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Life isn’t easy for Carlo Lopez. Like many community college students, his family struggles, and money, housing and food are mostly a daily focus. Determined, Carlo fends for himself by relying on hope, ambition and services available, especially the STEM Equity & Success Initiative (SESI).
SESI is a comprehensive, multifaceted program intended to increase the participation and success rates of Hispanic and low-income students in STEM fields and careers. With SESI’s help, Carlo now knows the joy of academic achievement and wants people who are growing up in similar circumstances to know that joy too. His wish is for kids like him to hear what he heard at SCC: the sweet sound of a voice that says, I have your back.
Even when Carlo was just in middle school, he knew he could rely only on himself for a decent life. Nobody was around to expose him to life’s possibilities, so he took it upon himself to discover a world he knew little about. He applied for a library pass and researched jobs that require technology skills. He was looking for an alternative to a life of limited choices.
That library pass opened a world of possibilities. Carlo taught himself to code by poring over free tutorials. His accomplishment had moved him to accept SESI’s help and pursue a college education at SCC despite his life’s brutal reality and an average GPA.
Now, Carlo is a full time student, studying computer science, and looking forward to earning a degree and transferring. He plans on a career of helping people, beginning with those who think college is not for them.
It can be done, Carlo tells those students. There is a way financially, and there is help academically. Follow your dream, think big and go to college.
Ariz Ebrat has an associate degree in nursing, is a registered nurse and a full-time student at Sacramento State. His career path is set and he is well on his way to achieving it. Ariz’s accomplishments are admirable, but what is outright inspiring is how he overcomes his extreme circumstances, follows his inner compass that always points positive, and makes a remarkable journey each day to get through school.
It’s no wonder why Ariz wanted to become a nurse. He’s essentially been one since he was 14. After his family escaped the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and migrated to America as refugees, Ariz and his mother have been trying to make a go of it, despite mom’s disabling poor health, financial difficulty, and little encouragement. In fact, Ariz was his mother’s sole caregiver throughout high school and still is.
Knowing he wanted to advocate for people like his mother, Ariz joined Sacramento City College’s (SCC) Allied Health Learning Community just two weeks after he graduated from high school (the first in his family to do so). While completing prerequisite courses, Ariz balanced his family obligations, studied, scrambled for scholarships, and worked part-time on campus as the lead student ambassador for the health learning program he had joined.
Ariz completed his general education units and attained an associate degree in nutrition and another in biology. And after volunteering at UC Davis Medical Center and observing first-hand his “dream” profession of nursing, he applied and was offered a spot in a collaborative project that helps nurses bridge the transition between SCC and Sacramento State.
Throughout it all, Ariz gives nothing but credit to the professors at SCC whom he says truly care about him and his experience, especially when life almost became too much to bear. They lent a much-needed hand when he needed it most, and were sincere in their interest in his success.
Ariz tells younger students that a college degree is the new high school diploma and so much more. The main purpose of college, he says, is to become educationally well rounded and discover a career path. He also confirms – without hesitation – if he can do it, others can too.
Becky Yang is on a mission. She wants everyone to have access to a dentist and understand the importance of taking care of their teeth. That’s why she went to Sacramento City College and earned an associate degree in Dental Hygiene.
Her hope is to find a job helping her community by offering her newly acquired expertise and find a work family like the circle of friends she counted on at SCC. Community college rescued Becky from heartbreak and gave her the support she needed to pursue her goals. She says her counselors were extremely helpful by encouraging her to persevere, even after two rejections to the dental hygiene program and the unbearable grief of losing her parents during that time.
Becky gives credit to the open-door policy of counselors, where she often went to simply have a good cry. When she was considering college, she knew she didn't want to go far from home. Her parents needed her, and money was certainly an issue. Becky is the oldest of eight children, and she grew up in a home where English is not the primary language and her dad’s earnings were stretched thin. She needed to help them, and she needed extra help at school.
Becky did finally get into the dental hygiene program. Every step of the way, counselors, instructors, the staff, and colleagues supported her through all her difficult circumstances. She says she is so grateful for their empathy and and their offers of a shoulder to lean on while insisting she not fall behind in school. And now Becky is a role model for her seven younger brothers and sisters. She can stand tall and prove to them that if she can overcome all the obstacles she faced while earning her degree at SCC, they can too. It will be special moments for Becky when her siblings, one by one, walk the stage to receive their degrees.
