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Michelle Hilario

#232 Michelle Hilario, Class of 2012
(A.A. Liberal Studies: Arts, Humanities, and Communication)

Ever since I was a child I wanted to become a teacher. When I graduated, my family felt I should follow another career path since teachers did not make a lot of money. Thus, I spent the next eight years in Corporate America. In 2000 I had my first child and 18 months later I had my second child. I happily chose to stay home with my kids. When it came time to return to work I dreaded the thought. I realized it was time I followed my true dream of becoming a teacher. I was extremely blessed to have a very supportive husband that encouraged me to return to school.

In the Fall of 2012 I graduated with my A.A. in Liberal Arts and continued taking Early Childhood Education (ECE) classes. I became the President of the ECE Club for the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 school years and began working at the McCarthy Center at College of the Desert. Working there cemented my desire to become a teacher so I began to take concurrent classes at Brandman University and graduated in the summer of 2014. I am now a Substitute Teacher and am living the life I have always wanted. I feel rewarded and fulfilled each day. I am also working on my Master’s Degree in Teaching and Multiple-Subject Credential at Brandman University. I cannot wait for the day I get to teach in my own classroom. College of the Desert made this all possible for me. Thank you, COD!

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Ifthika  Nissar

#231 Ifthika Nissar, Class of 1994 and 1996
(A.A. in Early Childhood Education (ECE) at COD in 1994 A.A. in Economics at COD in 1996. Adjunct Instructor for the last 12 years. )

Shining Story by Shine Nissar: Earning a college degree was a childhood dream for me when I was growing up in Sri Lanka. This dream became a reality when I earned my first A.A. in Early Childhood Education (ECE) at COD in 1994 upon migrating to the U.S. in 1990. I began my career in the profession of ECE as a lab student at the McCarthy Family Child Development and Training Center back in 1992.

This strong foundation from the Child Development Center paved the path for me to climb the career ladder to the top and pursue the highest degree. In the last 25 years I have served as a Teachers’ Assistant, Teacher, Site Supervisor, and Program Director and worked with typical students and students with special needs in the public school system. I went on and earned five degrees (2 A.A. Degrees at COD, 1 B.A. in Child Development and 1 M.A. in Early Childhood Special Education at California State University Northridge and 1 M.A. in Educational Administration). Currently I am pursuing my doctoral degree at California State University San Bernardino and plan to graduate in June 2015 with my Ed.D. My research topic is: Assessing the Quality of the Head Start Curriculum in order to Improve the Preschool Curriculum for Students with Special Needs.

The opportunity to serve as an adjunct instructor in 2003 allowed me to come full circle. Becoming a full time professor at COD is my next goal. I absolutely enjoy teaching ECE courses to our future teachers who will impact the lives of our youngest members in our community: our children.

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Ramon Leija

#230 Ramon Leija, Student

Faced with negativity and peer pressure, I had a tough time growing up in my hometown of Indio, CA. Young and naïve, I began to partake in the wrong doings around me to overcome my feeling of being entrenched in poverty. Naturally my poor decisions and associations with the wrong people led me to become incarcerated through the Department of Juvenile Justice where I spent three of my teenage years.

I was sent to the S. Carraway Public Service and Fire Center, a fire camp through DJJ. I had ample time to reflect on where I went wrong in life and how I could have made the right decisions. I voluntarily participated in many counseling classes and found my passion - firefighting and helping my community.

A defining moment for me was when I realized how much I upset my Mother when she came to visit me in the facility. It was then that I realized that not only was I hurting myself, but I was also hurting the people around me. I experienced redemption during my time there and decided that moving forward I would make my Mother proud of me.

In the Spring of 2011, I took courses at College of the Desert. Then I spent one year volunteering with a Los Angeles Conservations Corps Americorps program working with and being trained by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority in Calabasas, CA fighting wild fires, maintaining local hiking trails and performing a variety of wild land conservation tasks. After my year of service, I returned home where I was hired as a youth coordinator with the non-profit organization Raices Cultura in the East Coachella Valley. As a coordinator I organized presentations and discussions around broad themes like cultural consciousness, healing and well-being, manhood development, health equity, social justice, and leadership.

Ultimately as the coordinator, I had the opportunity to influence young men to avoid the pitfalls that I encountered as a youth and encouraged them to instead focus on their education and making a positive difference within their lives and in society.

