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Jason  Powell

#133 Jason Powell, Class of 2004
(AA Culinary Management)

As a child growing up in the desert, I had my share of difficulties; as many kids did. I grew up in a broken home consisting of my mother, a step father, and three half sisters. It was a hard life, but we all "made do" with what had been given to us. The weeks leading into my high school graduation were difficult as my father left the house just before the death of my mother. These events left my three siblings and I orphaned and seeking direction. Seeing that I had been raising my sisters pretty much their whole lives, I decided to fight for full guardianship. The courts ruled in my favor with many stipulations; one of which was to attend college.

I quickly enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at COD where I remained until I had fulfilled the requirements for an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Management. During my second year at COD, a performance by the COD percussion ensemble sparked a fire in me, causing me to pursue an Associates in Music at COD following receipt of my Culinary Degree. I have continued on to receive both a Bachelor's and Masters Degree, and am now working towards my Doctorate. I would never have had the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees if not for the educational beginning I received at COD.

As the proud Director of Strings at Palm Springs High School I am able to share my love of music with over 200 students each year while also serving as the Conductor of the Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony and the Strings Instructor for the Hi-Desert Cultural Center in Joshua Tree. As part of my efforts to give back to COD and the community, I perform as a percussionist for the Coachella Valley Symphony, a violinist for the Joshua Tree Phil Harmonic, and a guitarist at Our Savior's Church. My sisters have also gone on to do great things in their lives. One has graduated college, one is currently enrolled at COD, and the third is in high school working hard on her own education.

While life is not always easy, I know firsthand that it is your choice to determine the outcome. If you look at a person for what they are, that is what they will remain. But if you look at a person for what they could be, that is what they will become. I will always be grateful to College of the Desert for opening the door to a life of possibilities.

Jason Powell, M.Mus., BME., Doctoral Candidate. Director of Strings PSHS, Conductor-Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony

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Anthony Mariano

#132 Anthony Mariano, Student
(A.A. business management)

I’ve sailed the open seas, and been to more than 25 countries. I served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years; joined right out of high school. I was a welder-firefighter and maintenance technician on three ships, retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer before COD became my port-of-call.

Thanks to my GI benefits, my U.S. Navy retirement pay and my wife's career as an operating room nurse, we have been able to support our family as I reconstruct my civilian life to suit the business world. I never thought I’d ever go to college. But once I got to COD, I was a changed man.

At 44, I wasn’t your typical student. I bulked up on credits, swapped math stories with my two sons, and later tutored students in math and accounting. I got my share of A’s, but it’s not that I’m smarter than anyone else. For me, it’s just what I learned in the service: Stay until it’s done, and if you’re going to do it, do it right. For me, that calculates out at 100 percent.

After graduation, I plan to attend Brandman University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business management. For now, I’ll wear my veteran’s cord with pride. I look at it as a way to show other veterans that COD has a place for them when they come back. I look at it like a higher rank.

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Dennis Kurtz

#131 Dennis Kurtz, Class of 1992

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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