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Student Success



Norco College Alumnus of the Year Recipients


Jocelyn Yow

Jocelyn Yow (2019)

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Jocelyn Yow, a San Jose native, moved to Malaysia at a young age and graduated from high school before her return to the United States.

In 2011, Jocelyn and her family settled in Eastvale. She quickly enrolled at Norco College and became the youn​gest serving Student Body President. She also joined the Honors Program ​and became a member of Alpha Gamma Sigma.

Jocelyn earned her associate degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Norco College in 2014, and transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where she obtained her bachelor's degree.

She has served as a district representative for California State Senate and for the United States House of Representatives, where she worked tirelessly to help seniors, families, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and children to access valuable government services.

Jocelyn grew up in a working-class family, where she learned the value and importance of giving back. In fact, the Yow family established a scholarship to provide financial support for high achieving Norco College students with financial need. Yow credits part of her success to Norco College and wanted to establish a scholarship that would highlight her and her families deep commitment to community service and to assist students in need.

She was recently elected to the Eastvale City Council and is currently pursuing a master's degree in government at Harvard Extension.

New Mayor of Eastvale Jocelyn Vow

Congratulations to our 2019 Alumnus of the Year and scholarship donor, Jocelyn Yow for being sworn in as Mayor for the City of Eastvale. Yow, 25, is the youngest woman of color to be appointed to serve in this capacity in the history of California.

“I am proud to see Jocelyn break barriers and come full circle, from alumna, donor, councilmember, and mother,” said Norco College President, Monica Green. “This is what community colleges do. We provide opportunities for students to follow their dreams and create a bright future. I look forward to working with Mayor Yow and our newly elected and current officials in our community.” 

Yow was elected to the Eastvale city council in 2018 and served as Mayor pro tem for the past year. She graduated from Norco College in 2014 with an associate degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences before transferring to UC Berkeley. While at Norco College, she became the youngest student body president and joined the Honors Program where she became a member of Alpha Gamma Sigma.

Mayor Yow grew up in a working-class family, where she learned the value and importance of giving back. In fact, the Yow family established a scholarship to provide financial support for high achieving Norco College students with financial need. Yow, credits part of her success to Norco College and established a scholarship that would highlight her and her family’s deep commitment to community service.  


 

Yow is currently the policy manager for IGNITE, a national nonprofit to elect more women to positions of power, and has previously worked as a district representative in the California State Senate and an aide for the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve as the mayor of Eastvale, the city I am proud to call home. Being a new mom to a six-month-old further fuels my passion to serve my community,” Yow said. “Local government makes decisions that affect our daily lives and is where we can directly see democracy in action. I am serving the city to ensure a better future for my son and the next generation of Eastvale residents.”​


Appointments:

  • Mayor, City of Eastvale
  • Councilmember, City of Eastvale
  • Delegate, Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority
  • Primary, Civic Center/Library Sub-Committee
  • Alternate, Riverside Transit Agency​​​​


Jefferson Tiangco

Jefferson Tiangco (2017)

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Jefferson Tiangco was born and raised in the Philippines and pursued his education as an accountant in his country. In 2003, he and his family moved to the US to pursue new opportunities.

Jefferson recalls the culture shock when he arrived in the US and found the language barrier to be intimidating. Not only were the English language and culture challenging, he also faced financial struggles not having a permanent home or vehicle for several years. However, his willingness and determination to succeed were much greater than the challenges. He knew that education would assist him, so he enrolled at Norco College in fall 2003. He set high goals, which began with just four college courses.

Jefferson continued his education and graduated from Norco College in 2005. He transferred to California State University, Fullerton, and in 2008 he graduated summa cum laude with a baccalaureate degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting and a minor in Spanish.

He began working for Norco College shortly after graduation as an instructional support specialist and credits Norco College for preparing him with not only his education, but also his work experience. Tiangco recalls several significant accomplishments while at Norco College: he developed the College website after accreditation, started social media accounts, technology training, and developed class schedules, and worked on a variety of projects.

A couple of years later, Jefferson decided to continue his education and went back to Cal State Fullerton. In 2014, he earned a master’s degree in Education with a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) emphasis. He then took on part-time teaching positions as an ESL instructor at Fullerton College and Norco College – all while working full time. His passion and talent for teaching grew so strong that he pursued and earned a full-time teaching position at Fullerton College.​


Ryan Cortez

Ryan Cortez (2016)

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Ryan Cortez headed to college with the idea of studying history and becoming a teacher. But his innate interest in business—shaped by years of working in his family’s firm, Cortez Jewelers—changed his mind.

Ryan chose Norco College for the same reason many of his classmates did: the campus was close to home. It is a decision that he never regretted. Interactions with professors such as Arend Flick taught him to think critically, to examine issues from all sides before reaching a decision or group consensus. A talented student, Ryan made the Dean’s List at Norco College and earned dual associate of arts degrees before transferring to California Baptist University to earn his bachelor’s of science in Business Administration. His stellar academic performance as an undergraduate set the stage for Ryan to enter the MBA program at CBU, and in May 2013 he walked across the stage to receive his master’s degree.

Ryan’s education and experience led to a job as a business retention specialist with the city of Corona—his employer of choice. Last year, he was promoted to economic development specialist and now spends his days managing the business retention program, business expansion projects, and performing demographic data analysis. He is frequently out in the community, working closely with business owners to improve local businesses’ capabilities and maintain local job opportunities. He also works closely with Norco College to ensure that career technical programs align with industry needs. Ryan credits and thanks his parents, his girlfriend (a Norco College alum), and the Corona city manager and city council for their support and mentoring.​​


Rachel Spiegel

Rachel Spiegel (2015)

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College was a family affair for Rachel Spiegel, Norco College’s 2015 Young Alumna. She attended college with three siblings. It was a time of mutual support and encouragement, with a healthy dose of competition to keep things interesting.

“We always competed to see who could get the best grade in a class,” Rachel said. “We tried to take classes together or similar classes at Norco.”

School didn’t always generate such good memories, she admits. Her high school career was unimpressive; she only managed to eke out a 1.8 GPA.

Norco College’s first president, Brenda Davis, drove Rachel to try harder, to honor her own potential.

“Dr. Davis pushed me, all of us really, to achieve our goals. I remember I was struggling when I first came to Norco College,” Rachel said. “Brenda called me into her office and said, ‘Rachel, you can do better; you have the drive to do better.’ It kind of put me in my shoes and helped me focus.”

Rachel’s academic awakening was fueled by another mentor, too, kinesiology instructor Jim Winn.

“It really helped to follow his guidance,” Rachel said, adding that she still works with Winn through her volunteer service at The SPORT Clinic in Riverside.

Rachel capped her studies at Norco College with two associate degrees before going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in health care management. She then paired full-time work with part-time study, earning a master’s degree in Human Resources Management. Currently, she is pursuing her Ph.D. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management from Walden University.

Today, Rachel Spiegel manages a busy chiropractic corporation in Corona, using the knowledge and many of the skills she first acquired at Norco College.

Balancing work, school, and her volunteer commitments at The SPORT Clinic and Congregation Beth Shalom present daily challenges.

“I get my motivation from my students and my employees,” she said. “Even my four-year-old nephew gives me small comments of congratulations. He’ll say ‘I’m glad you’re going to school,’ which always helps guide the way.”

Her boss, Anthony Pirritano, also serves as an inspiration. His encouragement never fails to lift Rachel’s spirit.

Rachel’s vision for the future is shaped by past challenges she overcame and present issues that she’s eager to address.

“Norco College was a stepping stone on my career path,” Rachel said. “Originally I intended to go into sports medicine. But then, I switched it up.”

Again, it was real life that provided the catalyst.

“I’ve gone from the bottom as a part-time employee to becoming general manager,” Rachel said. “I see how employees are treated and how you can help improve work lives and programs within your business.”

Eventually, Rachel hopes to act as a consultant to small businesses, but she is content with her still-evolving role with the chiropractic corporation.

“We are expanding the business, looking to do integrated medicine and possibly adding more doctors in multiple facilities,” she said. “I know my HR degrees will help immensely.”

Wherever the next years lead, Rachel’s path will always be grounded in Corona and at Norco College. Her mother is a longtime elected official in the city; her father serves as executive director of the Corona Chamber of Commerce; her siblings are successful Norco College alumni.

“Growing up in Corona, it’s been Norco College all the time for my family,” Rachel said. “I don’t see that changing.”​


Jonathan Trdan-Schmidt

Jonathan Trdan-Schmidt (2014)

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US Naval War College student Jonathan Trdan-Schmidt has been selected as Norco College’s 2014 Young Alumnus. A 2003 graduate of Norco College, Trdan-Schmidt, earned an associate of arts degree before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2009. In 2011, he attended US Naval Post Graduate School in System Engineering, earning the Meyers Award for Academic Excellence.

Jonathan works as a Force Development Assessment Operational Analyst for the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco. He authored a simulator/calibrator program and is the lead designer for the aircraft development team. He also serves in the US Naval Reserve.

“Jonathan Schmidt’s story is a classic student success story for Norco College,” said college president Dr. Paul Parnell. “A student shows up for classes needing encouragement, confidence and high quality, caring instruction. As a result of receiving those essential foundation skills they go on to advanced degrees and careers. We wish him the best in his career and academic pursuits and also congratulate him on his Young Alumnus Award."​​


Omar Gonzalez

Omar Gonzalez (2013)

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After arriving at Norco College, Omar Gonzalez quickly realized that “a sense of community” was just as important on a college campus as it was in the outside world. He also discovered that he had an affinity, some might say a calling, for helping others--particularly individuals less fortunate than himself. Soon after arriving on campus, Omar jumped into the role of student government leader. His extensive involvement in activities and day-to-day student life and issues is still remembered by College administrators, faculty and staff. A NC dean says that Omar “became part of the fabric of Norco College.” Excelling in student government and in the classroom, Omar secured acceptance to UC Davis in 2005. There, he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in Chicano Studies and Political Science. Back here at home, he now serves as director of Public Policy and Prevention for Reach Out, a non-profit organization that strives to address critical issues facing today’s youth in the western Inland Empire.

As director, Omar oversees two community coalitions: Partners for Innovative Communities and the Fontana Community Coalition. These groups focus on building healthy, safe and vibrant communities. Much of Omar’s daily work is with school districts, where he helps establish curricula and programs to battle bullying and substance abuse, and oversees work that studies the codependency between alcohol abuse and violence. Ask where he thinks the future leads, Norco College’s Young Alumnus exhibits a contented ignorance, other than allowing that his life will always involve building up communities. “I’ve always cared,” Omar said. “I’m just trying to make a difference.”​​


Naushad Huda

Naushad Huda (2012)

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Naushad Huda, CEO and Founder of XTOPOLY, attended Norco College in the fall of 1996, before transferring to UC Berkeley in 1999. A born entrepreneur, Naushad is focused on everything mobile. He bootstrapped his start-up mobile company, XTOPOLY, during his final year at Whittier Law School. Under his leadership, XTOPOLY has become a multi-award winning mobile interactive agency focusing on the fusion of creativity, innovation and technology.

