During my freshman year of high school I decided to drop out of school and look for a job. I always regretted my decision but didn't feel I had what it took to go back and secure an education. In my 30's I decided to give it a try and walked onto the College of the Desert campus. I was scared and nervous, to say the least. However, I quickly saw that I had tremendous support from all the staff and within a very short period of time I secured a GED and within two years I was walking across the stage to receive an AA in English.
From COD I transferred to UCR and secured a BA in English and shortly thereafter I secured an MA in Psychology. Currently, I am working towards a PhD in Clinical Psychology. I can honestly say that everything I needed to learn in order to succeed I learned at COD. I will forever be grateful to College of the Desert and for the support of every staff member that believed in me when I doubted myself.
After high school, I wasn't really qualified to get into any colleges so I decided to join the Army and put in 4 years. Upon completion of my service, I was ready to give education another try and see what would come of it. Not knowing what I wanted to major in, I took a variety of courses and, with the help of Donni Prince at the BIGHORN Golf Club Charities Veterans Resource Center, I got into the class that changed my life. I took English 1A with Professor Tapleshay and my love for literature and English was born. After a few years of ups and downs, I graduated from College of the Desert and will be completing my education in Montana. Thanks to COD, my love and passion was brought out in the form of literature and writing.
It may not be always be a direct pathway or an easy journey, but Army veteran and College of the Desert automotive student Zackariah Wendler knows that dreams can become reality. As a child, Zac dreamed of joining the military and working in Special Forces. Yet, following graduation from high school, he found himself drifting. For years he moved from place to place, working small jobs before ending up back home as a laborer. He found that he liked construction and working with his hands to accomplish a project. When the owner of the construction company for which he worked died suddenly, Zac was faced with a life decision. His thoughts returned to the military and his dream of Special Forces. He sold everything he owned, moved in with his father and began processing to join the Army. Zac settled into military life and started training to apply for Special Forces. But in 2009, while stationed in Korea, multiple injuries forced him to transition out of active military duty. This change of direction was difficult. Zac knew he needed a path back to work and civilian life. His inspiration came from within…and a little help from College of the Desert.
“I have always enjoyed fixing things and love working on cars,” says Zac. “I researched options for automotive programs, and discovered that College of the Desert offers something that other colleges don’t ...... the ability to pursue a degree along with vocational skills training.”
The COD Automotive Program is a good fit for Zac. The instructors are all highly skilled, very well connected and helpful in linking students to jobs. In addition, the College’s Veterans Resources Center has helped to pave his way, making the transition from military to civilian life easier.
“It had been 13 years since I had been in school,” he said. “I had forgotten how to be a student, but Donni Prince and the student helpers in the BIGHORN Golf Club Charities Veterans Resources Center have been a huge support.” Zac says the staff at the center communicate in a way to which he can relate. They provide emotional support, academic assistance and job resources.
Zac is continuing his military service as Chaplain’s Assistant in a Reserve Unit at March AFB. “I may have dreamed of Special Forces, but I know my service now is also essential to defending our freedoms and serving our country,” he explains.
Today, he has a new dream: Zac will be the first in his family to attend college and earn a degree. He will have a career in a field that he loves and that will provide for his family. “It makes me proud to know that my path will open the door for the next generation,” says Zac. “I have three sons and already the two older ones plan to go to college. They have the direction that I lacked coming out of high school.”
Zac’s message to everyone who has helped him along the way is this: Thank you! “With your support for the College and students like me, you truly are changing lives.”
#242 Maria Melecio, Class of 2011, Transfer to California State University, San Bernardino Palm Desert Campus
(Associates of Arts in Business Administration)
First steps are so important in everything, especially in our education. I can’t say enough about College of the Desert and how they helped me take the first step on my path. There are so many that have contributed so much to help me pursue and succeed in my educational endeavors. I am a proud first generation American born in the United States. My parents originally emigrated from Mexico to the United States as farm workers. Like all immigrants, they were looking for opportunities and a better life. Through their hard work I was blessed with many opportunities of growing up in the Coachella Valley.
I am the oldest of four siblings. My brothers and sister consider me to be not only their older sister, but a second mother as well. At a young age, I was entrusted with taking care of my siblings because my parents work. Even now, I have to look over homework assignments, help with school projects, prepare meals, and attend school events.
When I learned English, I was given more responsibilities because my parents only speak Spanish. I was in charge of reading legal documents, translating, and helping them make the financial decisions of my family. For example, I recently helped my parents refinance their home.I learned quickly how important education is and graduated from Palm Desert High School with honors. While in high school, I worked part-time. I was fortunate to receive scholarships and grants to further my education.
I attended College of the Desert, and used the scholarship money to pay for my first year at COD, to buy my textbooks, and to pay for my classes. I worked hard and was rewarded as I was admitted to COD’s EOP (Education Opportunity Program) in my sophomore year in college. My EOP counselor, Carol Amelia Lasquade helped me select the correct courses to transfer to California State University, San Bernardino Palm Desert Campus. Also, Mrs. Lasquade helped me enroll for EOP at CSUSB Palm Desert Campus. Thanks to Carol, I completed my Associates of Arts in Business Administration in 2011 and transferred with honors.
As a result, I transferred to California State University, San Bernardino Palm Desert Campus in pursuit of a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Thanks to Dr. Estes my professor, mentor, and advisor, (who has been like a second father) who in my junior year gave me an exception to enter his finance course that was full. That course was pivotal in my academic direction. As a minority, I knew my journey would be challenging in a pre-dominantly male oriented industry and it became more apparent in my senior year as the only female in the program. Thanks to Dr. Estes and Jill Rice (his daughter), they encouraged and gave me confidence that I was very capable to pursue a finance degree.
I graduated in June 2013, and received Cum Laude and Departmental Honors in Finance. It was a great personal accomplishment to reach this goal and I became the first one in my family to receive a college degree with distinction. Also, this goal would not have been possible without attending College of the Desert and without the help of Carol, my COD counselor, who helped me and believed that I was going to be successful. As a result, I finished my bachelor’s degree early in the Winter of 2013.
After graduating from CSUSB Palm Desert Campus, I was given the opportunity to intern at Rabobank as a financial analyst and learn about income property during the summer. Also, I volunteered at CSUSB PDC as a finance tutor and CVEP (Coachella Valley Economic Partnership) with Lanztech, which helps the Hispanic community with business start-ups.
Since I knew I wanted to become a financial advisor and help make a difference in people’s financial lives, I am now a fully licensed Investment Advisor representative and building my financial planning practice in Indian Wells. I am affiliated with Waddell & Reed, a nationally recognized financial services firm. My goal is to develop my practice by helping people attain the financial goals important in their financial lives. I also enjoy educating clients to help them in their financial decision making. I look forward to growing my practice and giving back to the community that has given me so much!
I graduated from Coachella Valley High School and enrolled at College of the Desert in 1974. I discovered anthropology while at COD and took all of the anthro courses offered. I transferred to ASU for a year, and then to Cal Poly, Pomona, where I earned a BS in Anthropology and Geography. I went on for an MA in anthropology at CSU, Fullerton. Post-graduate work in archaeology was conducted at the University of Leicester, England. My research interests include Cahuilla culture history, archaeology of the Coachella Valley, cultural resources management policy development, prehistoric ceramics, indigenous language preservation, rock art, and traditional uses of native plants. My career has spanned 30 years doing environmental and archaeology-related work both in the public sector and as a consultant. In 2012, I retired as the County Archaeologist for Riverside County. Since then, I have been teaching anthropology courses for COD and love it! I feel like I have come full circle to a place where I got my start in education and where I found my path toward a great career.