Student and Alumni Voices
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.
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.
Sacramento City College graduate Quynhnhu Nguyen’s collection, “Entropy,” recently won first place at the college Fashion Department’s annual fashion show. She also won in the Most Marketable category at American River College’s fashion show in 2017 with her collection called “Controlled Chaos.” As suggested by the dark, moody, urban style of both collections, Nguyen is intrigued by fluctuations of emotions and how slivers of optimism and hope can be found in the darkest of places. We asked her a few questions about herself and what inspires her.
Tell us about your experience at SCC. When did you start and why?
My experience at SCC started in 1998. My firstborn was three years old and I just received my GED. I didn’t want to be a waitress all of my life so I decided to go to college and do something better with my life. My mom also drilled it into my brain that I had to go to college and I was floating in the sea of academia for a good while before I found out what I truly enjoyed doing.
How did you become interested in Fashion? Did you have any fashion or design experience prior to SCC?
I wasn’t interested in fashion until I took my first sewing class with SCC Professor Lynne Giovannetti back in 2013. I was a Biology major and focusing on taking courses to get into the Nursing program. I couldn’t get into one of my science classes so I decided to take a sewing class. My mother has an AA in Fashion Design from West Valley College and she would make me fix my own clothes and help her sew basic shirts and pants when I was a child but I wanted to learn from the beginning. The course was fun for me, we started out with basic sewing stitches and learned to make potholders, a drawstring bag and an apron or bag. I ended up making two aprons, one was simple and the other one was a reversible one.
How would you describe your general aesthetic?
My general aesthetic is applying the skills I have learned and allowing myself to be creative with my designs from concept idea to the final product. I love to challenge myself with new ideas and playing around with techniques that I have not worked with before. I like classic designs with a play on my own interpretation of current styles.
What is the concept behind your designs that ended up winning the grand prize at the fashion show?
Is there a story to the designs? Where did you draw inspiration? Did you have a goal in mind when conceptualizing these designs?
I express visual story with my collection. I had just won the Most Marketable category with my Controlled Chaos collection from ARC in 2017 and I wanted to showcase the Entropy collection at SCC the following year. Both collections were about an array of emotions that I was experiencing during my journey. The idea was to tell a story of how emotions always fluctuate and that one moment you are feeling all of these negative emotions and the next you are calm and rational. I worked with real leather, lace and textured fabrics. Four pieces were mainly black with hints of white which was my color story of how dark my emotions were with hints of white which represents serenity and hope. The middle garment was a simple A-line dress which was color block with diagonal seams and a square neckline. The bodice was made out of corded lace and the skirt was a black and white woven wool textile. The white was more pronounced and evoked innocence. The Entropy collection focuses on the strong sensual female. My goal is to have my client feel empowered and beautiful when they wear my designs.
Do you remember the first thing you designed?
The first thing I designed was a tote bag. I created a basic pattern by analyzing the paper bags at the grocery store and drafted a paper pattern to use as my template. I’ve come a long way from that project.
You graduated in the spring. How did that feel? What did it mean for you?
It felt awesome. It took me over twenty years off and on being in college. I was thrilled to be sitting with the graduating class of 2019 along with my peers. It was a difficult journey struggling to finish college with the demands of life. I say, “Better later than never.” Graduating from the Los Rios Community College District meant that I had the power to showcase my skills and creativity because I was tenacious with my studies and I discovered that I also loved to teach other students who wanted to experience what the Fashion Programs had to offer.
When you think of your future, what do you see yourself doing next year? Five years from now? 10 years from now?
I plan to teach in the future. I have been a teacher’s assistant for three years and I plan on applying for an Instructional Assistant job and gain more experience. After that, I would love to get accepted into the Faculty Diversity Internship Program and become an adjunct professor at LRCCD. I have met so many wonderful people along my journey and I plan on networking and reaching out to explore the fashion industry, the art industry and our community. I’ve been working on a community project with the fashion club called Hopefull Totefull where we would make tote bags for first time chemotherapy patients from Sutter Memorial Hospital. We have donated over one hundred totes so far so I would love to have a chance to expand on that project.
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?
Sheku Baryoh was 11 years old when he made a promise to himself. After seeing the horrible toll that civil war had on his home country of Sierra Leone and watching a childhood friend die, he promised his family and himself that he would do whatever it took to escape the horrible violence and make a better life.
He ended up in the Netherlands at age 16 where he attended university and became a registered nurse. But opportunities for employment were still limited.
To fulfill his promise, he knew he would need to do what millions of others have done. He immigrated to America.