Naushad is regarded as a leader in the mobile space, having spearheaded triple digit growth of his full-service mobile interactive agency in just a few short years. His experience is in creating integrated mobile strategies and tactics that extend brand stories through holistic marketing campaigns. XTOPOLY solutions are in place at small start-ups as well as big industry names such as Google/AdMob, Yamaha, Paramount Studios, Cars.com, and T-Mobile. Naushad holds a bachelor’s degree in English from UC Berkeley, and received his J.D. from Whittier Law School.​​​


Alumni Spotlights


Saeed Ahmad

Saeed Ahmad (2020)

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Saeed Ahmad was featured in California Community Colleges Outlook electronic newsletter.

Ahmad graduated from Norco College in 2018 and transferred to UCLA. This last June, he graduated from UCLA and is now considering Harvard, Stanford, and Yale for Law School.

Please enjoy reading about Saeed’s experience at Norco College. Story is courtesy of the California Community Colleges.

Norco College Alumnus Saeed Ahmad Graduated from UCLA in June, eyes Harvard, Stanford and Yale for Law School Saeed Ahmad remembers being questioned by a high school teacher for opting to attend a local community college. The teacher, Ahmad said, suggested that only those who couldn’t get into a university would attend a two-year program and told him it could lead to struggles in finding a solid economic future.

Replied Ahmad: “I told him the only struggle I’m going to have in two years is when I get my associate degree and can’t make up my mind in choosing between transferring to UCLA and UC Berkeley.”

The Norco College alumnus chose UCLA. He graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is eyeing law school at Harvard, Stanford or Yale.

“I owe a lot to Norco College and I have absolutely no regrets, just gratitude,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad is hardly atypical. Indeed, 29% of University of California graduates and 51% of California State University graduates started their higher education journey at a California Community Colleges campus. For many, it makes economic sense. For others, a community college provides the opportunity to find yourself. For Ahmad, it was a combination of the two.

“Saeed represents the best of what the community college experience offers,” said Norco College English Professor David Mills. “His time here developed him into the person capable of the success he has had at UCLA.”

Born in Karachi and hailing from the city of Lahore, Pakistan, Ahmad – now 20 – moved with his parents to Corona at a young age, in large part because of the educational opportunities the West afforded. “One thing my family really valued about the United States was the emphasis on education. Education was seen as leading to equity, it was seen as opening doors to opportunities that didn’t exist in other countries. No matter what your nationality was, no matter what your skin color was, education was seen as the key to reaching your dreams.”

But by the time he reached high school, Ahmad was losing his interest in his studies. “I wasn’t very goal oriented,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. And I had surrounded myself with people who were not a good influence.”

Even though his junior year was dominated by AP classes, he didn’t much care for the courses and he said he felt completely overwhelmed.

The turning point came when Ahmad, out of curiosity, registered for a mock trial competition and was selected as a lead attorney. Before long, Ahmad would focus on a new goal: law school. But first, he set his sights on an undergraduate degree from UCLA.

His grades, however, wouldn’t help him get there. Rather than continue on with high school, he opted for an alternate route, taking and passing the California High School Proficiency Exam and securing the equivalent of a legal diploma.

Next stop: Norco College, an Inland Empire campus that is part of the Riverside Community College District.

There were many doubters along the way. “It was like a community college wasn’t good enough,” Ahmad said. “Like it wasn’t a real college.”

Ahmad dedicated himself to proving the doubters wrong. He served as president of a campus pre-law society, took part in the Honors Program and worked as a student ambassador. He earned nothing but A’s on his report card, save for one B in his final semester.

“Saeed became a leader,” said Dean of Student Life Mark Hartley. “He served as a student ambassador and a mentor for first-year students, he visited local high schools promoting what Norco College could offer. And he was always the first one to volunteer and the last one to leave.”

Ahmad graduated in 2018 with three associate degrees: humanities, philosophy and art; social and behavioral studies; and math and science.

He transferred to UCLA that fall and became just as involved at the Westwood campus: president of the Pre-Law Transfer Society, active with the Muslim Student Association and involved with the Pakistani Student Association. He also spent more than a month this past summer as one of just 20 students across the nation selected to participate in the Harvard Law School TRIALS program, which includes lectures by prominent lawyers, public figures and legal scholars, in addition to what he promises to be a very intensive LSAT preparation.

Ahmad will begin applying to law school in September.

“Whatever you want to be, whatever goal you want to reach, the most efficient way of getting there is through a California Community College. I mean, you have a choice: you could either pay next to nothing in tuition to go to a college taught by professors with Ph. Ds and master’s degrees who are in the classroom and not doing research; or you could go to a university for your first two years and pay $70,000 for the same general education classes you’re taking at a community college.

“It’s also a great way to foster relationships and gives you the time you need to grow as a person.”


Estefani Ontiveros

Estefani Ontiveros (2020)

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Estefani Ontiveros, an Engineering Pathways and Norco College alumni, was selected to participate in the FIELDS Internship through University of California, Riverside at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena for the summer.

Ontiveros will be conducting research for 10-weeks alongside JPL science staff members on projects related to data science, analysis, and processing. The FIELDS program is designed to train the next generation of scientists and engineers in large-scale data analysis and visualization.

Ontiveros, a first generation college student, graduated from Norco College in June with distinction and the following associates degrees:

  • Associates in Arts, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Associates in Science, Math & Science
  • Associates in Science, Physics
  • Associates in Science, Mathematics
  • Associates in Science, Pre-Engineering
“I don’t think I would have made it this far if it weren’t for the wonderful connections, experience, and support I’ve received over my time as an Engineering Pathways Program student. The program and its people truly encouraged me to expand my horizons and seek out every opportunity with grit and I’ll always be thankful for that,” said Ontiveros.

She transferred to California State University, Los Angeles as a Mechanical Engineering major. In addition, Ontiveros was selected as the spring NASA JPL Maximizing Student Potential in STEM Internship program. She was a STEM Club member and a member of the Norco College Rocketry Team. She participated in NASA’s National Aerospace Scholars Program and toured the Johnson Space Center in Houston as a benefit for completing the program. Ontiveros was one of four members in the all-female Team, MOMA, who won the inaugural Norco College engineering challenge in spring 2019.


Maha Ibrahim

Maha Ibrahim (2020)

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Meet Maha Ibrahim, a Civil Rights attorney and proud Riverside Community College District graduate. She moved from northern Indiana in 2001 and immediately enrolled at Norco College and Riverside City College through 2004.

During her time at Norco College and Riverside City College, she served as the RCCD student trustee where she represented and advocated for students and relevant issues.

“RCCD and the California Community College system changed my life. The college atmosphere was fully accessible, welcoming, hope-giving, and dream-realizing for the millions of first generation, self-made, self-finding, students,” said Ibrahim.

After graduating from RCCD, Ibrahim attended the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated with honors. She went on to work in the United States Congress and in the California State Assembly. After a couple of years in public service, Ibrahim decided to pursue a career in law and was accepted to UCLA Law School and graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 2015. She is now a member of the California Bar and a successful full-time practicing Civil Rights Attorney in northern California.

Ibrahim reached out to Norco College and the District after learning about the protests that took place in the City of Norco. She shared her story and a letter of support. Read more about Ibrahim’s inspiring story here​.


Ahmad Elhaija

Ahmad Elhaija (2020)

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Ahmad Elhaija, former Norco College STEM Scholar and current UCLA student launched a mobile health clinic to increase access to care. Elhaija used a $15,000 Strauss Foundation scholarship to help provide affordable care to low-income and refugee communities in Los Angeles. Read Ahmad's story here.

Ahmad Elhaija is a third-year pre medical student at UCLA majoring in Psychobiology. While at UCLA, Ahmad has founded the 501 (c)3 non profit social enterprise, International Collegiate Health Initiative (ICHI) with the mission to improve the overall health of the communities it serves by providing high quality medical, nutritional, and social services. He is an alumni of the Pre-Medical Enrichment Program at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and works as a research assistant at the UCLA Department of General Internal Medicine and Health Services. He currently serves as CEO of ICHI and was named a 2019 Strauss Scholar and 2020 Truman Finalist. Ahmad is a proud Arab American who has volunteered with Access California Services since the age of 12, mentoring immigrant and refugee children, he has also worked as a United Nations World Refugee Day committee volunteer through the Refugee Forum of Orange County. For his work with the Arab American community he was a recipient of the Arab American Institute's Helen Abbott Community Service Award. His main current project is to continue the advancement of ICHI’s mobile medical clinic in the cities of Maywood and Bell in Southeast Los Angeles, and expand his non-profit to college campuses across the globe.


Brittiney Sempasa

Brittiney Sempasa (2020)

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Brittiney Sempasa attended Norco College and was an active participant in the STEM Scholars Program. She is now a Junior at the University of California, Riverside majoring in Electrical Engineering. Prior to transferring to UCR, Brittiney was selected for the Bourns College of Engineering Summer Bridge Program, where she participated in research in machine learning earning a $5,000 stipend. Currently, she is involved in various student organizations such as Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Brittiney secured an internship with Northrop Grumman as a Systems Integration Test and Evaluations intern at the Aerospace Redondo Beach site. She also serves as the MESA Engineering Peer Mentor for Bourns College of Engineering.


Seda Shirinian

Seda Shirinian (2020)

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My name is Seda Shirinian, and I am a fourth year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Human Biology & Society. I attended Norco College as a dual enrollment high school student starting in 2016. Once I graduated from JFK Middle College High School in 2017, I continued to attend Norco College for one year before transferring to UCLA in September of 2018. I obtained an Associate’s degree in Math & Science and Social & Behavioral Studies. At Norco College, I was involved in the Honors program and the STEM Scholars program. Also, I worked as a STEM Center Student Assistant, and I served as a School of STEM peer mentor. I am thankful for the opportunity to have grown academically as a student at Norco College. In 2018, I transferred to UCLA and was awarded the UCLA Transfer Alliance Program Scholarship for successful completion of the Honors program at Norco College. Outside of the classroom, I volunteer on the geriatric floor of Santa Monica Hospital where I provide individualized companionship to older patients while they are hospitalized. Over the past year, I have worked as a research intern under the department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai. Currently in this role, I help analyze effectiveness of clinical health alerts on the prescription of Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, by comparing trends of prescription for departments and providers. I also serve as a peer mentor for community college students in the LA area through the Center for Community College Partnerships program where I help students navigate the transfer process by developing workshops, holding advising appointments, and mentoring throughout the transition from community college to university. After graduation, I plan to enroll in a graduate program related to the Biomedical Sciences with a long-term goal of attending medical school.


Marsella G Ortiz

Marsella G. Ortiz (2020)

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My name is Marsella G. Ortiz. I attended Norco College and participated in the Puente Program and the STEM Scholars Program earning an earning an A.S. in Math and Science. Patricia Gill was my Puente Mentor. I transferred to Cal State East Bay and majored in Chemistry, Biological Sciences. I was involved in various programs at Cal State East Bay including the GANAS Program and MEChA. In addition I was a a Water Quality Summer Intern in 2016 for the City of Bend conducting and compiling research for the development of a private stormwater facility database. I earned my Bachelor’s In Science in Chemistry, with a Minor in Biological Sciences and Option: Forensic Sciences in June 2017. After graduation, my first employer was Eurofins Environmental Testing US in Sacramento, California where I worked as a Chemist. Currently, I am a Chemist at Thermo Fisher Scientific: Pharma Services.


Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson (2020)

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My name is Matthew Johnson and I am an alumni of Norco College and the STEM Scholars Program. My major is Computer Science and I transferred to UC Santa Cruz in 2017. While at Norco College I spent a lot of time with friends at the STEM Center and was a STEM tutor and SI Leader (math and computer science) for two years. While at UC Santa Cruz I continued tutoring computer science and performed undergraduate TA duties as well. I participated in 2 internships while I was attending UCSC, both with a company called SurveyMonkey. If you have taken a survey online before, chances are you used SurveyMonkey at least once. My first internship with them was in the summer of 2018 as a QA Automation Engineer at their San Mateo office. I basically wrote software / tests that would automatically run instead of manually sitting there and reviewing code to make sure it worked. In the summer of 2019 however I chose to take an internship as a Software Engineer up in SurveyMonkey’s Portland office. Upon graduation, I took a full time position with SurveyMonkey as a Software Engineer in their Portland office on their Customer Success Engineering team. I chose Portland because I strongly believed I wanted to live there, and it turns out I made the right choice as I live here now and love it!


Ria Shiv

Ria Shiv (2020)

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My name is Ria Shiv. I am currently working as a Software Engineer at Google. I transferred to UC Berkeley from Norco College in 2017 as an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science major and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019. While a student at Norco College, I was a participant in the STEM Scholars Program, a Supplemental Instruction Leader for math and a STEM tutor for all levels of math, physics and computer science. I was also a part of Circle K Club at Norco College where I did alot of volunteer work. During my time at UC Berkeley, I was a board member of Robotics@Berkeley. I also did an internship at NAVSEA (the Naval Base in Corona). Other than work, my hobbies include dancing, painting, swimming and traveling the world.


Shirley Yan

Shirley Yan (2020)

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My name is Shirley Yan and I am currently a software engineer at KeepTruckin, a tech unicorn based in San Francisco. I began my higher education at John F. Kennedy Middle College and at Norco College where I was a participant in the STEM Scholars Program. I applied and was accepted to UC Berkeley. During my time at UC Berkeley I was studying Computer Science. Although I never had any internships, my extensive experiences with developing my personal software projects enabled me to get an edge during the job seeking process. I graduated last year from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a Bachelors in Science degree in Computer Science.


Ceasar Navarro

Ceasar Navarro (2020)

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My name is Ceasar Giovanni Navarro, I am 6th Year Mechanical Engineering Student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (CPP). I moved from Chicago, Illinois to Riverside, California to pursue my engineering degree. I attended several community colleges; College of Lake County (CLC), Norco College, Riverside City College (RCC), and Chaffey College but Norco College was where I received the most support. I later transferred to Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) as a Mechanical Engineering major. I interned at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Division (Norco, CA) as a Mechanical Engineer Intern and TTM Technologies (Anaheim, CA) as a Process Engineer Intern. Under the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program I was a research assistant at the University of Southern California (USC) at The Automatic Coordination of Teams (ACT) Lab. At CPP I am involved in a couple of clubs and organizations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Robotics Club. For the hands-on experiences, I was a member of Unmanned Autonomous Systems Club (UAS) and a current member of Hyperloop. I have love outdoor activities, some of my favorite activities to do are: Hiking, Surfing, Camping, and Soccer. My favorite engineering hobby is tinkering/simulating robots.


Mohamad Hilal

Mohamad Hilal (2020)

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Mohamad Abu Hilal is a Norco College Alumni and currently a Senior at Cal Poly Pomona majoring in Civil Engineering. He has been working at the County of Orange for 2 years. The first year I was involved in the surveying department where I did a lot of fieldwork and office work. The second year I became an intern in the design team in the county. Since this is my area of interest, I was able to excel and get involved in so many interesting projects. My senior project was focused on design and construction and I was the team lead in the structural analysis where I created a 3D model on SAP 2000. In addition, I was involved in reviewing the work of my colleagues and implementing all the designs in SAP.


Brenda Lopez

Brenda Lopez (2020)

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I am a proud mechanical engineering student who is graduating from the University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor of Science at the end of this quarter. I am especially proud because as a former undocumented immigrant and first generation low income student, my journey has not been easy. Though I battled against adversity pursing a higher education, I was able to align myself with a strong support system like the STEM Scholars program to reach the level of success I have now. While at Norco College, I discovered a passion for engineering, obtained my first internship, participated in student advocacy, and established a professional network. In addition, due to my academic excellence I was awarded the Southern California Edison STEM Scholarship and the Latinos Promoting Education and Culture Endowed Scholarship. Upon graduating from Norco College, I completed an engineering graphics certification and A.S. degrees in Math & Science, Pre Engineering, and Physics. In 2017, I transferred to the UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering (BCOE) where I became a peer mentor for the BCOE Transfer Transition Program. Following this experience, I was met with the opportunity to work with the emissions and fuels research team at the College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE CERT). For the past year, I have been working on a real world tire and brake wear emissions research study. My research involves analyzing the concentration and dispersion of brake wear particles along the 5 freeway in Anaheim and 710 highway in Long Beach. Having the responsibility of operating a particulate matter analyzer, studying published journals related to non exhaust emissions, and analyzing in field data has given me clarity and insight into the world of environmental research. It has also influenced my desire to apply to the Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. program with a specialization in air quality. I am very proud of the position I have reached and hope that I can inspire more women to pursue a career in STEM.


Maria Bello-Carrillo

Maria Bello-Carrillo (2020)

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Maria is a Norco College STEM Scholars Alumni and a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. She is grateful to have been able to engage in the plethora of resources that Norco College has to offer to their students. With her family’s unfailing faith, support, and love, and through mentorship and academic enrichment programs she transferred to the institution of her dreams, UCLA! Previously, she was a Norco College Student Ambassador, Summer Advantage Peer Mentor, and a recipient of the 2018 Athena Award. Her involvement at UCLA focuses on volunteer work and advocacy associated with underserved communities. She has gained some research experience through her discovery based lab course involving the isolation and identification of drought resistant growth promoting rhizobacteria. As a Patient Health Advocate, she is paired with residents and attending physicians to help improve patient care by having an emphasis on upstreamism and she carries out casework for patients at the UCLA Witherbee Foundation Children's Health Center (CHC). Additionally, she volunteers as a Spanish translator during patient consultations at CHC and during patient assessment appointments at the UCLA School of Dentistry. As a pre-dental student, she is an active member of the Pre Dental Student Outreach Program, a general volunteer at the UCLA School of Dentistry, a volunteer at community events such as Care Harbor, is enrolled in UCLA Basic Dental Principles courses and is an event coordinator for the UCLA Pre Dental Society. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year to prepare and apply to dental school.


Rushil Rawal

Rushil Rawal (2020)

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Rushil Rawal is a 3rd year undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in molecular, cell, and developmental biology. In 2018, he received an Associate’s in Math and Science and in Behavioral Sciences from Norco College, while being a senior in high school. Through his involvement as a volunteer at Kaiser Permanente hospital throughout his time in high school, participation in the Norco College STEM Scholars Program, experience with lab and clinical research, and personal experiences with family health adversities, he gained a passion for the field of medicine at an early age. His time at Kaiser Permanente earned him the President’s Volunteer Service Award. As a current student at UCLA, Rushil is an active member of a non-profit organization called Project Rishi, with the aim of assessing the health of individuals from an impoverished village in South India. He also is the editor for the UCLA Medical Literature Society. Rushil is a student researcher research at the Cedars Sinai Hospital in West Hollywood where he analyzes data on different patient scenarios in the field of surgery. He aspires to become a physician and start a non-profit organization with the goal of improving impoverished regions of the world by promoting the implementation of better health practices and access to adequate resources.


Juan Carlos Guzman

Juan Carlos Guzman (2020)

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I am Norco College Alumni, and before my journey at UCI began, I was a Supplemental Instruction (SI) Mentor at Norco College for Integral Calculus, Geometry, Algebra, and Multivariable Calculus. It was during my time at Norco College where I really researched what I wanted to do. Thanks to the Engineering Pathways and Learning Resource Center (LRC) staff, I found my calling as an Environmental Engineer. Currently, I am a Senior Environmental Engineering Undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine. As part of UCI’s Civil and Environmental Engineering program, I am enrolled in the senior design series. The design project allows students to get field experience, and are teamed up with peers to work together with local engineering firms. The firm I am working with is Fuscoe Engineering, Inc. for a land development project. My part of the design project involves the Hydrology and Grading Plan of the site. Earlier this year I was the project manager for another land development project with a focus on the basic infrastructural, environmental, circulation aspects. The year before I had the opportunity to do research for UC Irvine’s Engineering Conference Tall Farm Project. I collaborated with fellow engineering students to design an 18 story vertical autonomous farm with a water filtration system, an autonomous crop farming mechanism, and utilization of AI to optimize the different structures. My group’s paper competed against other teams but ultimately, we won and got published. Some of the Engineering Clubs I have been a part of are the American Academy for Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers(SHPE). As part of AAEES, I am the club Treasurer and handle fundraisers. Additionally, we tour public works facilities such as the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) and the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) to get insight on how the plant works and possible internships. As part of ASCE, I am on the rowing team in their concrete canoe event for the Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC). The club also has lots of industry speakers as well as resume and job fair events. As part of SHPE, I am in their Professional Committee and had a mentor guide me to improve and polish up the job fair network, interview etiquette, resume, and professional photos. I also study with SHPE during study jams that still take place over ZOOM. Clubs are a great way to make friends in your major which has certainly been the case with me. I have been able to find a study group and space during school. However, I have also been able to connect with peers outside of class by going to club events at the beach or on a hike. Additionally, the Engineering Clubs have expanded my network which can help and widen my connections to possible jobs.


Tiffany Pan

Tiffany Pan (2020)

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I am currently a software engineer on the Android Platform team at Square, where I work on developing the operating system for the Square Terminal and the Square Register that have helped enable many restaurants, shops, and small businesses to process payments with ease. During my time at Norco College from 2014 to 2016, I had been a part of the STEM program, tutored in several math and science courses, interned at UC Berkeley's Biomechanical Engineering lab one summer, and then at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona the next summer. Then I transferred to UC San Diego as a Math Computer Science major, where I tutored for lower division computer science classes and was actively involved in the Women in Computing club on campus. Through these communities, I was able to grow my network, learn computer science topics in depth, attend many career fairs such as the Grace Hopper Conference (the world's largest gathering of women technologists) in 2018 and in 2019. These all helped me land internships at Intel as a graphics software engineer, at Northrop Grumman as a software engineer, and at Workday as a software developer for one summer and then as an iOS engineer for the fall. After graduating from UCSD in 2019, I moved to San Francisco and started working at Square in August 2019.