Along with my community engagement, I continued my studies at College of the Desert with EMT and fire courses. In the Fall of 2014, I enrolled in the Fire Academy and now have expectations of graduating in April of 2015. I credit COD Fire Technology coordinator, Chief Scott Ventura, with guiding me and encouraging me to continue with my education.

My next goal is to get an A.S. degree in Fire Science here at College of the Desert and then transfer to Cal State Los Angeles to get a B.S. degree in Fire Administration and Technology. I also have aspirations for becoming a paramedic prior to working in the fire service. I would also like to continue providing community service and gain real work experience by becoming a Volunteer Reserve Firefighter for the Riverside County/Cal Fire department. I know that one day I will fulfill my final goal of becoming a full time employed Fire Fighter.

In December of 2014, I received the Young Visionary of the Year Award presented to me at the Coachella Chamber of Commerce’s Business & Awards Gala for my work in the community.

I am very dedicated to uplifting and “giving back” to society. It is my family, peers, and mentors that encourage me and give me the fuel to continue on the path to accomplishing my goals.

Not only have I exceeded the promise I made to myself, which was to make my Mother proud, but I’ve also contributed to my community along the way. My past is what motivated me to be the man that I am now. What began as a punishment became a blessing. In fact, education is my liberation from the decisions that I made as a youth. Thankfully, College of the Desert has created a path for me to do just that.

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#229 Robert Anzovino, Class of 1988
(AA degree in Golf Management)

I started at the Culinary Institute of America as a first venture in post high school education and became a student of Chef Beno in the senior year of my education in New Haven, CT. Culinary school prepared me for positions preparing food for 2,000 diners nightly, preparing dishes table side before an amazed public, and providing BBQ grill work on the beach in Coronado, CA at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. One great accomplishment was laughing at the "look of bewilderment" on the GM's face when I produced the love birds on a heart basket ice carving for a wedding reception at the exclusive Meadow Club in Fairfax, CA.

I arrived at College of the Desert with a Chef degree and a BS degree from a university. At the time, the College was offering a new program in Golf Management and I knew that this would further my career. Since the selection process was focused on potential students highly skilled in golf, which I was not, I was not initially selected as a candidate for the program. Using my power of persistence, I kept trying and was ultimately admitted into the program. Graduation day saw only five of us receive our degrees at the ceremony. When a nightly news reporter for the local TV station asked me what it felt like to graduate from COD I informed her that I had just received my third advanced degree; it was powerful, and I was excited about the future. I am so proud of myself for this accomplishment.

My next gigantic accomplishment was having the honor of serving President and Mrs. Ford and the Prime Minister of Japan with sitting President George Bush, Sr. during an official White House sponsored luncheon. I was the Dining Room Manager of the Club at Morningside at the time. I still possess a photo obtained from the Presidential Library taken at this historic event.

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James Salisbury

#228 James Salisbury, Class of 1985, Transfer to California Institute of the Arts

College of the Desert inspired filmmaker James Salisbury to pursue his passion for story-telling. A self-described Army brat, Salisbury was born in the Philippines, and grew up in Long Island, eventually settling in Twentynine Palms, where his father was stationed. As a young man, he struggled with school, eventually enrolling at College of the Desert in 1983 with no clear career goal in mind. At COD, the classes he took opened his mind and changed his life. Literature classes inspired James to read the classics, where he was introduced to the power of storytelling. Media classes helped James follow his passion to pursue his first documentary film.

“Professor Bill Seacrest was there for me and guided me through the film making process from start to finish,” James explained. Working part-time as a camera man at a local television studio, James edited his film at night and on weekends at the station. After two years at the College, he applied to the prestigious California Institute of the Arts and was accepted. His application was the documentary he completed at College of the Desert.

After graduating from the Film Program at Cal Arts, he worked in Los Angeles making feature films before returning to the desert to lead the creative department at a local television station. In 1998, he started his own business distributing films overseas and producing ads for local businesses.

Today, Salisbury continues at the helm of Mercury Film and TV, still aiming his camera at people, allowing them to express themselves and share their stories. In the hands of this talented documentary film director and producer, personal stories become art.

“College of the Desert was in the right place at the right time for me,” said Salisbury.

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