects I will be working on.

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

My long-term goals are to get my bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly SLO and master’s degree from UCLA in mechanical engineering. I would love to work in the industry building prosthetics to help people who need arms, legs, and organs. I also aspire to be a STEM counselor for undocumented students because I know first-hand the struggle of pursuing a STEM degree and it is not easy to navigate all the barriers undocumented students face. I want to mentor and provide guidance to students who don’t have representation in the STEM fields.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of graduating from Cypress College despite the obstacles I had to endure to be here. I have faced many challenges on my path to graduation: poverty, no transportation, lack of guidance, my undocumented status, coming from divorced parents, being a first-generation student, starting in the lowest math course, and not having a place to live at times. No matter what, I overcame the barriers placed in front of me. I joined programs, took two-hour bus rides, lived in a van with my mom, survived four years of math courses, studied at Denny’s or Taco Bell late at night, and much more to ensure that I would graduate with honors. I will be receiving an Associate of Science in mathematics, physics, liberal arts in math and science, and pre-engineering. I had to take courses at two different campuses to complete all of the requirements.
Of all these opportunities, the most significant occurred this past August when the president of Cypress College personally invited me to speak at Opening Day. At this event, I shared my story with 400 professors, administrators, board members, directors, and many other educated individuals. My speech was an incredible way to let all the people who have helped me along the way hear what I have accomplished. It was powerful to share the struggles that so many students must overcome to succeed in the academic realm. I received a standing ovation, and I was completely overwhelmed with the love and support I received after my speech. By far, the most rewarding moment was when professors approached me in tears and told me that my story had inspired them to improve themselves as professors. My voice emphasized the obstacles presented to Latinx undocumented students in need of support from faculty and administrators. By sacrificing my identity and taking advantage of that educational opportunity I have made a change for future undocumented students. As a future doctor of mechanical engineering, I will continue to use educational opportunities to break barriers and create positive and alternative pathways for marginalized student populations. I am also humbled to be the Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Science, Engineering, and Math (SEM) Division. It is such an honor to represent my peers at graduation as a future Latina engineer!!

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

Always do what your heart desires, regardless of what other people say or do. Never give up, and fight for your dreams. Get involved!!! Take advantage of every opportunity you can. It will make your college experience more enjoyable and fun. Reach out for help because whatever it is you might be going through, I am sure someone else is also going through that. You are not alone!!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to thank my family, friends, and peers for supporting me through my journey at Cypress. It has not been easy and I know I have missed many important events like family gatherings, weddings, baby showers, and birthdays because I had to study for exams or work on projects, but I appreciate their patience and understanding. There were many times that I felt like giving up but what kept me going was being surrounded by incredible, smart individuals that have the same dreams and goals as me. So, thank you, Nicole Ledesma, Cat Aburto, Amanda Macias, Junnior “Si Se Puede” Rodriguez, Carlos Magallon, Kevin Patel, and Chidi Ewenike, Marlene Vega, and my mother for being with me through my ups and down. Now, on to the next adventure!!

2019 Social Sciences: Sandra Enriquez

Sandra Enriquez was still in high school when she had her first child. As a young mother who, admittedly, did not understand the reality of being a mother, she rebelled and found herself in an “extremely negative environment.” Pulling from her own experiences, Sandra said she is most passionate about helping others overcome obstacles, especially single parents, “because I know how difficult life can sometimes get.”

After years overcoming the difficulties in her life, Sandra has earned three certificates from Cypress College in family studies, addiction studies, and human services generalist. She is graduating with associate of arts degrees in human services and liberal arts with an emphasis in social and behavioral science. She is transferring in the fall to Cal State Fullerton.

“I am a living testimony that regardless of how deep you think you have dug yourself into a hole, you are not buried; you can get yourself out and, most importantly, ‘You deserve it’.”

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?
I grew up in Santa Ana where I lived with my amazing, hardworking parents and three siblings. I became a parent really young, yet still managed to graduate high school. I was a teenager with kids who still didn’t grasp the reality of being a mother. As teens usually do, I rebelled; as I tend to do things, I took it a step further and found myself in an extremely negative environment. It took me many years to overcome that dark time in my life and become the woman, mother, daughter, sister, and friend that I am today.
I have always been interested in music; I am a sucker for good lyrics. I enjoy biopics and a fun workout class.

Why did you choose Cypress College?
I chose Cypress College because I drove by it one day and could not get it out of my head. I went home, Googled it, and was impressed by everything it had to offer.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?
I have been part of the EOPS/CARE program and Human Services Club. Both EOPS and CARE provide extended opportunities to assist students’ success in higher education, the only difference is that CARE is for single parents like myself. In the Human Services Club, we have put together services for the community, but most importantly for the student body that need it: from clothing drives to collecting food for our school Food Bank. Unfortunately, I was not able to be involved in other programs as I would have liked, but I got so much from the ones I did participate in. I was also fortunate in receiving multiple scholarships during my time here.
My path here at Cypress has unfolded semester by semester. I became a student with a goal of attaining a certificate; now I am graduating with honors and have been on the President’s and Dean’s Honor Roll multiple semesters. I also have obtained three certificates: family studies, addiction studies, and human services generalist. I will be receiving an associate degree in human services and another in liberal arts with an emphasis in social and behavioral science. In the fall, I will be transferring to California State University, Fullerton.

What are you most passionate about? Why?
I am most passionate about helping others overcome obstacles, especially single parents, because I know how difficult life can sometimes get. I realize that everyone is at their own pace with different needs; I just want to be able to provide the tools, guides, and support while they get there. I am a living testimony that regardless of how deeply you think you have dug yourself into a hole, you are not buried, you can get yourself out, and, most important, “you deserve it.”

Who are the faculty and staff that have helped you get where you are today?
I have to say that if it wasn’t for my EOPS Counselor Eva Palomares navigating, encouraging, and pushing me to reach for more, I would not be here. As well as all the other wonderful EOPS/CARE counselors and staff – they rock! I can’t tell you how many CARE seminars I attended that provided me with so many resources for everything from education, to mental health, to physical health, and so much more.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?
I am still on the fence of what I want to be, either a licensed therapist/counselor or transition into social work. To be honest, the human services field is so broad that I just know I want to be part of it. Life has prepared me in many ways and education is helping me gain information and acquire new skills to be productive and excel in my career.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?
My long-term goals are establishing my career, paying my parents’ home off, owning my own home. and being able to travel the world.

What are you most proud of?
What I am most proud of is each and every one of my accomplishments and how far I have come. I am a role model to my children and without them this would not be worth it. My road has not been easy, but giving up is not an option. Hope and faith is what drives me, and I am ultimately PROUD of MYSELF!

What one bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?
A bit of advice would be to get involved with the student activities held throughout the semester, to ask questions, and to network. Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, set goals, attain them, and set new goals. It is a process and it can get difficult, but reach out to someone because there are plenty of resources that can help.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks, Cypress College, for this recognition of where I was six years ago to today; this is truly a blessing. Thanks to all my professors who shared their passion for teaching because it motivated me to find the passion in my work, and thank to all staff and faculty members.