Raul Gonzalez

Raul Gonzalez (2020)

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I grew up in a traditional Mexican family. My mom an dad supported me through my adolescent life by working hard. I thank them for that every day. My story is like many others that I have met along my journey. It was with great sacrifice that I was able to accomplish my goals but the motive has always been to have a better life. I am a Norco College Alumni who participated in the STEM Scholars Program then transferred to San Jose State University as a Mechanical Engineering Major. I participated in SOLES and MEP. I received my Bachelors’ in Science in Mechanical Engineering in June 2019. While attending SJSU I had the good fortune to have two Mechanical Engineering internships one with Aixtron, Inc. and another with Eugenus Inc. Just prior to graduation, I was hired at Plasmatreat North America as an applications intern and since June 2019 I am an Application Engineer with Plasmatreat.


Edgar Carlos

Edgar Carlos (2020)

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Edgar Carlos is a STEM Scholar Alumni. While attending Norco College he worked as a science tutor at the LRC and helped new students transition into college as a Student Ambassador. He then transferred to UC Irvine in fall 2017, where he was involved in clinical research at the School of Medicine. Moreover, he has been a participant of enrichment programs such as the Summer Health Professions Education Program and Medicos, Enfermeros y Dentistas Para El Pueblo (MEDPEP) at UCLA. Edgar intends to attend medical school next year.


Cameron Clark

Cameron Clark (2020)

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My name is Cameron Clark, I transferred to UC Santa Cruz winter 2018 and will be graduating with a B.S. in Astrophysics Spring 2020. I do research on exoplanets where my main goal is to find tidally locked rocky planets using statistical analysis; of which my thesis and published paper will be written about. I also am the head of the mentoring program for the physics club (SPS) which, along with the Women in Physics Association (WiPA), we pair undergraduates with experienced students to help inspire, encourage, and guide them to being successful.


Go Ito

Go Ito (2020)

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Go Ito is a Senior Science Integration Analyst at The Walt Disney Company. He joined the Disney Decision Science and Integration team as the only member without a graduate degree since the establishment of the team in 2011. Having his theoretical statistics background, he utilizes the power of data science to quantitatively analyze and propose business strategies in the media industry. His current project concentrates on the optimization of Disney's Broadway Live Action marketing strategy based on time series analysis. Prior to joining the Walt Disney Company, Go earned a Bachelor of Science in Statistics and Minor in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude) from the University of California, Los Angeles in June 2019. He transferred to UCLA from Norco College in 2017. He worked as a STEM Tutor and taught Physics and Mathematics for a year. Go's objective in the next 5 years is to pursue to a PhD program to research on spatio temporal statistics and optimization, with potential applications in the fields of urban planning, geopolitics, crime study, transportation, resource allocation, and hazard study.


Burhan Alestwani

Burhan Alestwani (2020)

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My name is Burhan Alestwani . I am a Norco College Alumni and a senior at Cal Poly Pomona pursuing a double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. I started at Norco College as a Math and Physics tutor at the Learning Resource Center. I was awarded at Norco College the Southern California Edison scholarship for academic excellence and participation. Once I transferred to Cal Poly Pomona, I got more involved in projects and extra curricular activities. I joined the Bronco Motorsports Formula team as a member trainee. Within the team I assisted in designing various circuits that were implemented directly on the car. I also worked with multiple professors on different projects using Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) boards in fields related to encryption and image processing. As a challenge last summer, my colleague and I decided to design and build an Inductive Charging Autonomous Rover on our own. I also received multiple awards this year including the Chevron and the Boeing scholarships from the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.


Jessica Osanyinpeju

Jessica Osanyinpeju (2020)

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I am a senior at UCLA and transferred from Norco College in 2018. My major is biology and I am also pre med, hopefully, a future psychiatrist. At Norco, I was a math and chemistry tutor at the LRC and a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Honors Program. At UCLA, I am currently involved in clinical research at the medical school and also work as a mentor to students at Glendale College through UCLA's Center for Community College Partnerships. I was once a mentee through the same program in 2017 2018 and I believe the mentorship they provided was a major factor in my ability to navigate the transfer application and be confident I would succeed once I transferred. I had the best mentors myself and hope to be as great as they were. Feel free to ask me any questions about the transfer process, CCCP, or my experience at UCLA!

Fun fact: my favorite show is Doctor Who, very STEM!


Miguel Toledo

Miguel Toledo (2020)

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Miguel Toledo was born in Guatemala and moved to Corona, CA with is family at a young age. He attended Norco College and was part of the STEM Scholars program. He transferred and graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a B.S. in Chemistry and Minor in Earth Science.

During his academic career Miguel focused on developing laboratory and research skills, as well as giving back to underrepresented groups via tutoring/mentoring with Norco’s STEM program and Society the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

As a young professional, Miguel has worked as a Research Chemist in the petrochemical industry developing catalysts for a more efficient technology platform. Recently, he has started a new role as an Associate Field Scientist at Apeel Sciences where they use plant derived materials to extend shelf life of produce and contribute to a more abundant future for the planet.

Eventually, Miguel aspires to pursue a graduate degree and to become a mentor for students that want to succeed.


Kayla Criswell-Ortiz

Kayla Criswell-Ortiz (2018)

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Kayla Criswell-Ortiz is no stranger to Norco College or soccer having competed since she was four years old, eventually playing center-mid for the College’s team during the 2017 season. Her impact was immense, earning first team All-Orange Empire Conference, team most valuable player, most inspirational, and was a scholar athlete.

Now 28, Ortiz is a returning student as well as a single mother of a three-year-old. She decided to go back to school in order to provide a better life for her and her son, Daniel.

In order to kick off her return to the College, she signed up for the CalWORKs program.

“If it was not for the help of CalWORKs, I would not be able to afford school or books,” she said. “The staff treats me like family and are always making sure I have the tools needed to succeed.”

The success Ortiz found on the field she has now discovered in the classroom. She currently maintains a 3.7 grade point average while studying kinesiology. Her goal is to become a registered nurse at Corona Regional Hospital.

As far as returning to the field, Ortiz said she is grateful for the opportunity and is excited to share her knowledge, which she hopes will transcend into a winning season.


Anthony Lombardo

Anthony Lombardo (2015)

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Anthony Lombardo, a Norco College graduate, has won a $150,000 Jack Kent Cooke Continuing Graduate Scholarship. Two years ago he was one of 76 community college students nationwide who received a Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which he used to attend UC Berkeley.

Lombardo graduated from Cal last week with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. His next stop is the Berkeley School of Law.

“I’d like to practice civil law, specifically as it relates to litigation,” he said. “I'll be able to work for all sorts of clients—anywhere from large corporations to small businesses.”

UC Berkeley and law school is a far cry from Lombardo’s initial goal when he enrolled at Norco College in 2011 to study architecture. However, he said he found his true calling after being elected vice president of Finance for the Associated Students of Norco College (ASNC). During his tenure, he advocated for scholarships for transferring students.

“I recognized that a lot of students were facing financial difficulty because of the economy, so with the help of my advisor and the ASNC we were able to give out about 19 scholarships at $1,000 apiece,” he said.

Lombardo credits his time with ASNC and the College’s Honors Program as game changers in his academic career.

“My participation in the Honors Program and ASNC helped me grow as a person,” Lombardo said. “The advisers of both organizations served as mentors. They helped me recognize my potential and showed me that there are no barriers to my success. Anything can be achieved.”

The Honors Program’s rigorous curriculum challenged him, which proved helpful at Cal. In addition, Lombardo says his tenure in the Associated Students of Norco College “gave me real-world experience in community engagement. Such experience sparked my interest in politics and law, setting me on a trajectory toward a law career. Without their support, I would not be the person I am today… I am indebted to Norco College—it is a place where I grew not only as a student, but as a person.”


Commencement Student Speakers


Gabrielle Ante

Gabrielle Ante (2020)

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Gabrielle Ante was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and raised in the Philippines. She and her family permanently settled in the United States when she began seventh grade at Arlington High School.

After graduating high school in 2015, Ante enrolled at Riverside City College, where she joined the RCC Women’s Tennis team for two years while pursuing her general education requirements as a Chemical Engineering major. She earned her first degree in Math and Science in 2018.

Ante later discovered that even though she earned the Math and Science degree with the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum plan (IGETC), she was one class short of obtaining the certification. She quickly began investigating and connecting with professors and counselors who helped her towards completion.

Today, she is graduating with seven additional associate degrees in Pre-Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Social and Behavioral Studies, Humanities, and Communications. Her degrees come from a variety of disciplines, like the School of STEM, School of Arts & Humanities, and School of Social & Behavioral Sciences.

She plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. In the future, she seeks to gain experience in research and development as a Chemical Engineer while working toward a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate.

Ante comes from a family immersed in the STEM field. Her father is a health care practitioner and her mother is a registered nurse.

Raised in a Filipino culture centered on family and self-development, she owes her success to her family’s support and guidance. Ante aspires to build a strong foundation of knowledge and community by connecting ideas and working hard to apply them in hopes to improve society. In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies, reading and drawing.


Angelica Gutierrez

Angelica Gutierrez (2019)

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On June 7, the largest graduating class (over 400 students) walked through the Norco College stage to accept their degrees. Over 4,000 guests proudly gathered around the soccer field to cheer on the graduates as they prepared for the next chapter in their lives.

Norco College student speaker Angelica Gutierrez shared her inspirational story about resilience and courage. She talked about the struggles she faced coming to the US and being bullied for not knowing how to speak English. Introverted by nature, Gutierrez recalls wanting to drop out of school, but she turned to her courage and continued to push through. She remembers reciting the following quote from Frank Ocean, “Work hard in silence, and let success make the noise!" Gutierrez was successful all right and graduated with four associate of arts degrees in Spanish, Humanities, Social and Behavioral Studies, and Communications. She is on her way to Cal State University, San Bernardino this fall.


Maria Barragan

Maria Barragan (2018)

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Tonight’s student speaker, Ms. Maria Barragan, is the current Associated Student of Norco College (ASNC) President. She was elected in the spring of 2017 to serve the campus as the primary voice for the more than 13,000 Norco College students and Maria has fulfilled her role as well as any student body president in the history of Norco College. Her relationships with faculty, staff and administrators is one of respect and admiration. Over her three years at Norco College she has gained the trust of her fellow students and has represented them on campus, at the state level, and even in Washington D.C. at the national Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Ms. Barragan was born in Mexico City and came to the United States at age of 5 with her mother and sister. She grew up all over California, but attended Charter Oak High School in Covina. Today, Maria resides in Jurupa Valley with her mother, sister and step-father.

Maria is a force to be reckoned with while at the same time has the sweetest demeanor. In her many leadership positions on campus, she has taken an active role in making a positive impact wherever she goes. She has been actively involved as a member of Dreamers and Leaders, Puente as a Peer Mentor and Historian, as well as ASNC. In ASNC, she has moved up through the ranks, starting as a Senator of Campus Activities, then Vice President of Campus Activities, and finally ASNC President for the 2017-2018 academic year. She is a member of the campus’ Academic Senate, Institutional Strategic Planning Council, and Committee of the Whole.

Ms. Barragan will be leaving behind many legacy programs, which she founded or co-founded, including Norco Fest, the Athletic Pep Rally, Silent Disco, and Chill Out (Snow Day), just to name a few. Maria is a Sociology major and will be attending the University of California, Riverside in the fall to pursue a B.A. in Sociology and one day a Guidance Counselor in Higher Education. Norco College’s Student Commencement Speaker Sub-Committee was proud to select Maria Barragan to give tonight’s keynote address.


