#195 Brian McGowan, Class of 1996, Transfer to University of California Riverside
(Alumnus, former student body President)
College of the Desert (COD) holds a very special place in Brian McGowan’s heart. “The College literally changed my life and I will always be grateful for the opportunity it offered me,” he says. Brian was at a cross roads having just moved to the desert from the East Coast and was not sure what he was going to do with his life. Shortly after he enrolled at COD, it became clear that he was in the right place. Brian credits two professors who challenged him to dream big and believe in himself and classes in mass media with Dr. Roy Wilson and English with Susie Zachik Smith for inspiring what became a lifelong interest in government administration.
COD also offered Brian the opportunity to apply these new interests and skills. He was elected student body Vice President and then President working with the Board of Trustees and administration officials to help run the college. Brian eventually transferred to the University of California, Riverside where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in political science and then went on to earn a Master’s degree at the Claremont Graduate University. Most importantly, Brian says, COD is where he discovered a passion for public service which ultimately led to serving our country as a Presidential appointee in the U.S. Department of Commerce and in the White House.
As an economic developer, Brian believes there is a very direct correlation between the educational levels of residents and the rate of economic growth for communities. “College of the Desert fuels your local economy because it creates opportunities for wealth creation and new jobs,” Brian said. “It also strengthens the regional economy and helps businesses stay on the competitive cutting edge in a complex global economy.”
And for its students, the College paves career pathways and serves as a springboard for upward economic mobility. “That’s what it did for me and is another important reason to Step Up for COD.”
My father, Chuck Hayden told me one of the best roads to travel was the road of higher education. My Dad knew what he was talking about as he served for 29 years on the College of the Desert Board of Trustees. His wisdom, my hard work and what I learned at the College has not failed me. I went back to school as a non-traditional student in my early thirties as a recovering drug addict. I spent my twenties addicted to meth and completely hopeless. After my son's mother died, my parents took him and me into their home as I started on a road to recovery. This recovery included going back to school. I started at COD in the certificate program to become a substance abuse counselor. I did very well in those studies, finished, and took a job following at a local substance abuse rehab. However, I longed to continue my education. After a few years, I returned to COD and started a general credits program. My aim was towards transferring to a four year university. The COD career and education counselors, along with my parents and son, kept me on track and in a few short years I was headed to U.C. Riverside where I graduated with a BA in Political Science. From there I went to law school in Denver Colorado, passed the bar and am now practicing law as the Chief Deputy District Attorney for my small bit of heaven, La Junta, Colorado.
When I was laid off from a dead-end job in the gaming industry, I heard that College of the Desert had a program in renewable energy so I contacted Larry McLaughlin to see when the next class was available. I attended the next ten and a half week program at the Desert Energy Enterprise Center (DEEC) in Palm Springs, completed the course and received a certificate. Because of this training, I went on to do volunteer work for Grid Alternatives, a non-profit that provides free solar systems for low-income homeowners. There I acquired additional skills that allowed me to get a job in the solar industry. I began as an installer and now I am a system designer. I'm very grateful to COD for offering this certification course. It changed the direction of my life.
I always knew I would go to college, but had no clear career path in mind. Following graduation from Desert Hot Springs High School, I enrolled at College of the Desert (COD) hoping to find direction. A series of art classes at the College ignited my passion for art and opened the door to my future as an artist, writer and entrepreneur. Those art classes helped me realize where I wanted to focus my life. I received an Associate of Arts degree from COD in 2005 and transferred to University of California Riverside where I received a Bachelor of Arts in Film & Visual Culture in 2008.
Putting my passion to work, I created Coachella Valley Art Scene, a website and blog focused on the up-and-coming local community art scene. I write daily about art and artists, events and happenings and all things creative in and around the desert art scene.
For the last five years I have also curated the Coachella Art Studios, a large scale interactive art installation inside the Coachella Music and Arts Festival's campgrounds for attendees hungry for art, expression and creative diversion.
For my most recent venture, I joined with two fellow COD alums I first met at screen printing class. Together we have completely transformed a down and out convenience store into a hip contemporary art gallery and event space spotlighting the young and upcoming art community of the Coachella Valley.
The Coachella Valley Art Scene (CVAS) gallery features nearly all local art and artists as well as hosting concerts and screening thought-provoking films. The gallery is located on East Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City, across from the IMAX Theater. The new gallery gives local artists a place to show and sell their work. We also hope to positively change the neighborhood with the introduction of new energy and color.
College of the Desert changed our lives. I hope we can help do the same for others.
College of the Desert opened the door to higher education and changed my life. As part of a single parent household with limited income, I was no stranger to overcoming obstacles. My father died when I was just sixteen and, picking up the pieces, I moved in with my oldest sister to finish high school and then began searching for a job. I applied for and landed an entry level spot as a scheduler at Desert Hospital. Shortly thereafter, with no career plan in mind, I enrolled at College of the Desert (COD) hoping to find my future.
I was the first in my family to attend college. Like many of my fellow students, I had to work full-time while attending classes part-time. It was a struggle financially but I thrived in the supportive learning environment provided by the College. It took me more than six years to acquire the necessary credits for transfer to University of Redlands where I ultimately earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Management. In 2008, I was hired as Grants Manager at Desert Healthcare District.
Four years later the Clinton Foundation selected me to lead the implementation of the Health Matters Initiative as Regional Director in the Coachella Valley. I work with the community to facilitate the implementation of the Coachella Valley Blueprint for Action, identifying options and leveraging resources to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities across the region.
The lessons I learned during my years at COD helped me understand the value of exploring options and leveraging resources as I bring that experience to work each day with the Clinton Foundation.
I remember often that I walked the same path as many others who are struggling. Thanks to College of the Desert and others, I am fortunate to be able to now put my education and experience to work helping others meet and overcome obstacles to achieve a healthier and better life.