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Dr. Ken Childers

#234 Dr. Ken Childers, Class of 1965, Transfer to Santa Ana College

Ken Childers was born in Berkeley, California but was raised at military bases around the globe. He attended thirteen different schools before completing high school with no clear plans or career path in mind. While spending the summer following graduation in the desert, Ken decided to kill some time by taking a class at College of the Desert (COD), the new community college that had just opened down the street from his grandparent’s house in Palm Desert. That summer session turned into full time enrollment in the very first freshman class at COD in the fall of 1963. While at the College, Ken served as student body Vice President, an activity he thoroughly enjoyed and which provided connection to important support from faculty mentors. He credits Dr. Whitaker, COD Chemistry professor, for awakening his love for science that has lasted a lifetime and helped set his career path in motion.

After completing two years at College of the Desert, Ken transferred to Santa Ana College and then University of California Irvine to complete his undergraduate degree. Following graduation from dental school at St. Louis University, he served in the Navy for two and half years, including a year in Vietnam with 1st Marine Air Wing " the same unit in which his father served. When his military service ended, Dr. Childers opened his dental practice in Piedmont, California and has been there ever since.

And it all started at College of the Desert. Dr. Childers underscores the importance of counseling and career resources at the College that help students learn about and select a career path for which they are well suited and will enjoy. Without that critical support, students may spend years drifting from job to job without ever knowing or realizing their true potential.

“After all these years, I still look back and know that College of the Desert changed my life,” Dr. Childers stresses. “It turned out to be the critical first step that shaped my future.”

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Octavio Rocha

#233 Octavio Rocha, Class of 2001, Transfer to Cal Poly Pomona
(AS Architecture)

Octavio Rocha always wanted to be an architect but had to overcome many obstacles on the way to achieving his academic and career goals. He came to the Coachella Valley in 1995 in search of a better life. He enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) summer classes at College of the Desert (COD) and then took the assessment test and talked to a counselor about charting an academic path toward a degree in architecture.

Like most students at the College, Octavio juggled the difficult and competing priorities of working full time while also enrolled in classes. He attended COD on and off, working in local restaurants to support himself. Many times he didn’t think he would be able to make it through. Counselors and faculty mentors at the College provided encouragement and the confidence he needed to continue. Summer internships in the office of local architect and COD Adjunct Faculty Instructor Lance O’Donnell also provided critical real world work experience. With discipline and determination, six years later Octavio had met and surpassed the obstacles that had at first seemed unsurmountable.

“Access to quality instruction and relevant work experience allowed me to accomplish my academic goals in order to graduate and transfer to pursue my four year degree,” Octavio says.

Following graduation from College of the Desert with an Associate Degree in Architecture in 2001, Octavio transferred to Cal Poly Pomona where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture in 2006 and began work as a professional architect. In 2008, like the majority of community college alumni, he returned home to work in the desert where it all started because this is where he felt most comfortable. “College of the Desert helped make my dream a reality,” Octavio says. “It changed my life.”

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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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