Adriel Chavez-Sherman

Adriel Chavez-Sherman (2017)

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Adriel Chavez-Sherman was born in Southern California and has been an Inland Empire resident most of her life. She was raised in a close-knit family with a strong belief that doing your best and going above and beyond what is expected will lead to a successful life. That belief, along with her diverse educational interests, have led her to graduate with four different associate’s degrees in Communications, Math and Science, Humanities, and Social and Behavioral Studies.

After graduating from La Sierra High School in 2007, Adriel attended California State University, Long Beach for a few semesters before transferring to Riverside City College for personal reasons. She stayed at RCC for a year and then switched to Norco College for a year, where she focused on Psychology. In 2011 she applied for two associate’s degrees but was missing two classes required for graduation. At this point, however, she decided to focus on joining the workforce and didn’t complete her degrees. It wasn’t until five years later, in 2016, that Adriel decided it was time to finally complete the associate’s degrees she had attempted several years before. After meeting with a counselor from Norco College, she realized she had enough units to graduate with not just two, but four degrees, as long as she completed the required classes in the 2016-2017 academic year. The next step in Adriel’s journey is to transfer to a 4-year university and major in Communications with an emphasis in Marketing. She hopes to parlay the different educational backgrounds she’s gained from Norco College towards a future career in her field of study.

Adriel comes from a family with strong talents in the arts. Her mother does amazing crochet work and her father is a fantastic artist and graphic designer. So her favorite hobbies tend to include the visual arts, such as drawing, watercolor painting, and photography. Doing art, along with the loving support of her friends and family, have helped her conquer anxiety and depression. The experiences Adriel’s had with mental health are what drives her to want to publish a coloring book geared towards helping people relax and unwind while they color. She hopes a Communications Marketing degree will help her and her family with their different artistic endeavors.


Suzanne Schepler

Suzanne Schepler (2016)

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Benjamin Vargas

Benjamin Vargas (2015)

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Commencement is set for Thursday, June 11, at 6 pm on the soccer field, and officials expect over 250 graduates to participate in the ceremony. The venue will be a familiar place for the 2015 Student Speaker Benjamin Vargas, a soccer player for most of his life. Vargas, 22, was born in Whittier but raised in Corona. The Centennial High School graduate is the first in his family to attend college and plans to transfer to a Cal State University campus in the fall. Previously the Norco College student body president, Vargas is a passionate student and education advocate.


Jocelyn Yow

Jocelyn Yow (2014)

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Ms. Jocelyn Yow, a native of San Jose, moved to Malaysia at a young age and graduated from high school before her return to the United States. Ms. Yow decided to enroll in Norco College and pursue her dream of becoming a human rights advocate. During her tenure at Norco College, Ms. Yow has been a member of Alpha Gamma Sigma (AGS), a statewide honor society and joined the Honors Program. Soon after her involvement in Norco Scholars Association (NSA), she decided to join the Associated Students of Norco College (ASNC) and was appointed as a Senator of Campus Organizations. Ms. Yow is currently serving her college as the ASNC Student Body President, the official representative of ASNC at all levels of shared governance and district wide, as well as a proponent of students’ rights. Ms. Yow will receive her Associate Degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences for Norco College, as she prepares to transfer successfully to the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) in Fall 2014 as a Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) major with a concentration in Human Rights.


Anthony Lombardo

Anthony Lombardo (2013)

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Last spring, Anthony Lombardo used his position as vice president of Finance for the Associated Students of Norco College to fund a series of scholarships for students transferring to four-year universities. “I recognized that a lot of students were facing financial difficulty because of the economy so with the help of my advisor and the ASNC we were able to give out about 19 scholarships at $1,000 apiece,” Anthony said. His good deed was repaid this year when Anthony was one of 76 community college students nationwide to win the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which he will use to attend UC Berkeley in the fall. Anthony is graduating with associate’s degrees in: Social and Behavioral Sciences; Humanities, Philosophy and Art, and Communication, Media and Languages. Initially, his major was architecture but after being involved with ASNC and getting a taste of politics, Anthony switched his major to political science. Don’t be looking for him on the statewide ballot any time soon though. Anthony wants to get a law degree and practice a few years before he runs for political office.


Grad Stories


Isla Covarrubias

Isla Covarrubias (2017)

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Isla Covarrubias learned the value of hard work at the age of five. She recalls her father taking her and her brother out to the fields in Mexico to pick fruit to stock the produce store her dad owned in their town. She was born in Orange County and at the age of two she moved with her father to Jalisco, Mexico. She returned to Orange County at the age of 11.

Later, Covarrubias started a family with her husband and moved to Michigan, but had to move back to California three years ago to escape from her abusive husband. She left her job, a home and a middle class lifestyle. She packed the essentials and with her three young children moved to Corona with her mother.

“I was embarrassed to ask for help and knew the only way to achieve personal success was to attend college. I found my way to Norco College through the CalWORKs program and am so glad I decided to pursue my education.”

She felt unsure of herself because she did not know the English language fluently and was shy to ask for help. For years, her husband told her that she was not good enough and she started to believe it. Covarrubias recalls how challenging it was for her to commit to school while raising three children, but she continued to push through.

“There were times I wanted to quit because I did not think I was meant for school. Thankfully, my counselors would talk me out of it and here I am setting a good example for my children. I want them to be proud of their mom.”

Covarrubias was dedicated to her studies and sought help from peers, mentors and professors to ensure she maintained good grades. She joined clubs, participated in special programs including EOPS/CARE, CalWORKs, SSS, Puente and the Honor’s program. Covarrubias co-founded the Norco Mustang Parent Organization. She serves as an advocate through organizations like the Hispanas Organization for Political Equality (HOPE) and has taken an active role by speaking to Assembly members at the state capitol. Recently, she was selected to receive the 2017 CalWORKs scholarship. In late March, she attended the CalWORKs Association Conference where she spoke to an audience of over 300 people about her struggles and success.

On June 8, 2017, Covarrubias graduated as a student of distinction from Norco College with four associate degrees. She was accepted to eight universities and committed to a full ride at UC Berkeley. She will be pursuing a degree in Sociology and hopes to become a college counselor. As of this writing, Isla and her family planned to relocate to Berkeley during the summer to begin her classes in fall. ​​​


Calvin Klein Gloria

Calvin Klein Gloria (2017)

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Joining the Navy is a family affair according to Calvin Klein Gloria. His two brothers and sister all proudly served.

Gloria was born in the Philippines and at the age of five, he moved to the United States. He grew up in Ontario, CA and graduated from Colony High School. He knew he wanted to go to college, but his parents did not understand the need for higher education. Gloria was on his own and decided to enroll in the Navy to follow his siblings' footsteps. He knew that receiving an education through the Navy would be attainable. After two deployments and four years, his time was up. During this time he also married his high school sweetheart.

Once he came back home, he found out about Norco College and enrolled in summer school in June 2015.

“I went to other schools, but did not feel a connection. Once I set foot on Norco College I was greeted with a warm welcome by College staff. I felt appreciated and was hooked because I knew I found the right fit.”

Gloria was an aviation mechanic for the Navy, but decided to change his focus to kinesiology. He was fascinated by the body and fitness - something he does regularly to keep his mental sanity.

“I firmly believe that I was put on this earth to help others. I enjoy connecting with people and being able to make a difference.”

At the age of 25, Gloria will graduate with a 3.9 GPA and three associate degrees. He will be transferring to California State, San Bernardino to pursue a bachelor’s in Kinesiology. He hopes to further his education and obtain a doctorate in Physical Therapy. He is interested in working with veterans and the gerontology population.

“Norco College exceeded my expectations and pushed me to be where I am today. The Veterans Club is a brotherhood that motivates and inspires me every day.”

During his time at Norco College, Gloria worked at the Veterans office and serves as treasurer of the Veterans Club. He credits Professors Mills, Russell and Betancourt for teaching him to never give up and to pursue what he loves. He admires their passion for their fields and keeps him motivated to do the same.


Luis Enrique Velazco Miranda

Luis Enrique Velazco Miranda (2017)

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Luis Enrique Velazco Miranda was born in Durango, Mexico. He moved to the US with his family at the age of five. He recalls enrolling in elementary school and failing first grade because he did not speak English.

He learned the language and later attended Centennial High School where he took honors and AP classes.

“I felt like I did not belong in these classes. Everyone would look at me strange because I did not fit the honors look.”

Velazco Miranda remembers one of his teachers surprisingly telling him that he was smart, didn’t look like it, but he was smart. That gave him motivation to continue his education.

He applied to four universities, but was not accepted. He decided to enroll at Norco College not knowing that his life goals would go through a series of changes. He was a first-generation college student and became part of the PUENTE program, joined ASNC and eventually became vice president of student campus and organizations.

“My education at Norco College is valuable. It is the foundation of who I am today. My impossibilities became possibilities at this campus and I will forever be grateful.”

Just when he thought everything was coming together, Velazco Miranda hit a slump his second year of college. He became disengaged and dropped out for three months. It was his time to reflect and figure out his next step. He came back to college full force and became the RCCD student trustee. He also changed his math major to history because he realized he was intrigued by pre-colonial and Civil War history.

“I took a French class and then had an epiphany of a career in history. I spoke to Professor Hitchcock and she encouraged me to follow my heart.”

On June 8, 2017, Velazco Miranda graduated with three associate degrees and will transfer to Humboldt State University. He plans on becoming a high school history teacher in the areas of Rubidoux or Mira Loma.


Giovanna Mireles

Giovanna Mireles (2017)

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School was never an easy chore for Giovanna Mireles. At the early age of six, she was diagnosed with ADHD.

“I hated going to school because I struggled. I could not focus and felt like I was always in trouble.”

She recalls having to repeat second grade and feeling embarrassed. Her mother did not want to give her medication and instead turned to behavioral therapy. Mireles said the therapy was a good option, but it still did not help her with retention and focus, which made school so much harder.

Mireles continued to push through and enrolled in college after high school. She ended up at Norco College in fall 2014. Unfortunately, her studies were suffering and was put on academic probation. In fall 2015, everything changed for the better, she joined PUENTE and her grade point average started to increase. She also participated in special programs including Student Support Services (SSS).

“Because of PUENTE and SSS, I made it to the dean’s list and started to believe in myself again. I encourage students not to lose hope and take advantage of the programs and resources available.”

Mireles credits David Payan and Hortencia Cuevas, her PUENTE and SSS counselors for pushing her to get involved and never giving up on her.

Currently, Mireles is working for the college library and will serve as a student mentor for Summer Advantage program.

On June 8, 2017, Mireles graduated with a Social & Behavioral Sciences degree and will transfer to UC Santa Cruz. She plans on earning a bachelor’s in psychology and becoming a college counselor. Mireles wants to give back to the system that helped her succeed when the odds were against her.


Miami Abdulal

Miami Abdulal (2016)

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“You can’t be a journalist, you just moved from your country and you don’t speak English fluently.” These are the words Miami Abdulal heard since migrating from Syria.

