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At Cosumnes River College, the MESA program provides math, engineering, and science academic development to underrepresented community college students. The goal is to help them excel academically and transfer to four-year institutions as science, engineering, and math majors. This support is crucial in helping students from low-performing high schools reach their academic potential and become technical professionals.
Thanks to generous donors, the MESA Program received a mini-grant from the Los Rios Colleges Foundation to help them attend the Student Leadership Retreat (SLR). The SLR is chance for community college students to interact, network, and build leadership skills with other MESA students. This leadership and skill-building conference features hands-on STEM sessions, including chemistry study, engineering design, and coding.
CRC student Jun Li says, "The MESA Student Leadership Retreat provided us a platform to expand our network beyond just our own community. I befriended students all over California. We collaborated to solve problems and learned about interesting subjects that we would otherwise not be able to learn. But most importantly, my fellow MESA members shared stories that resonated with my experience and motivated me to be a better leader."
Evelina Rybin is one of the lucky ones. Even in high school, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Evelina was going to go to American River College (ARC) and become a paramedic. She knew but didn’t care that college was going to be hard – but what she didn’t anticipate was a predisposition against community colleges coming from (of all people) a high school teacher, and a bias against her career choice harbored by her family and friends.
Yet, Evelina persevered. She enrolled at ARC after finishing high school and went to work on her prerequisite courses. But one of the preconditions for the ARC paramedicine program is a year of first-responder field experience as an emergency medical technician. Undeterred, Evelina found an EMT internship class that sent her to a few Cosumnes Fire Department stations. At the fire stations, Evelyn learned all about a fire internship offered at Los Rios’ Cosumnes River College. She took a fire technology class and was hooked!
Evelina is planning to graduate with an associate degree in paramedicine, one in fire technology, and another one in foreign language studies. She hopes to get hired at a local fire department, and she wants to pursue a bachelor's degree in fire science; maybe even a master's. While fighting fires, Evelina envisions teaching fire tech for the Los Rios Community College District, a place where she found shared passion, friendship, and a place to belong.
The doubters in Evelina’s life who disapproved of her choices have come around to accept Evelina’s determination to follow her passion, and are even proud of her accomplishments. And to the high school teacher who snubbed community college? Tell your students there are options for everyone at Los Rios, so they should enroll in classes, find an interest, and follow their hearts – Just like Evelina did.
CRC and Honors Program alumnus, Chris Adams, is a true community leader. He runs an educational non-profit. He is a civil rights activist, serving as Sacramento Chapter Leader for the People's Alliance for Justice. He provided community support surrounding the Stephon Clark case. He helped get AB392 (The California Act to Save Lives) signed and was present at the bill's signing.
Having graduated from CRC in Spring 2019, Adams, now living in West LA, is pursuing his Bachelor's degree in sociology at UCLA, where he continues his devotion to political activism and community service. Adams is also extremely passionate about football. He began college after finding out that the career in collegiate football he envisioned for himself at the time would require a foundation in his own college education. As he explains, "I came into wanting to football coach and just needed my BA for that. Earning my degree in sociology is really going to help with any of my future goals."
One thing Adams has learned from his work in advocacy is how to work with a variety of people. Given his experience with many diverse community groups in Northern California during his time at CRC and now with the people in his growing community in LA, Adams says he's been able to figure out how different groups of people work with each other. He describes his recent education in and outside of the classroom in terms of "Learning a lot about how to interact with people. Getting a degree will help me if I want to get into law school, getting a BA will help me do the things I want to do with education and employment beyond where I am today."
Growing up, Adams claims he was never good at school, "I said I couldn't do it," Adams explains, commenting on his self-doubts. "I never thought that I would be an honors student. But then, I did really well for two semesters and got invited to join honors – I think you get a note that you're eligible. And so it was ironic, because just as I was saying I couldn't do it [...] I got the notice. So, when I was finally invited to honors, I was scared initially. I was scared to challenge myself – I thought if I took honors, my GPA would drop and I wouldn't get into the universities." But Adams' successful transfer to UCLA underscores how the CRC Honors Program opened doors for him and increased his self-confidence.
Reflecting on his experience in Honors, Adams notes "The CRC Honors program is really like a close community – everybody kind of knows each other, you'll end up sharing a lot of the same classes. Honors is not a requirement – [program participation is elective], so everyone has chosen to be there – they want to challenge themselves. As Adams explains, "Most of these people wanted to go to university and many of them end up going to those universities. The honors community as a whole [has] bigger goals outside of their immediate experience. It's a like-minded group – they all understand there is a lot of work, but we all try to help each other. We are to share openly with one another without fear of judgment and to help one another. We know it's going to be hard, so we're all sharing this experience and want to be there for one another. If we saw someone struggling we had others there to make sure we [are] okay, to check in on each other." Reflecting more broadly on the program, Adams notes the level of educational support Honors provides: "They are able to prepare you for any university."