Breece Phipps’ life is on the up side. And for someone whose life has experienced more than its share of downs, his journey is quite remarkable. Breece graduated recently with degrees in mechanical/aerospace engineering, mathematics and interdisciplinary studies. The first-generation college student even plans to someday assist in the advancement of multi-planet exploration. He credits maturity and tenacity for his success, and the new beginning he found at Sacramento City College (SCC).
As a teenager, Breece became a statistic of America’s battle with opioids. Like so many others, his addiction was leading him down a path of self-destruction. Bad decisions led to dropout status at college — and for a while — even incarceration.
Breece now says college is the catalyst to changing the trajectory of his future. And when he looks back at his years at SCC, he realizes that his success came not just from his own persistence to learn, but also from the community he found there. He loved hearing the multitude of languages on campus and learning of the different ethnic backgrounds of his fellow students. He looked forward to getting on campus every day because he knew everybody there was supportive and cheering him on. For Breece, SCC provided the faculty, administration and vast amount of resources he needed to thrive throughout his time there, and he says, it felt like family.
Susana Barraza has a plan. She has specifics and a timeline and she radiates full confidence that it will happen. She wants to gain experience in Washington D.C. (where she interned with the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute), reach the PhD level, return back home and run for public office.
Susana’s plan is especially remarkable because when she graduated from high school (barely), she had no plan at all. She’s the eldest in an income insecure immigrant family, and her parents expected her to work after high school. She entertained the idea of community college only because her best friend was going, so she enrolled at SCC.
Susana’s ambitions changed when she was selected to attend the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities' (HACU) Capitol Forum as a SCC representative. Each spring, SCC students at this forum lobby their elected Congressional representatives hoping to shape and promote future legislation that will benefit all students, particularly those in underserved communities. SCC is the only campus in the region to expose students to these opportunities.
Attending the HACU Capitol Forum changed Susana’s view of what she could dream and even impacted her entire family. Susana understands now that growing up in an immigrant household doesn’t predispose her to the types of jobs her parents have, and she is worthy of the opportunities offered to anyone with an education.
Now that she has her AS in Business Administration from SCC and a degree in economics at Sac State, Susana is giving back at SCC. She is working with the HSI-STEM Equity and Success Initiative Project, a federal grant made available to recognized, Hispanic-serving institutions. Her job now is to support/mentor underserved and low-income students in school by being an advocate for them and an advocate for equity.
Through education, Susana learned that her heard voice can be heard, and she can advocate for herself, her family and her community. Barraza for Congress? Why not?
Anthony Hopkins was six years out of high school and sporting several failed attempts at college. Even dead-end jobs were elusive. He was 24 when he returned once again to Sacramento City College, this time placed on academic probation due to his poor GPA. He knew he needed a confidence boost in his ability to learn.
So, Anthony changed the equation. This time he found “family” support at RISE. RISE (Respect, Integrity, Self-Determination & Education) is an SCC campus organization that welcomes students with a holistic set of support services. The staff and classmates were there for Anthony socially and emotionally, along with study techniques and tactics to adjust his mindset toward academics.
Anthony was and continues to be motivated to solve racial disparities in society. He reengaged with college at SCC because he says he had professors who he felt represented him and truly cared about his success as a man of color. He knew he wanted to study social systems to ponder why Black and Brown people weren't succeeding at the same rate. Anthony chose the field of education where he could make the most impact.
Anthony received his AA in sociology from SCC, a BA in American studies/education at UC Berkeley, and an MA in social studies teaching and curriculum at New York University. And he studied photography along the way too.
After a decade of schooling and working in New York, Anthony has come full circle and returned to RISE, this time as a professional in a paid position. He is grateful to the organization that gave him his start and savors the opportunity to pay it forward by helping students — who he understands to be walking a similar path.
Marianna was a babe in arms when her mother graduated from Sacramento City College’s hygienist program. Decades later, as a mother herself, Marianna returned to school and hit the books 17 years after her last math class. At the beginning, she felt out of place, being surrounded by students that were half her age. But then she figured out that at community college you can customize your experience – if you root for yourself, are clear about your goals, and seek out the people who are willing to advocate for you.
SCC provided Marianna a place to practice and learn to be better. She was able to merge her visual, creative, and leadership skills with a new understanding of the value of relationships. She even went out and established enough of those relationships to get elected as the student body president – then later as student representative to the Board of Trustees.
Marianna knows life can get tough. But she says the professors that truly cared, helped her keep on her trajectory and never lost faith in her – and that’s the true value of community college.