My dad, grandfather and great uncle were all firefighters. I wanted to be one, too. As a kid, my two younger brothers and I practically grew up in a firehouse. It was second nature, for us all, to pick firefighting for a lifelong career.
As soon as I graduated from Ramona High School, I took numerous fire tests until I was hired by the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District when I was 19. At the time, I put college on the back-burner to work full-time. But in 1993, when I trained to become a paramedic, that all changed for me. I realized I needed a college degree, if I wanted to advance and move up the ranks.
I’d gone to a couple of community colleges in the Riverside and San Diego region before that, but it was COD’s Public Safety Academy that really inspired me. I got my A.S. in Fire Technology there in 2007.
Today, I’m the Fire Chief of Palm Springs Fire Department. It’s been an amazing run. After decades of service, I’ve never grown weary of helping people in times of need and I haven’t stopped learning.
Every day I wake up, wanting to help my fellow man. It’s been a lifelong journey that I’m proud of.
I have been attending Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa finishing up three years, and I am graduating this 2012 Spring Semester. The one field I have always been unable to fit into my Crafton Studies, is coincidentally also my major - Theatre. I started attending COD about a year ago to finish up my Theatre classes before I transfer, and ended up meeting some amazing teachers, making some great friendships, and getting a part in the spring play. I am so glad I decided to come to COD in conjunction with my other school.
I attended COD from 2007-2009. I was a member of the football team under Head Coach Dean Dowty and enjoyed every bit of my experience in Palm Desert .
While in high school, I never considered going to junior college. I actually looked down on people who decided to go to any JC. Little did I know that when my time came to graduate, I would be the next one to apply to a junior college. I didn’t go to community college because of grades or lack of acceptances to colleges and universities; I chose it because I realized that going to COD was the best choice for me.
I was only 17 when I graduated and realized that I wanted to play college football. I didn’t have any scholarship offers and felt that being a walk-on to any program would be tough so I sat and talked with my parents about what would be the best opportunity for me. Going to school out-of-state cost an arm or a leg, but community college in state would be beneficial to me not only for maturity and athletic purposes, but financially. So I made the choice and came to COD.
Over those next two years, I played football and was part of the best and closest team I’ve ever played on and wouldn’t have done anything different to change it. The coaches there kept their world and supported the players in any way they could and in return, as a team, we did our best out there on the field. We won 18 games in the two seasons I was there.
While at COD, I met a lot of lifelong friends that I still talk to daily. I brag about my time there. I tell people that I wish COD was a four year school because I enjoyed it so much and met some of the best people from different parts of the country such as Florida, Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and even different parts of California.
I moved to the Coachella Valley in 2004 and was thrilled to join the COD family in 2006. I love my job and get to work with the most caring and dedicated faculty and staff around. I'm happy to StepUpForCOD and really enjoy reading the inspiring stories of our students.
My dad, Richard Pena, is a booster club member of C.O.D. and I remember going to all of the football, baseball, and basketball games as a kid. When I graduated from high school, C.O.D. was like going home and I have always felt like part of the C.O.D. family. While at C.O.D., I joined the school newspaper and the track team as a pole vaulter. As coincidence would have it, I met my future wife in the weight room at C.O.D. Although my wife, Letty, was from Coachella Valley High School and I was from Indio High School, cross-town rivals, at C.O.D. we were one.
After I graduated from C.O.D. with a A.A. degree in Liberal Studies, I transferred to the University of California, Riverside, where I graduated with a B.A. degree in Studio Art with an emphasis in photography. I became the photo editor of UCR's college paper. College of the Desert prepared me for success as they gave me a great foundation of knowledge and skills to complete my Studio Art degree program and launched me into my photography career.
After being a photojournalist for 21 years, I am now a freelance photographer living in Beaumont, CA.
Thanks College of the Desert, for being like family for me!