“Moving from Syria to the United States of America in the aftermath of Civil War between the government and Syrian citizens was the hardest thing for me. Losing relatives and friends in the war was the hardest thing that I had to suffer. Those incidents made me skeptical about everything to the point where I refused to further my education when everyone around me was becoming a doctor or attorney.”

After a long fight with fear, Abdulal decided to pursue her education. Navigating was the hardest part for her because she was uncomfortable with her surroundings. After completing two consecutive semesters at Norco College, Abdulal started getting involved in campus activities. She made friends who encouraged her to be the best and introduced her to campus programs. “My friends told me about the Extended Opportunity Program and how much it helped students. I applied and was accepted. I cried because things were finally working out for me. EOPS and Norco College have helped shape who I am right now.”

Abdulal will be graduating from Norco College with high honors and pursuing her degree in Journalism with an emphasis on Media Studies. She hopes to shed some light on the truth about the Syrian crisis.

“Graduating from Norco College with high honors and transferring to a prestigious four-year institution was never something I pictured myself doing. It would not be possible if it wasn’t for the assistance I received from Norco College and EOPS.”

In March 2019, Miami started working at ABC7 Eyewitness News as a News Assistant.


Misty Jolly

Misty Jolly (2016)

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For Misty Jolly, setting a good example for her children is priority.

Misty Jolly had every intention to go to college after she graduated from high school, but realized that earning money was more important. In 2005, Jolly got married and later had a son. Then in 2009, she gave birth to premature twin girls who spent the first month of their life in a NICU. During this trying time, her marriage was failing due to verbal and physical abuse. She decided to file for divorce and has never looked back.

Jolly became a single mom of three, two of which were preemies and needed special care. Her dad stepped in and provided emotional support for her and her family, but became ill with end stage emphysema and passed away in 2011.

It was not until she was 29 that she decided to enroll at Norco College.

“The first school I looked up on Google was Norco College so I applied in the fall of 2013. Once I started my college experience, I never stopped. My kids motivate me and I want to make sure I set the best example I can for them.”

Jolly credits the CalWORKs program and staff for helping her succeed in college. In fact, she holds a part-time job at the CalWORKs/Outreach office.

“Daniela McCarson has been a huge factor in my success. Through the program she and the staff helped me with school supplies, books, and parking, without judgment. They just inspired and pushed me to do my best.”

Jolly recalls how professor Nikki Capps influenced her career path.

“When I took her English 1A course, she saw something in me that I didn't quite see myself and that was my ability to help others. She emailed me right after the semester ended and offered me a position in the Learning Resource Center as a writing tutor and a position as a lab aide in the Writing Lab. It was because of this that I realized I would enjoy being a teacher.”

After graduating from Norco College in June, Jolly will attend Cal Poly Pomona to pursue an English major.

“Ultimately I would like to teach and would love to come back and teach at Norco College.”

Jolly received the Alan D. Pauw endowed scholarship and was awarded the Soroptimist International Live Your Dream scholarship.

“This is emotional for me because something I never thought I would accomplish has surpassed being a dream; it has become a reality and I'm forever grateful to Norco for helping make my dream a reality.”


Mauricio Ruiz

Mauricio Ruiz (2016)

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Mauricio Ruiz decided to serve in the Marine Corps for 10 years before deciding to give college another try.

Ruiz, a child of immigrant parents, was always encouraged to pursue his education after high school, but college tuition was an obstacle and when his grades suffered, he decided to drop out.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for a decade and his life changed from then on.

“After a successful career in the Marine Corps my circumstances changed and I realized that this job was no longer what I needed. I had gotten married and my wife was expecting our first child. I knew it would be a difficult transition for them, so I decided to finish my contract and attempt college one more time,” said Ruiz.

Taking this leap of faith changed his financial situation and his wife went from being a stay-at-home mom to working 45 minutes away from home to stay afloat with finances. His family remained supportive and helped take care of their son.

“I realized that simply having a job would not be sufficient enough for me or my family. I needed a career and the only way this was achievable was to get a college degree.”

Ruiz works two jobs at times while being a full-time student. His motivation to finish what he started 14 years ago is much stronger and he will not give up until he is done.

He is on the path to receive his associate of arts in Psychology and Sociology from Norco College. He would like to transfer to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a baccalaureate degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Mental Health Services to better assist military members. Currently, Ruiz holds a 3.8 GPA and is president of the Norco College Veterans Club and works in the Veterans Services Center on campus.


Evelyn Almaraz

Evelyn Almaraz (2015)

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Evelyn Almaraz calls herself a dreamer, a Puentista, a reinvention, a creator, and a giver of hope. Descriptions she earned and values.

“’Who are you?’ I’ve been asked this question more than once, and every time it causes me to pause and really think about it,” says the Norco College student who is headed to UC Berkeley in fall 2015.

Statistically speaking, Almaraz is part of a minority group—born of immigrants parents, the first in her family to attend college. While she embraces her heritage, she says is so much more than a statistic.

Almaraz wasn’t a high school standout; she was comfortable in the middle of the pack, earning a 2.9 GPA. Until she decided to reinvent herself.

“Having witnessed my parents’ struggles, I knew that life was not for me,” she says. She chose Norco College as her place of rebirth.

“I was a Puentista, a proud member of the Puente Program. Dr. Zina Chacon (Puente counselor) taught me how to dream, to aim higher and reach my potential. It was a potential that I didn’t even know existed.”

Following Chacon’s advice to “fake it until you make it,” Almaraz walked around campus telling everyone she was going to transfer to Cal. At the time it felt like an empty boast rather than a promise.

“My second year at Norco I created a future by literally practicing what I preached,” Almaraz explains. “I became a student worthy of applying even to UC Berkeley.

In this, her third year at Norco College, Almaraz is a giver of hope.

She was accepted into every UC to which she applied including Cal and UCLA. Her achievement is proof, not an outlier statistic in some database, she says. Proof that “coming from nothing, never implies our future is doomed. We are not victims, we are the baby turtles making our way to the ocean. We can make that journey.”


Christopher Gonzalez

Christopher Gonzalez (2015)

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At age six, Christopher Gonzalez decided he had to take care of himself. He never knew his father and his mom, who often worked days and nights to support the family, wasn’t around much.

Yet every night, when she got home from work, she would tell him, “I love you, son. You’re the most important person for me and I will never let you down in the good or bad days.”

Gonzalez held onto those words, but in the dark hours of too many sad nights spent alone, the pain seeped in.

At age 10, his life turned darker. He did drugs to forget his problems. Drugs tied him to a gang. Gangbanging led to a detention center. In eighth grade, Gonzalez dropped out of school and deeper into the violence on the streets of Hunting Park.

“I did not see a future for myself. I saw myself in jail or worse,” he said. “I was invisible to society. Nobody believed in me so I stopped believing in myself.”

He will never forget the life-changing moment where despair turned to determination. A friend took a bullet from a rival gangbanger’s gun that Gonzalez knew might just as easily found him instead. Running from the scene, he made a decision.

“I didn’t want that life anymore…alone with no family or real friends. I decided to change my life and future.”

A cousin in Corona provided a safe place to stay and an opportunity for Gonzalez to finish high school. He attended Centennial High, working hard to earn enough credits to graduate.

“I hardly would ever sleep or eat. My only focus was making sure to successfully complete my work, which allowed me to graduate with my diploma,” he remembers. “Now, I am the first one to attend college in my family.”

Gonzalez will graduate from Norco College this June and plans to transfer to CSU San Bernardino to earn a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, followed by a master’s degree. He says Norco College is the foundation of his education.

“Norco College and the Puente Program has given me the opportunity to grow as a student,” says the future college counselor. “College was not easy, but I was determined to change the way I thought, the way I study, and to become more independent. I have learned to always appreciate the things I have and not (regret) the things I don’t have.”

As someone who went down the wrong road, made a U-turn and found solid footing on a new pathway, Gonzalez shared this advice: Never quit in what you believe in. Build yourself up and be determined not to give up your dreams.

“We all deserve a second chance,” he said. “I got one and am thankful…I will always remember where I started.”


Kevin LaMantain

Kevin LaMantain (2015)

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As a teenager, Kevin LaMantain could pound a nail, measure a compound woodcut, and hang a door, but he never deciphered the blueprint that led to college.

An undiagnosed learning disorder prompted him to drop out of high school early. His carpentry skills landed a him a job, a decent hourly wage kept him driving screws, and any thoughts of finishing high school and going to college got swept up with the sawdust at the end of the day.

“Nothing I had ever learned dispelled the notion of how impossible and expensive going to college would be,” said LaMantain, who moved from carpentry to line construction, auto customization and countless other jobs, always jumping after two or three years. “By the time I became an adult with my own children, the idea of going to college had become an opportunity that I considered was for others more privileged than myself.”

His early years contributed to the disconnect. LaMantain grew up in a household with older parents, both exhausted from having raised a large family, his father disabled. While his parents encouraged him to go to college, they hadn’t attended themselves and had no understanding of the financial planning and preparation required.

One day, LaMantain bought a book about how to go to college. He still regrets that decision.

“It obviously wasn’t written for prospective students. One chapter talked about preparing academically by the seventh grade; another about starting a college savings account for your child. It was probably one of the most discouraging factors in me not going back to school.”

A later visit to a local community college guidance office didn’t help either. “It was as if the counselor and I spoke different languages,” LaMantain said. “It may sound too simple but one of the most difficult challenges to overcome for reentry students, adult students or anyone enrolling for the first time is figuring out how to apply and enroll, and the difference between the two.”

LaMantain finally found answers to his own questions while researching a plan for his oldest child to attend college. He discovered the Equal Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS) program at Norco College. The program is specifically designed to meet the needs of first-generation college students and those from low-income families.

“EOPS counseling directed me to other services that led me to overcome learning disabilities that had frustrated me in school as a young person and dispelled every objection I ever had about going to college,” said UC Berkeley-bound LaMantain. “I took every class seriously as if it was the last opportunity I’d ever have. I knew that at my age as a single parent the idea of redoing a class or getting a substandard grade weighed the odds against my success.”

His hard work and determination carried him through preparatory classes, requirements for the Transfer Alliance Guarantee, and positioned him as an excellent candidate for UC admission. “Even the sky doesn’t seem to be the limit anymore,” he said.

As graduation from Norco College nears, LaMantain is planning his next steps as an English major entering Cal in the fall and exploring a personal calling toward researching Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“At Norco College, I learned that an education can transform a person’s life. An education is so much more than you hope it is going to be. The challenges that I’ve faced have given me a great life, and it just keeps getting better.”

The man who replaced a hammer with a book and took a different path in life says that while his story may be unusual, there is nothing special about him. “Anyone can do this, and I hope anyone who has ever thought about it, does.”


Tabitha Johnson

Tabitha Johnson (2014)

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Life wasn’t ideal, but for Tabitha Johnson, married at 19, it was her reality. Still, the bills were paid. Sons Alex, Christian and Nathaniel were healthy. Her husband, David, however, was permanently disabled, the result of an on-the-job injury. Johnson carried on for 17 years…until she lost her job as a property manager in 2009. Things spiraled quickly out of control.

