College of the Desert (COD) opened my door to the world and industry of Hollywood. I took theatre makeup class, human anatomy class and sculpture classes at the College. My COD professors believed in me and introduced me to Hollywood artists. Now, I am working as a special effects makeup artist on CSI: Las Vegas and have finished work on Lee Daniels' The Butler. A small step was the beginning of the huge journey.
Thanks, COD for believing in me.
COD opened the door to higher education and a successful future for me. English was a foreign language to me when I first started kindergarten, but my teacher helped me with what I needed to know. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, opened my mind to love school. I always thought I was going to be just like my parents and not attend college. I was unaware what I wanted to do with my life. But the older I became the more I wanted more for my life. My high school years opened my eyes to the possibility of college and a profession that I would love. After graduating high school, I attended College of the Desert (COD). The College provided a dose of reality and evidence that I was becoming an independent person. It helped me realize I wanted to become an accountant because I enjoyed numbers. While I attended COD, like most college students, I was working to pay for my school. In my second year at COD, I was granted the opportunity to work at Bighorn Golf Club as a Ladies’ Locker Room Attendant. At Bighorn, I learned about the Bighorn Scholarship they offered to employees.
I was grateful for the aid Bighorn offered because college education is costly. I applied and to my surprise was granted the scholarship. In 2009, I graduated from COD with my Associate of Arts in Business Administration. One of my goals was to obtain a Bachelor degree; therefore I transferred to California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB). When I transferred to CSUSB I was promoted at Bighorn to work as a server. I graduated CSUSB in the summer of 2013 with my Bachelor of Science Administration Accounting Concentration. In the preparation of my graduation from CSUSB, I was promoted to Human Resources as a Payroll Associate at Bighorn Golf Club. I was granted the opportunity to practice my accounting skills in a position I am enjoying.
I have been grateful for all the support Bighorn has provided in my journey to success. I could not have done it with the help of Bighorn Golf Club Charities Scholarship as well as support of my family, the members at Bighorn, and staff at Bighorn. Always dream big and never give up because anything is possible.
I am a lifelong Coachella Valley resident who found my passion for business, education and public service at College of the Desert. Following graduation from Indio High School, like so many local students, I turned to COD to start my higher education. I went on to attend and earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree from California State University, Fullerton and then a law degree from Western State University, College of Law. From my earliest time in school, I knew I wanted to serve my community.
My company, John Peña & Associates, is a business and governmental relations consulting firm. My wife Sherry is CEO of Emerald Presidio, Inc., a family owned food service business that includes Desert Cities Catering.
My career in public service began in 1982 when I served on a school site task force with city and school district officials to locate school sites in the City of La Quinta. I was elected to the La Quinta City Council two years later and served as La Quinta Mayor from 1985 to 1986, during which time I also served as Interim City Manager. I was elected Mayor in 1988 and was re-elected to that position in 1990 and 1992 and served until 1995. I was then re-elected Mayor in 1997 and served until 2002.
During my time as an elected official I also served as Chairman of Sunline Transit Agency and was a member of the Executive Board during the time the Agency began the process to convert its fleet from diesel to clean natural gas, the first transit agency in the country to do so.
I am past Chairman of the Board, John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital. I am currently Chairman of the Board for the La Quinta Chamber of Commerce. Recently, I was appointed to serve on the Dr. Carreon Foundation Board whose mission is to enhance educational and leadership opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Coachella Valley.
I always dreamed of a career in music but never thought it was possible, particularly because I am legally blind. Born in Indio, I spent most of my childhood years in the Coachella Valley and faced an uncertain future following high school. Pursuing my love of music and becoming a professional musician didn’t seem like a practical reality, but once I began classes at College of the Desert (COD), I was able to develop a true vision for a future life and career in music.
My professors really encouraged me to pursue the classical guitar, which I was so surprised and happy to hear after having so many doubts. And with the special program at the College for people with disabilities; including tutors, software, and magnifiers; it really helped me overcome my disability and go for my dream.
After completing basic courses at COD, I applied to California State University, Fullerton. I was told I would be perfect for their classical guitar program. Leaving the Coachella Valley for Orange County seemed scary at first, but it was, without question, the place I felt I was meant to be.
I earned my four year degree, and am currently close to completing my master’s degree. Following graduate school, I would love to come back to the Coachella Valley, open my own studio for kids and teach a guitar course at the college that gave me my start. I really want to give back, because the Valley is so fortunate to have an institution like College of the Desert. The College makes a difference in people’s lives, it made a difference in mine.
Growing up in Thermal, I always knew I wanted to give back to my community. But it was my start at College of the Desert (COD) that helped define my career and path to public service. After graduating from Coachella Valley High School, I knew my hometown college was the perfect place to begin my higher education. After receiving the core academic building blocks at College of the Desert, I transferred to the University of California at Riverside and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Public Service. I recently completed a Masters of Politics, Economics and Business from Claremont Graduate University.
While at College of the Desert I began working with then Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor Roy Wilson as a Youth Coordinator. I was later promoted to Legislative Assistant, where I focused on health and human services and served as the liaison between the Supervisor’s office, county departments and the community, particularly the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Education is truly a passion of mine. As President of the Riverside County Board of Education, my goal is to improve educational opportunities for students and families. The Coachella Valley is my home, and I want to see doors opened for everyone in our Valley.
Life and career have now come full circle for me. At the age of fifteen I began working as a Youth Promotora with Planned Parenthood and recently returned as Director of Community and Government Relations at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Inc.
I am grateful to College of the Desert for opening the doors to higher education and a great career in public service.