While Adams currently getting himself established in LA, Adams notes,"Keeping active in Sacramento is still important to me." His focus is on continuing to grow his network of strong mentors. "I've been meeting a lot of professionals who've studied law and are able to give me a lot more information. Making a bigger impact on the community as a whole is my immediate plan for the future."
Adams already runs a non-profit called Game Changer. "It's supposed to be able to train people with life skills including how to interview, etiquette, study habits, ways to network. Eventually, I'd like to turn it into a general education preparation school that offers counseling and other resources. There's a grant coming up I am applying for to see what little steps I can start to take to make it bigger than it already is." When asked how his time in the CRC Honors program has contributed to his success, he replied "I just really got a great experience. I got to understand that if you do the work and challenge yourself and ask for help...asking for help is the main thing. Just put in the work – you can do anything you set your mind to."
Alumni Michael Casper found a community at CRC that helped him springboard to success as co-founder and chief operations officer of Improve Your Tomorrow, an organization that focuses primarily on helping young men of color attend and graduate college.
Looking back, Casper sees how attending CRC laid the groundwork for him to get to where he is today.
"What community college did for me was to create a level of confidence and it gave me a sense of belonging," he says. "Through having some autonomy and being able to pick my schedule, what I learned was that I actually enjoyed college a lot more than I expected."
Casper attended Valley High School, only a quarter of a mile down the road, so CRC was a familiar setting that created a great deal of comfort.
At CRC, he was able to take ownership of his education and use the resources provided to do well within his courses. He found the small class sizes allowed for more support and guidance within courses.
"Academics didn't always come extremely easy for me, but I was a student who was willing to work hard," Casper says. "I think CRC did a good job with making me familiar with some of the resources that were on campus."
He came to discover more and more benefits to attending CRC as time went on. He found a well-rounded community, with supportive staff, financial aid, and the ability to stay at home and take online classes.
Casper recalls a number of defining moments while at CRC that helped him build self-esteem and a sense of belonging. This helped him as he transferred to Sacramento State and continued on afterward with his professional career.
To future and current community college students, Casper advises using the many resources available at CRC and staying focused on your path to transfer.
1. How did you choose CRC?
I graduated from CRC with my Associates of Science in May 2014.
I began attending CRC in spring of 2011 knowing that there was a lot I wanted to achieve. Professionally, I didn’t have very much going for me, and I needed to change that.
I always had a love for computers, particularly information security, so I began by taking some general requirement classes as well as some CIS classes to get myself back into education.
My major was Computer Information Systems Security, in which I attained my Associates of Science. It was always something I had a huge passion for, and with the growing field of Information Security/Cybersecurity being needed by nearly any organization conducting business over the internet, it was also a lucrative degree in which to invest my time.
2. In what ways are instructor(s) at CRC different?
When I was taking my CISS 310 class, I chose to go with the hybrid course, which was more of an online class than on-grounds. I was surprised by the abundance of engagement the professor of this course, Lance Parks, had with the students (including myself). He was always there to answer questions about topics or concepts, and always made sure to follow-up with me so that I understood them.
There were times where I would meet with him during office hours to discuss things that didn’t make sense to me, and every time I would walk away having a much better understanding. Even after I completed CISS 310, I would continue to take my other required CIS classes with him. Over the years, he has become my mentor while navigating my educational and professional career.
Since then, we have become good friends and communicate often. It is this level of commitment professors of CRC and the Los Rios Community College District possess regarding the success of their students.
3. Were there any surprises/struggles along the way, and what did you learn from them?
At one point, I began getting frustrated with the educational path I was on to the point that I made the decision to stop attending college and focus on gaining professional experience.
This is something that I still struggle with, but I have learned that continuing your education leads to pathways previously unknown. There have been topics and areas of study that have fascinated me and led me to pursue more knowledge about them. I’ve never shut the door to education, because there is still so much that I do not know. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. That has been my take-away with regard to higher education.
CRC's Honors program's alumna and Sacramento native, Sarah (Hutter) Wilterson is a graduate student at Princeton University, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and neuroscience scheduled to defend her dissertation in 2021, embodying the spirit of inquiry she acquired while at CRC.
As Wilterson explains, “For me, CRC was so many things. I started taking my first classes on campus when I was about 14—homeschooled growing up, I was able to start enriching my education through courses like math by the time I was in high school. After this initial introduction to community college, I graduated [high school] and enrolled as a fulltime student at CRC studying in equine science, believe it or not. I originally intended to spend my life working with horses.”