“I had a hard time finding a new position, especially having no education beyond high school,” Johnson said. “Like most others, we lived month to month. It wasn’t long before we had our utilities shut off and started to lose everything including our house.”

Eventually her family became homeless, living at a Corona shelter.

“The burden was on my shoulders being the sole provider, and when I couldn’t find another job, we became very discouraged, especially when we had to let go of all the things we had accumulated. Emotionally, this was the most devastating for my husband who was not able to provide for his family,” she said.

Although homeless, Johnson still had dreams. To make the dreams a reality, the family would need to start over.

“We established temporary residence with my in-laws and we resorted to signing up for public assistance,” Johnson said. “Soon after, I enrolled in college and am on my path to pursuing my goal of becoming a registered nurse.”

Johnson, 41, holds a GPA of 3.8 and is on the Dean’s List. She will graduate on June 12 from Norco College and continue to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

“I am confident on my academic path and feel that it is what I am supposed to be doing right now,” she said. “I am very humbled as a result of my life experiences, yet more determined than ever to serve as a positive example to my children and community through positive actions.”

"I'm very fortunate to have a very strong support system in my life right now--my church, family, and the CalWORKS family at Norco College provided me with such positive encouragement. We continue to struggle financially, yet somehow make ends meet. My boss/CalWORKS Coordinator, Daniela (McCarson) pushed me and reminded me that the end goal was near."


Julianna Kilpatrick

Julianna Kilpatrick (2014)

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Julianna Kilpatrick had a good life, holding down an executive position with Viacom in product placement.

And then it hit.

Not the recession - cancer.

Kilpatrick, 39, beat the cancer, but lost her career.

“The doctors told me I couldn’t continue in my present career due to the workload,” Kilpatrick said. Attempting to salvage her future, she began re-examining her life, reviewing her goals coming out of high school in 1990.

“I wanted to get into sports medicine. At that time, it was impossible for women to have a career in the field, but now women have broken into the sports industry as reporters, athletic trainers, and sports medicine (professionals). I felt my dream could be achieved now.”

With renewed passion, Kilpatrick, a single mother at the time, dove right in, enrolling at Norco College 21 years after graduating from high school. She and her classmates will celebrate their accomplishments at the commencement ceremony on June 12.

For Kilpatrick the journey has been intimidating, yet fulfilling.

“I’d tell single mothers to just do it (return to school),” she said. “The sooner you start, the sooner you are on the journey to a better life. It's incredibly intimidating to risk failure, wonder how out of place you will feel sitting in a classroom, and if you have the ability to handle the schoolwork. I had the same fears. By engaging and becoming involved on campus I found the inspiration to continue on when times got tough.”

Kilpatrick will leave Norco College with a 4.0 grade point average and two associate of arts degrees. She will continue her education at the University of Texas, working toward a degree in Pre-Med Exercise Science, ATEP (Athletic Training Exercise Program), before beginning the Physician's Assistant in Sports Medicine program.

“It was a lot of hard work,” she said on maintaining a 4.0 GPA. “Essentially it's about time management and organization. I created study buddies/groups in each class, used an application called iStudies Pro, inputting important dates with alerts. I also used study groups before major tests. Sharing information with others is a great way to find mastery in a subject.”

Kilpatrick also leaned heavily on her family, including children Brenna and Jack, and boyfriend, Robert Tollett, who attends Norco College. Together they created a workflow chart for daily chores and cooking, giving Kilpatrick time to study. She also credited the staff of Norco College, saying the College is like “family.”

She says she’ll cherish one thing above all else – knowledge.

“The knowledge of myself and my abilities. The knowledge of academia and how all subjects combine, allowing me to grow, become educated. The knowledge of empowerment in achieving my goals despite those who said I could not, and pursuing those goals I have not yet reached.”


Denise Prado

Denise Prado (2014)

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At 18, Denise Prado was making life-changing decisions.

Two months after graduating from Rubidoux High School in 2003, she enlisted in the Army. She survived three tours in Iraq. When she returned home, she decided to enroll at Norco College and major in sociology. On June 12, she and the rest of the 2014 class will participate in the annual graduation ceremony at the College.

Prado will continue her studies at UC Riverside. Ultimately, she hopes to become a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I joined the Army out of high school because I wanted to serve my country and travel,” she said. “It turned out to be a very difficult transition for me, leaving my family and the home where I grew up. It was a life-changing decision. However, the Army really helped shape me, and allowed me to become more independent.”

Her last deployment turned out to be the toughest for Prado. Prior to leaving for her third tour in Iraq, she became a mother.

“Deployments had always been nerve wracking for me,” said Prado, who was an automated logistical specialist. “However, to leave my daughter (Azaelah) with my mom (Lena Ortega) was perhaps the toughest thing I ever had to do. Leaving for a war zone, for an extensive period of time, and having a fear of the unknown is indescribable. Obviously, the scariest thing is not knowing if you’ll return home or not.”

Knowing she’d have to provide for her daughter, Prado wasted little time in enrolling at Norco College after she returned home. She wanted to be an example for her child, and to let her know that education is important and that “with everything I’ve done in my life I still managed to return to school.

“Returning to private life from the life I knew in the military was a tough adjustment,” she said. “However, I’ve had a great support system with my mother and my cousin, Ruben Aguilar. They both inspired me to push beyond my limitations. I will be forever grateful to have such positive people in my life.”

Prado said Norco College also deserves a lot of the credit.

“There have been several people who have been instrumental in helping me adapt to my educational demands,” she said. “I will reflect back and be thankful for all the positive role models who have crossed my path. Those who have made an impact on my life and helped me be where I am today in this educational journey. At Norco College, I’ve had the privilege to meet amazing professors and work such friendly staff members. I will truly miss the College.”


Stalin Soto

Stalin Soto (2014)

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Stalin Soto hates the idea of leaving Norco College and his “academic family.”

“It was in 1995 when I would (first) meet Norco College,” Soto said. “There were three buildings at the time; it was a windy day, a tumbleweed rolled by as I stood at the top of the steps at the front of the campus. I looked beyond the empty field which now houses the Center for Student Success and thought ‘One day this place will be amazing and we will both do great things. I will be back.’”

Soto was just 14 years of age when he arrived in the United States, halfway through his sophomore year in high school. Faced with learning a new language after arriving from Ecuador, Soto struggled constantly with his English. He says his first day at Norco High set the tone.

“I was supposed to ride the school bus. I was directed to stand and wait for it on one side of a street several blocks away from my uncle’s house. I remember watching a group of kids at the opposite corner getting on a bus that arrived. As the bus pulled away, I remember watching them look at me in wonder and even laughing, I imagine because they realized that I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Soto walked back to the house but had no idea how to say he had missed the bus. “So in my meager translation from Spanish to English I came up with the most sensible one: ‘I lost the bus.’ In Spanish that sounds just fine, but meaning for meaning it has no congruence. My American aunt, whom didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, finally put it together.

“And so the year would unfold with me begging my mother, whom I didn’t have much of a relationship with since I had been raised by my paternal grandmother, to send me back to Ecuador where all my dreams of becoming an architect were deeply founded. Obviously that didn’t work, so I kept pushing on.”

It was a chance meeting in the fall of 2012 that eventually put Soto back in the classroom.

“My son was at Norco College taking the assessment test,” Soto said. “I was sitting outside when Maria Maness (academic evaluations specialist), whom I have known for many years, came to talk to me. She told me there was a cancellation and that I should take the open (assessment test) spot. I was not ready, but she had faith that I would do well, so I took her up on it. I qualified for English 1A and Math 52, which I was really excited about. I remember thinking now I had a starting point, and decided I can do this.”

He and the rest of the Norco College’s Class of 2014 will be celebrated on June 12 at the College’s annual commencement ceremony. Soto will be transferring to UC Riverside where he’ll study sociology after compiling a 3.84 grade point average.

To get through Norco College, Soto, who is 41 and the father to 23-year-old Porscha and 20-year-old Christopher, worked countless jobs. He’s worked in tutorial services at Norco College and makes custom furniture.

“To watch younger students miss out on the education opportunity they have to further increase their potential in life by getting a better education is tough,” Soto said. “Whether through laziness of their own or because of life’s challenges, it is painful to see them dropout instead of pressing forward. Time flies by with rocket engines, and there are no guarantees that later in life one will be able to catch up to the world that we live in, or with the dreams of yore.”

“My kids are now adults and they deserve to have a well-educated father. This is my most important reason to achieve this goal. However, once I acquire a Ph.D. in sociology I would like to return to teach at Norco College; prayerfully they’ll want me back.”


Chris Rios

Chris Rios (2014)

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Chris Rios can see his future despite eyesight of 20/200 and having no central vision in one eye.

At age 13, the soon-to-be graduate of Norco College was diagnosed with chronic uveitis, a disease that attacks the eyes. Shortly after, he learned that juvenile rheumatoid arthritis was attacking his joints.

As a Riverside Poly High School student, Rios was in and out of hospitals, dealing with multiple doctors and numerous surgeries, while taking 15 medications. There were occasions where he nearly lost his vision. Today, at 23, he is on a medicine regimen to keep the vision he has left.

Through it all, Rios never lost sight of his goal--a college education.

He and the rest of the 2014 Norco College graduating class will celebrate their accomplishments on June 12.

“The disability makes pursuing my education harder and a (bigger) challenge,” he said. “Mentally, I strive for the best, but physically my body can’t keep up.”
Growing up Rios had been a visual learner, but because of his disability had to adapt to alternatives like kinesthetic learning.

“I’ll have good and bad days, but it doesn’t mean I allow the conditions to stop me from living. Nor does it define me or what I am capable of accomplishing,” he said. “If anything, the disabilities have motivated me to pursue and understand human behavior, social interaction, and how individuals see themselves.”

Regardless of the obstacles, Rios is determined to obtain a master’s degree and Ph.D. in psychology from UC Riverside, with a goal of becoming a marriage and family therapist with a concentration in eating disorders and couple counseling.

Rios said when he accomplishes his goal it will be a victory for many. His mother, Lillian Berrios, his godfather, Carlos Claudio, and his younger brother, Edgardo, have as much in his education as he does. His mother was a single mother of two boys, working minimum wage jobs. He credits Claudio with helping him accept what couldn’t be changed.

“My mother always motivated me to continue my studies and make my education a priority,” he said. “She believed that I would not only graduate from high school, but attend a university (specifically UCR) and achieve anything that I set my mind to. My godfather showed me that life has the tendency to put you down, be negative or simply just be difficult. The only way to fight back is with your head up and a smile on your face.”

His brother, Rios said, reminds him of “everything I’ve already accomplished and that I should be proud of it. He helps me cope with my disability in ways that no one has ever been capable of. Overall he helps me enjoy life regardless of the circumstances.”


Mike You

Mike You (2014)

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Mike You became a statistic when the Great Recession hit.

“The company where I worked for six years went out of business and I fell into a deep depression,” said You, 32. “After several months I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to go to school. Not knowing how to get started, I came to Norco College. Within a few hours I was registered and on my way to starting college in the spring of 2011.”

