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258 Stories And Counting.

#121 Chris Nelson, Staff
(Coordinator: Academic Skills Center, Basic Skills Initiative, & Learning Communities)

I began my career at COD as an adjunct composition instructor, but I didn’t really get involved until Ed Morante, my boss at the time, dragged me into a planning meeting. “You should get involved in this stuff!” he said, and I did. By that time I was working in the Academic Skills Center, still an adjunct, but I found myself spending more and more time on campus. Eventually I was hired on full time as Coordinator of the ASC, and I joined a bunch of committees.

I did much of this because I believed in the power of planning and because I kept meeting people"faculty, administrators, and staff"who were willing to go the extra mile and do the extra work to improve things for students. I could make a long list of such people, because COD is blessed with many skilled, thoughtful folk who are as committed or more committed than I. Of course, it was not always easy. We disagreed at times, and more than one committee that I served on aimed at making a horse but came up with a camel! But at least some of those camels are still trudging along carrying the load across rough country.

And then there is the ASC"the love of my life!! I am a very lucky manager to work with staff so committed to students, so willing to put in long hours of planning and building, but also so ready to simply greet a student with a smile, and be willing and able to help them. They have all been a blessing to me and to COD students.

I’ve been at COD for about 20 years. I want to thank the students here who taught me about learning and the rest of you who taught me about living and working well. It’s been a pleasure.

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#120 Heather Benes, Staff
(Assistant Professor of English)

“You Can Do This”, a full circle moment for me and COD. My COD Story began when I met Jack Tapleshay, a professor at College of the Desert. He was my Expository Writing Professor at Cal State San Bernardino and my first introduction to the excellence in teaching that exists here at College of the Desert.

He would say that I looked like a scared, drowned rat that first day of class. I was nervous and shaking. He sat down, made eye contact with me, and whispered, “YOU CAN do this.” He gave me my first B in that class, told me that learning was more important than a grade. He took pictures with me in my family’s absence when I received my BA in Literature, and during my Master’s Degree he became my mentor, offering to me my first pile of papers to grade. After I was hired full time to teach English here at College of the Desert, more than anything else, Professor Tapleshay became my friend, one that through much change, has never let me down, which could be another quality I strive to copy and a quality which I find in my students every day.

This year, 2012 is my community college ten-year anniversary. When I began in 2002 as a single mom, I had four kids under five years old. I had little life experience, was estranged from my family, had no job, no home, not even a car of my own. Five years later, I was graduating with my Master’s Degree with Highest honors, had a job at COD waiting, had a home, had a car, and most importantly, I had found hope. Now five years since then, my sister is finishing her AA degree at COD. My Mom is back at school at age 59 discovering her own strengths and goals, and my children are nearing the end of their early education with dreams of Doctorate degrees, world travels, and careers that surpass all I could have imagined possible not so many years ago. But my COD story is even bigger than this.

Part of learning is surviving any curve life offers and making the most of it turning it into a lesson, a moment of power or passion, and giving to others whatever gift you have acquired, even if the gift is as simple as empathy, forgiveness, or support. Last semester, I had a student who taught me what it means to be MORE than a survivor. When asked what secret he held, he told the class that he was dying of kidney failure and would go to school until his moment came. While this is extreme, many of my students have to survive and the idea is not foreign to me. My sister is a disabled vet, broken from an Army accident. I am a disabled vet, fixed and pieced together by Marine Corps magicians. Even my brother was a vet with severe PTSD, and last semester, for however brief, he too became a brand new COD student. Sadly, his battle with PTSD was lost and he ended his life before ever seeing the inside of a classroom. This happened finals week and to say that the world tipped a bit doesn’t come close. At some point, it's not about the grade …it's about what we learn from the experience and for us, my brother’s death cemented our individual goals. My Mom doubled her course load this semester with a new determination to make it. My sister has renewed her focus so that her disability does not determine her success or failure. And as a side-result of my brother’s suicide, my dying student now lives. We did a direct donation of my brother’s kidney to my student and now he, who said he’d be in school until his time was up, is in Jack Tapleshay's English 1B class planning his own graduation and transfer, a different end to his time at COD than he’d imagined.

I hosted my brother’s memorial right down the street from COD and everyone who should have been there was, to include my former student who sat healthy and strong in front of me. On his right sat my Mother and on his left sat my friend, Jack Tapleshay. He was my teacher, my mentor, and to me will always represent the very best that COD has to offer. That day at the memorial was a full circle moment. I was nervous and Jack waited until we made eye contact, then whispered “You can do this.” Just like our first encounter in the classroom so many years ago, this great Professor from College of the Desert believed in me and believed in the students he sat amongst. I thank him for teaching me to always believe not just in myself, but in others, and this is my COD story.

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#119 Scott Cooper, Staff
(Program Coordinator/Counselor)

I have been an educator in the Coachella Valley since 1996 and have seen the impact that College of the Desert has had on the growth and the daily lives of all stakeholders.

When I began working as a part-time counselor for the ACES (Academic Counseling and Education Services) program in 2008, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this team! I currently serve as the Project Director for the East Valley Federal TRIO program and look forward to every day as we assist students in graduating and transferring to four-year institutions. I am proud of the outstanding education our students receive and how successful they are when they transfer.

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#118 Rachael Goldberg, Staff
(SR. Program Specialist)

My first day at College of the Desert in 2011 was a beautiful experience. The students and staff made my first day on the job a delight. I have the luxury to work with amazing students, and to watch them grow and become the new leaders of tomorrow. My career at COD has been both rewarding and challenging. I am happy to call COD my home. Join me and Step Up for COD!

Juan Bautista

#117 Juan Bautista
(Previous Student - Current Chef Sun City Palm Desert)

My 25 plus years of culinary experience along with the education I have received through working with various chefs and peers has developed my style of cooking to be my own. My education at College of the Desert was a huge bonus in the mid 90’s when I received culinary training from Chef Beno. He is awesome.

Chef Beno expanded my vision and opened doors to my creativity as a chef. He taught me that recipes are only guidelines. This opened a plethora of possibilities that drives my creativity in design and preparation today. Presentation is a high priority too. I focus on color, placement, eye appeal, as well as taste.

I started as a dishwasher and prep cook in 1987. From the moment I stepped into the kitchen, I knew that this would become my life and career. The passion I have for cooking is displayed in the food I cook.

Since 1973 my father has been working as a chef in Mexico, San Francisco, Los Angeles and now in our desert. My nephew is following in our footsteps so our cooking expertise seems to run in the family. I am currently the Executive Chef at Sun City Palm Desert providing food for banquets, weddings, restaurants and private parties. It is a very busy lifestyle and one that I love. Thanks to my livelihood, my wife and three adoring children, my life is good!

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