Wilterson marvels at her transformation from a teenager pursuing supplemental advanced general education, to pursuing an associate’s degree in equine science, to her current passionate work as a psychology doctoral candidate at Princeton. This evolution, she says, was made possible largely by the flexibility and support she enjoyed as a student at CRC. When asked why she initially elected to explore Psychology, she answers:
“No great philosophical reason— I just wanted to take one of the courses. I ended up talking to a lot of people. My time in the honors program offered a group of dedicated mentors. Finding people who will support you is important. Really important. The Honors Program is a great way to meet mentors who can help as you move through college and beyond.” Looking back on her CRC experience as a whole, Wilterson adds, “Being involved in such a diverse range of programs over the course of so many stages of my academic and professional career, I truly feel I got the ‘full experience’ at CRC.”
Reflecting on some of the differences between life at Princeton and while at CRC, Wilterson notes that the CRC Honors Program’s, “Small classes, and material that professors are genuinely excited about, are great for exploring topics in the way that the experts wish you could.” In comparing her time at Princeton and CRC, she says “The experience is a bit like the difference between swimming laps and a water park: sure you enjoy swimming, but the water park is special.”
Speaking of the connection between her academic past and present, Wilterson says:
“We've just started our fall semester [at Princeton] and every new group of students makes me think of [CRC Honors Program faculty member Dr. Rick Schubert] as I strive to pass on the gift that [he] gave me. I teach a Research Methods Lab, and my favorite phrase this year is, ‘But why—who cares?’ The students seem to respond well to the challenge of that question.”
Still connecting on a regular basis with the academic orientation she developed while at CRC, Wilterson reaches back to concepts from her time at CRC to connect to her students at Princeton today—carrying forward the spirit of critical inquiry she internalized as a student in CRC’s Honors Program.
Schubert explains that there is a question he asked of Wilterson and her fellow students on a weekly basis in the Honors seminar she took with him while at CRC and still asks of his Honors students today. After requesting a summary of the reading and receiving a ready answer from his seminar students, he always follows up with “But why—who cares?"
His question is an invitation to Honors Program students to go beyond a surface understanding of the reading to a critical engagement with the material that leads students to do their own original work alongside the author of the material. The Honors Program at CRC invites students to think beyond the surface what to the why, transforming students from passive consumers of academic information to actively productive scholars in their own right.
Schubert explains how excited he is to see the impact this approach has on the academic progress and growth of students like Wilterson:
“I’m deeply gratified to know that Sarah is still carrying forward, and sharing with her own
students at Princeton, the spirit of critical inquiry that she acquired as a student in CRC’s Honors Program. That spirit is central to what our Honors Program is all about.”
He emphasizes that all interested CRC students are invited to apply to the Honors Program, which offers not only enhanced IGETC-satisfying General Education courses, but an array of co-curricular opportunities and support services. Honors students have the chance to attend and even to present at academic conferences and symposia, to participate in special field trips and social events, and to receive support from the program’s counseling and academic advising services.
Explaining how CRC acted as a vehicle for change for her and what she continues to gain as a CRC Honors alum, Wilterson says:
“CRC is a continued source of support and guidance. I only ever took one actual Psych class, during my time at Cosumnes, but I got the full experience. I got to talk to a lot of people I might not have met otherwise. I asked questions. Professors took the time to explain to me what each career path could look like. That made the biggest impact--to have people sit down and actually talk with me and together we outlined what I want my career path to look like.”
Wilterson is proud to count herself a member of the CRC family who continues to actively benefit from her robust educational experience at CRC and who continues to grow professionally with the support of her mentors at CRC.
What has been the key motivating factor or factors in your life to pursue your goal(s)?
I wanted financial independence and to have a career that will last me the rest of my life. I also wanted a career that was challenging and that I would be making a difference in the world. Wierzbicki says he’s inspired by, “All of the anonymous people who push through adversities because they don't allow any obstacles to write their life stories.”
How do you think CRC prepared you for your future?
My major was Information Systems Assurance. I was attracted to the cybersecurity aspect of computer science because of political events happening all around the world centered around information warfare and cyber-crime. The various courses offered allowed me to test the waters of what interested me. I was able to pinpoint which direction I wanted to take in my new career.
Cosumnes River College classes were affordable. The staff seemed to enjoy their jobs and take their students seriously. I always felt safe on campus.
What advice do you have for students and future students?
I graduated from University of San Francisco in 2005 with a BA in Media Studies. After graduating, I worked in commercial real estate and insurance for ten years. I decided to go back to school to explore my passion of computer science and technology.
It is never too late to change your career path. I went back to school and started my new career in my mid-thirties.