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Mark Rizzo

#123 Mark Rizzo, Class of 2003, Staff
(A.A. Computer Information Systems Instructional Support Asst.)

Following an unsuccessful attempt at college and needing some direction in life, I enlisted in the Air Force. After leaving the military, I came to the Coachella Valley in 1992 and COD was here for me with open doors. Life continued to happen and there were many stops and starts in my educational path before I completed my A.A. degree in Computer Information Systems at COD in 2003. Along my educational journey I discovered that I have an aptitude for computers. Once again the college opened its doors for me and in 2000 I began working at COD as an Instructional Support Assistant in the student computer labs.

Since that time until now, I have worked for a great family of people and have had the benefit of doing what I love to do every day with computers and students. The one thing I hope to do with the remainder of my time as an employee of COD is to give back to the students, faculty and staff what has been given to me.

To find a job that you love to do is one of the greatest gifts in life. I truly love what I do and that is why it is with great ease and profound appreciation that I "Step Up For COD".

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Brandon Robinson

#122 Brandon Robinson
(AA Liberal Arts)

College was a slam-dunk, but my life didn’t start out that way. I’m from a single-parent household. My father was not part of my life. I’d been kicked out of school and in a lot of trouble academic-wise. I had family members who weren’t the best role models, who went in the wrong direction. I could have, too. Instead, I went to church, nailed things down with my studies, got on the basketball team as a power forward and was put on a path that led me to COD.

A lot of people helped along the way; but COD prepared me for life. Today, I’m an investment associate with Martinez & Associates, a company that sells mobile homes and self-storage property across Southern California. Our Ontario firm is small, but thriving: We do $15 million to $20 million in sales a year. Life’s great.

I found COD the summer I graduated from Upland High. A friend at church had gone to Whittier College with Coach Steve McGihon and thought I’d have a shot at getting on the Roadrunners basketball team. At try-outs, coach said he liked my attitude. He told me he’d save a spot on the bench, if I came to school. I lined up financial aid, got set up with a work study job and wore the team jersey with pride.

It’s such a tight-knit school, I never felt lost in the shuffle.

I had really good teachers who gave me a lot of 1:1 time. I relied on COD’s resources, from the computer lab to the math-science tutor center; and graduated with a 3.7 GPA. I even got plugged into a summer internship at Granite Construction. From there, I went to Whittier. I’d been well-prepared, and I excelled. My B.A. in business came with high honors. I was Whittier’s top scholar athlete, won awards in business leadership and was Whittier’s Poet Examplar.

I feel really fortunate that I found COD. I think it gives you a good foundation to go out and be successful in any college you go to.

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#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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