Even though he had to start over, he felt that getting an American education was his ticket to a better life. He chose Sacramento City College because of the rich diversity it offers and the quality education he could receive tuition-free through the Los Rios Promise. Thanks to the extension of the California Promise grant, his second year is also tuition-free and he will be able to move on to a four-year university without the burden of student loan debt.
Tuition is just the first hurdle though. Just one textbook for one of Sheku's three summer school classes was $120 – and that’s just school supplies. He also must cover costs of living and caring for his young family, including 19 month old daughter Eileithyia.
He’s heard countless stories from students who go to school full-time and work full-time, but are barely making it, including Ene, who was homeless and living in her car so she could save money to attend school. He does his best to connect students with resources at the college to help them survive, and every bit of financial help makes a difference to students.
That’s why he is so excited about a new opportunity to help students, the Los Rios Promise Scholarship. This scholarship provides $500 to new students who are attending American River College, Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College, or Sacramento City College, take a minimum of 15 units each semester and have the most unmet financial need. In fall 2019, 120 students received this scholarship to help remove financial barriers like the cost of textbooks, transportation and school supplies.
Sheku's education from SCC is going to help him join the workforce, share in the American Dream, and finally fulfill his promise.
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.
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.
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.
SCC English Professor Alexandria White, who also works with Umoja students, has received the Unsung Hero Award from the California Legislative Black Caucus.
Alex moved to Sacramento from Oakland 2 1/2 years ago to buy a home for and raise her family. We asked her to talk about the work she is doing that is receiving recognition in the community.
Are you from the Sacramento area?
I am originally from the Bay Area, specifically from Oakland. I attended San Francisco State University as an undergraduate where I studied abroad to the United Kingdom and earned a B.A. in Creative Writing/English. I later attended UCSC for an M.A. in Literature. I focused on postcolonial literature and literature of the African diaspora.
What drew you to Sacramento City College to teach?
I moved to the Oak Park area from Oakland two & half years ago to buy an affordable home for my family. Our house in Oakland was being sold and I was pregnant again (we had a son who was 3 at the time), so we had to make a tough decision about where to move. I had been adjuncting at 3 Bay Area schools up until that point, but I knew that could not sustain that level of work with a toddler, new born and the possibility of our rent being doubled or tripled due to crazy Bay Area rental prices. We decided to leave the Bay Area as renters and move to the State Capitol as homeowners. When we got to Sacramento I did not work because my baby was literally two days old and I planned on staying home with her for at least a year to breastfeed and bond with her. I had my mind and heart set on SCC as soon as I knew we were planning on moving here; and it just so turned out that our new house was literally 2 miles away!!!
Can you tell us more about your work in the Oak Park community? When you started?
Since I was new to the area and a new homeowner who didn’t know anyone in Sacramento, I started attending neighborhood association meetings where I quickly became involved in community engagement and neighborhood improvement projects (2016).
I helped to organize a park party at our neighborhood park; then later our neighborhood was selected to receive a $90,000 grant from Kaiser to update and beautify the park. The caveat was that someone from the neighborhood had to be involved in all aspects of the project: 1.) weekly planning calls with South Gate Parks & Rec, Kaiser (fiscal sponsor) & Kaboom (the non profit playground specialists); 2) canvassing the community to participate in the design day; 3) volunteering to actually help build the play structure; 4) regularly organizing activities, park clean ups & events at the park to help maintain and take care of the park.
We are currently installing a beautiful mural at the park and we are planning for our annual park party which has evolved into a 3-on-3 basketball tournament with free food and prizes to the community members who attend.
What inspires you about your work in the community?
I love interacting with others and learning more about people’s stories. I needed a community for myself and my family for my own sense of wellbeing. Additionally, I hate accepting society’s ills and I feel obligated to be the change I want to see in the world. I want to set a good example for my children and my students about civic engagement and feeling empowered to transform themselves and their communities. Many people of color are living in communities with a history of redlining, neglect and disinvestment–I feel personally obligated to address those historical inequities in the best way I can. Working with a neighborhood association and a group of likeminded people is much more impactful than working as an individual.
Sacramento City College English Professor Carrie Marks always felt drawn to education, but figured she would pursue her passion outside of the classroom. All it took was teaching her first class for Carrie to decide that the classroom was truly where she wanted to be, but the desire to help students from a policy-oriented role never faded away.
Carrie got her opportunity and brought a seismic shift to the SCC English Department in 2015 by championing and helping implement the first co-requisite class for the English composition class needed to graduate and the pre-requisite English class that many students need.
One of the barriers to graduation for students across the state is meeting the English and Math requirements, but through the English co-requisite classes SCC has seen an increase in success and retention among co-requisite students. The improvements in success and retention are most noticeable among some of our disproportionately impacted students.
