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Dennis Kurtz

#131 Dennis Kurtz, Class of 1992
(Culinary)

I’m known for my prime rib. As head chef at Route 20 Bar & Grill in Freeport, IL, I’d say it was COD’s culinary program that taught me how to prepare a dish that stands out from the rest. I went to COD for two years after I graduated from Palm Springs High in 1988. I took my first culinary class after working with actor George Hamilton, opening the restaurant he owned in Indian Wells. I always wanted to someday open my own place, so I needed a good background in the back of the house.

The chef who was our instructor was so interesting. With so much passion, he forced the creativity out of me. There were 20 to 25 people in the class working on the same things, so you wanted to try to separate yourself and be different.

When I moved back to the Midwest in 1999, I did open up my own restaurant and ran it for few years. In 2008, I came to Route 20 to work with a crew in the restaurant that doubles as a supper club on the weekends. Now it’s my turn to inspire.

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Digna Diaz

#130 Digna Diaz, Student
(Business Admin)

People say I’m a pro at juggling a busy schedule. As a College of the Desert student with six kids and a part-time bookkeeping job at Temple Sinai, you could say my plate’s always full. Thanks to COD, I am one step closer to living my dream for a better life for myself and my family.

I’m set to graduate in December with an A.A. degree, and just landed a $1,800 scholarship from the Soroptimist Club to attend a four-year university. I plan to earn a Bachelor’s in business administration and work with special needs children.

At 38, I can relate. I’ve built a life with odds stacked against me. I married at 18, survived a horrific car accident and an abusive marriage. When I packed my bags and kids to leave that life, I landed a customer service job at Southern California Gas Co. Slowly but surely, I climbed the ladder with different companies, and became a general manager of a family entertainment center.

Life was good; and I was able to provide for my family as a single mom without financial support until the economy soured. In 2009, I lost my job and scrambled to find work in a tight market. Time and time again, I was told I was overqualified. Or, I lacked a formal education. On top of that, my youngest daughter, Sayuri, was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. I cried, not for the diagnosis, but for the fear I might not be around one day to protect her. I had to find a way. It was COD. Now, Sayuri is in preschool and doing great. My kids see I’m practicing what I preach: “Go to College.” For my part, I know what I am studying means I can be right alongside them, every step of the way.

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Nicole Van Dyke

#129 Nicole Van Dyke, Transfer to CSU

The headline streamed across the top of the Stanford University photo as its Division 1 women’s soccer team raised the gold trophy said it all: “National Champs!”

As an assistant coach, clinching a 25-0-1 season with a 2011 National Championship title was a very special moment in my coaching career and something I was privileged to be a part of. All doors open different opportunities, and College of the Desert accomplished that for me.

Had I not gone to COD, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

The year I spent at COD playing soccer and attending school was fundamental in my future as a student, player, and now, as a coach.

My true passion was soccer, and I had hoped to play at a four-year institution. Due to limited exposure to recruiters at the high school level, the dream did not come to fruition right away.

It was at College of the Desert, where things started to fall into place. I continued to develop and gain confidence as a soccer player. Outside of the accolades of MVP and (season) career record of 26 goals, it was fun and exciting to be part of COD’s inaugural soccer team.

After my year at COD, I was recruited by several four-year universities and awarded with a full scholarship to California State University, Bakersfield. At CSUB, I was the leading goal scorer and still hold the record: “Most Goals in a Single Season, 17.”

After graduating, I played professional soccer in Sweden, received my master’s degree in education, been an assistant and head coach at both my alma mater and California State University, Stanislaus, and am now the assistant coach at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

I’m grateful to COD, and whole-heartedly believe my year there opened up wonderful opportunities. I would have gone on to school and graduated, but it was College of the Desert that kept me connected to a sport I’m passionate about, one that helped me excel on a personal and professional level.

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Lee  Weigel

#128 Lee Weigel, Class of 1974

Attending COD helped round out my life after military service, start my new career and move forward in life.

I had just gotten out of the Navy, after completing three tours to Vietnam, when I came back home to Palm Springs, and joined the Police Department. In those days, you didn’t go to an Academy right away. They gave you a badge and a gun, and said, “Congratulations, you’re a policeman. Go, do your work.”

I could have easily done that. But there was this learning curve; and I felt like I was missing out on a lot. I wanted to continue my education, so COD was the logical place to go.

I’m happy to say my first college experience was at COD. I took College of the Desert’s police science classes, and graduated with an A.A. in 1974. From there, I went to the Police Academy; and it was all invaluable. I studied criminal and constitutional law, evidence collection and all those things to gain the knowledge to do a good job and advance. I moved up the ranks and I obtained my BA in Business Management. I had the privilege of serving Palm Springs as Chief-of-Police from 1997 to 2002. I also served on the Palm Springs City Council from 2007 to 2011. I have been a consultant and interim Police Chief in Desert Hot Springs and Banning.

College of the Desert inspired me to do more. Today, I am an executive for an international security firm. My wife, Marie, and I are experiencing life with two young, school-aged boys, Chris, 8, and Alec, 10. Learning never ends!

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Kippy Laflame

#127 Kippy Laflame
(Executive Assistant COD Foundation)

From Community College graduate to COD Foundation staff member.

In my second year of University my mother became very ill. Dad asked me, as the eldest, to come home and take care of my mother and seven siblings. After two years of nursing and motherhood the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school, so I didn’t, something I regretted for years. I moved away, went into sales and marketing and eventually got married.

When my husband was transferred to the U.S., I took the opportunity to go back to school and get my degree. I enrolled as a full-time, Business Administration, 36 year old student at Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, MI and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

Apart from getting married, it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I became an Accounting Tutor as well as a Peer Tutor for an ESL Creative Writing classes. After my experience in the Community College system my self-esteem soared. I’ve just completed my first year as a staff member with the COD Foundation. I am thrilled that everyday my work helps students achieve their dreams too.

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