The first semester, Carrie taught the co-requisite class for a cohort of Umoja learning community students. After a successful first class, the English Department has steadily increased the number of co-requisite classes available. The ENGWR 300 and 108 co-requisite is now a regularly offered path for students to get the support they need to complete ENGWR 300 - College Composition.
Jesus Limón Guzman recalls a future without promise. At eight years old, he and his family crossed the border into the U.S. That passage began a life of constant fear and uncertainty – uneasiness that all they had, anything they earned or worked toward or built, could vanish in an instant.
“When I was in high school, I had this awareness that we were undocumented,” says Limón Guzman. “There was no pressure – or hope – of going to college, because even if I went to college it wasn’t promised that it would lead to a career.”
He believed that if he were lucky, he would make a decent living as a custodian, pressure washing and cleaning parking lots. Anything more was out of reach – not meant for people like him. This was the understanding shared by all undocumented immigrants.
Yet perhaps there was a seed of hope for something more, because Limón Guzman did apply to college. He tried Sacramento State first, but was told he would have to pay out-of-state tuition, which he could not afford.
“That’s when I went to Sac City, and that’s when everything changed,” he says.
From the moment he stepped onto the tree-lined campus of Sacramento City College, everywhere he looked, he saw people like him – people from his neighborhood, who dressed like him and talked like him, people with brown skin, who struggled, who had family obligations and juggled multiple jobs while attending school. He saw himself in his classmates, but most incredibly, also in his instructors and counselors. His idea of success and what was possible began to shift.
He says that when he met counselors Juan la Chica and Keith Muraki, he couldn’t believe his eyes and ears. Here were two people who, as professional educators, commanded respect and embodied success. They were confident and intelligent, approachable and familiar. They ate at the same South Sacramento restaurants as Limón Guzman and his friends and family. They understood where he was coming from.
“I never experienced that before. I never experienced those two worlds meshing,” Limón Guzman says. “I hadn’t met someone that could articulate some of the struggles I was going through in an intellectual fashion.”
It pushed the boundaries of Limón Guzman’s reality. He started to see that he could do more, even within the limitations of his employment options as an undocumented immigrant.
He began volunteering. Education became important to him, so he poured his energy into developing after-school literacy and tutoring programs for local youth. If he couldn’t have a professional career in education, he figured, he could still use his own education to give something back to his community: “It gave me a sense of purpose. I could contribute.”
But it wasn’t until the Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that Limón Guzman’s world truly opened up. He applied for a work permit and was hired as a tutor at SCC’s Writing Center. Meanwhile, he continued volunteering and earned his master’s degree in English Literature from Sacramento State.
He began teaching part-time at SCC and American River College. He was hired as a lecturer at Sacramento State and continued to apply and interview for full-time positions. Then, he received the news that he had been selected from a competitive pool to teach English as a tenure-track professor at SCC.
Never had he imagined that any of this could happen for him. Now as a professor, he has one goal – to provide a space for his students to learn about themselves and gain the confidence, skills and perspective that they need to change their own narratives.
“I would like for my students to experience a reflection of themselves in my class,” he says. “Education is empowerment. Education has allowed me to come back to my community with a genuine purpose.”
Rose Shoen cannot stop encouraging those around her to consider going to community college, specifically any of the colleges within the Los Rios Community College District.
"I've been a soccer coach for 12 years," Shoen says. "And I always recommend the Los Rios district for the student athletes I work with, just because I think it's a very streamlined process. I think academically it's very structured, very clear what you'll need to transfer."
Shoen's own experience with the schools was primarily with Sacramento City College, earning an Associate Degree in Economics. Although she attended 7 different colleges, Sac City was the one where she found she had the best experience.
One of the experiences she particularly values was the Hispanic Association of College Universities (HACU) conference in Washington, DC, which she attended under Professor Sandra Camarena. The conference was a chance for Shoen to spread her wings, and learn to promote herself as a businesswoman as well as refine her academic skills.
All throughout college Shoen worked while taking classes, and she found that classes at Sac City were designed for working adults.
For example, the classes are affordable, parking passes for students are valid at all four colleges in the district, tons of scholarships are available, and classes are taught by a professor rather than a teaching assistant.
When Shoen discusses college options for her student athletes, she always highly recommends Los Rios colleges. With smaller class sizes and a myriad of resources for students, Shoen believes that the opportunities at Sac City set the foundation for her success.
"I think for a lot of people, they look at community college – especially if they come from a family where education is prioritized – and they're like, 'Oh, community college, whatever,'" Shoen says. "To be honest, I just had my son – he's 7 weeks old – I just told my husband, I really want him to consider community college when he's older."