He will finish his journey at Norco College on June 12 when he graduates with fellow students, and continue his education at Cal Poly Pomona studying civil engineering.

A 1999 graduate of Don Lugo High School, You said getting accepted into Norco College’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) was life-changing. EOPS is a comprehensive support program for students with economic and academic challenges.

“I was very fortunate to get accepted into the program,” said You, who hopes to start a business after earning his bachelor’s degree. “The services that this program provided kept my educational plans on track. There were many key players at the College who assisted, encouraged and guided me, and my greatest supporters were my friends and family. Without their support I would not have been able to continue this journey.”

“My time at Norco College has helped me become more aware of who I am,” he said. “I am no longer this introverted person who is afraid to ask for help. I’ve learned to understand, relax, and apply the information I gained during my time at the College.”


Taylor Armstrong

Taylor Armstrong (2013)

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Technology plays a major role in Taylor Armstrong’s life and provides his lifeline to academic success. Taylor started using a computer to write when he was very young because he was born with cerebral palsy, which affected his lower extremities and fine motor skills. His experiences with and reliance on technology convinced him to pursue a career in business with a focus on cyber security so he can help protect the digital information infrastructure that individuals, businesses and governments rely on. “I want to help other people and give them the same exciting opportunities that I had,” Taylor said. Taylor was unfocused and floundering during his first three years at Norco College. Then, he joined the TRiO program for low-income and first-generation students and got the direction he needed to get on track, stay on track and transfer to a four-year college. “When I stand back and look at it, if you have a strong enough reason to pursue a particular field or degree and you have a plan and you see it as being possible, you can do just about anything,” Taylor said. He is graduating with an associate’s degree in Business Administration and will continue his studies at Cal State San Bernardino.


Graciela Arzola

Graciela Arzola (2013)

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Graciela Arzola first stepped onto the Norco College campus 10 years after graduating from high school. Her children encouraged her to go to college and the Puente program with its “Yes, you can” motto sustained her and helped her overcome the self-doubt that haunted her. “Once I got into the Puente program, I had professors telling me that I could make my dreams come true,” said Graciela, a single parent whose rheumatoid arthritis causes severe chronic pain and limits the mobility in one of her hands. “They taught me how to take the ‘ifs’ out of my life. It’s ‘when’, not ‘if’.” Graciela will graduate this week with AA degrees in Social Behavioral Studies, Humanities, and Communication Studies. She has been accepted into the competitive Social Work program at Cal State San Bernardino. She hopes to draw from her own personal experiences to help others. Ultimately, she would like to start her own non-profit organization to help teenage mothers who are victims of domestic violence and she dreams of opening a safe house for homeless teenage mothers.


Misael Castillo

Misael Castillo (2013)

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Misael Castillo, 22, is pursuing a law enforcement career after growing up in a crime-plagued neighborhood. “I want to make a difference in my community,” Misael said. This week, he will graduate from Norco College with degrees in Communications, Social and Behavioral Studies and Humanities, Philosophy and Art. Misael will study Criminal Justice at Cal State San Bernardino beginning in the fall. The campus’ convenient location means he can continue volunteering with the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department’s Citizens on Patrol program where he goes on patrol with deputies and helps out with community events. Misael credits the Puente program for much of his success. He especially appreciates Puente Counselor Zina Chacon, who he says always made time for him no matter how busy she was. “Puente opened many doors and taught me that anything is possible,” Misael said. “I have to say, every effort I have made has been worth it, and every minute I have volunteered has made a difference in me and has taught me a lesson.”


Kevin Di Bella

Kevin Di Bella (2013)

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Kevin Di Bella took a 10-year detour after graduating from high school to pursue a career as an audio engineer in the music industry. But after hitting the ceiling as far as upward mobility, he quit his job at a recording studio, moved back home with his parents and enrolled at Norco College to become an electrical engineer. “The more I weighed my options, the more I was certain that a college degree was the best way for me to ensure I would have the necessary skills for a competitive workplace,” Kevin said. Even though college was more challenging than he expected, Kevin excelled. He has been accepted to seven universities and received multiple scholarship offers. He chose UC San Diego. “It is a great feeling to be successful in an academic environment where everyone is encouraging and hard work is recognized and rewarded -- which does not always happen in the real world,” Kevin said. While at Norco College, Kevin was involved in the Honors Program and the TRiO program for low-income, first-generation students. Kevin credits his Student Support Services counselor Ladylyn Dominguez with helping him research his major, check out various colleges and get in touch with the right people. “She has been an amazing help,” Kevin said.


Liseth Espinoza

Liseth Espinoza (2013)

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Twenty-year-old Liseth Espinoza joined the Marine Corps Reserves right out of high school. She survived boot camp and combat training. “It was a challenge but I wanted to do it,” Liseth said. “I wanted to do something bigger than myself.” She then took on another challenge. With her parents’ encouragement, she became the first in her family to go to college. In the Norco College Puente program Liseth found the same kind of support that she had experienced in the military, especially from English Professor David Mills and Puente Counselor Zina Chacon. Both encouraged her to study hard and to transfer to a four-year university. “I wouldn't be where I am now without the help of all my loved ones and teachers,” she said. Liseth graduates this week with an associate’s degree in Social Behavioral Studies. She will attend Cal State Fullerton in the fall with financial help from the GI Bill and plans to study communicative disorders. Her goal is to become a speech therapist and to work with elementary school children. Liseth’s perseverance and dedication have not gone unnoticed. She recently received a Certificate of Achievement from the Norco College Veterans Services Office.


Zachariah Hammers

Zachariah Hammers (2013)

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Zachariah Hammers will transfer to La Sierra University in the fall after two years at Norco College, thanks in large part to the Community Scholars Program. Students who successfully complete the program are guaranteed admission to one of three private colleges: La Sierra University, Cal Baptist University or the University of Redlands. “The Community Scholars Program has been life changing,” Zachariah said. “I hope someday I am able to give back to the Community Scholars Program in some way.” Community Scholars receive $7,000 in scholarships spread over four years, counseling, and priority registration to ensure they complete their Norco College studies in two years. “A lot of my friends don’t have scholarship opportunities and they are really struggling to get classes right now, Zachariah said. He plans to major in psychology and minor in anthropology, a field he was intrigued by after taking a class from Professor Alexis Gray. “Her teaching style is very encouraging, very interesting, and something I really got attached to,” Zachariah said.


Anthony Lombardo

Anthony Lombardo (2013)

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Last spring, Anthony Lombardo used his position as vice president of Finance for the Associated Students of Norco College to fund a series of scholarships for students transferring to four-year universities. “I recognized that a lot of students were facing financial difficulty because of the economy so with the help of my advisor and the ASNC we were able to give out about 19 scholarships at $1,000 apiece,” Anthony said. His good deed was repaid this year when Anthony was one of 76 community college students nationwide to win the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which he will use to attend UC Berkeley in the fall. Anthony is graduating with associate’s degrees in: Social and Behavioral Sciences; Humanities, Philosophy and Art, and Communication, Media and Languages. Initially, his major was architecture but after being involved with ASNC and getting a taste of politics, Anthony switched his major to political science. Don’t be looking for him on the statewide ballot any time soon though. Anthony wants to get a law degree and practice a few years before he runs for political office.


William Woerz III

William Woerz III (2013)

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William Woerz III was a student at Norco College in 2001 when terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City. The attack compelled William to postpone his education and to enlist in the U.S. Army. He chose Topographic Surveyor as his Military Occupational Specialty so he could build on the drafting skills he had already acquired at Norco College. After an honorable discharge due to a back injury sustained during a 2003 tour in Iraq, William started working for architectural and engineering firms. He soon realized that he needed to finish his education if he was going to advance in his chosen career. William, who is 35 and married with two children, returned to Norco College where he became the go-to person for younger students who sought him out for advice. “Being the wise old owl and coming back to college proved to them deep down that as a parent, a returning student and a veteran, if I can do it, anybody can do it,” William said. Today, William is graduating with associate’s degrees in Architecture, Humanities, Philosophy & Arts, and Social & Behavioral Sciences, all with Great Distinction. Last quarter, he enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona where he is pursuing a degree in Urban and Regional Planning with a minor in Historic Preservation, an interest he developed growing up in Riverside and through his world travels.


Student Spotlights


Timothy Huneck

Timothy Huneck (2016)

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At 21 years of age, Timothy moved from Germany to the United States to pursue his dream of a higher education in the California educational system. He managed to overcome initial language and cultural barriers, and was able to establish a sufficient income while attending Norco College. Timothy went on to discover his passion for political science and economics and with the help of influential guidance he learned the keys to excel academically and became an honors student.

Timothy felt inclined to be actively involved on campus and the community; thus he decided to join student government, where he served as vice president. Simultaneously he was introduced to Phi Theta Kappa, where he seized the opportunity to help shape the young chapter and served as president for two terms. Timothy plans to transfer to UC Berkley to finish his undergraduate and pursue a Ph.D.


Ed Saenz

Ed Saenz (2016)

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Edward Saenz was recently hired as a technician by Amazon Fulfillment Center. He is an example of a nontraditional student who returned to community college to gain new job skills and training. Despite his busy schedule, Saenz remains engaged in the ACE program and offers advice to students considering the automation field. His long-term goal is to return to Norco College as a part-time faculty member to teach automation technology.

“In high school, my most interesting subject was science. After graduating with a series of electronics courses, I went to my first interview and was hired on the spot. This company was a manufacturer of offset printing presses. Within a short time working for this company, I was given my very own company car, a tool bag and my own area with approximately 20 customers in Los Angeles. My duties were mainly preventative maintenance and support of printing equipment sold by the company. It was a great opportunity that supported me for many years.

Unfortunately, I was laid off after many years of working. Finding a job in this competitive workforce became more difficult than ever. Due to my latest layoff and some other unfortunate life situations that occurred, I was very discouraged. I was not doing very well, financially and emotionally, because of my unemployment status. However, I learned about the ACE program at Norco College which offered a certificate in Automated Systems in seven months and I decided to pursue it. I primarily chose this program because programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are the new big thing and there is a high demand for technicians in our region. Since finishing the ACE program, I am absolutely encouraged and excited about the growth potential in the field. The Norco College staff helped me every step of the way and before I knew it, I was enrolled and attending classes. I truly appreciate the staff at Norco College. I didn’t feel like a student, but rather a member of a team of people who all shared the same goals - to help us learn, complete this program, and find a job.”

The ACE program leads to a technical certificate in less than seven months for less than $5,000. Upon completion of the program, students will earn a certificate and college units.

Veterans and individuals who are unemployed are strongly encouraged to apply, however, ACE is open to anyone willing to commit to a full-time program.


Stephanie Perez

Stephanie Perez (2016)

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On May 19, 2016, Stephanie Perez received the ATHENA scholarship for $1,000 at a special luncheon presentation at the Mission Inn in Riverside.

Since enrolling at Norco College in 2013, Perez has made the Dean’s list every semester and has participated in programs like SSS, Puente, Honors, and Norco College Ambassadors. She has also volunteered several hours of community service to her local animal shelter and senior center. Perez will be graduating in June and transferring to Cal Sate Los Angeles to pursue a degree in Communicative Disorders. Her long term goal is to become a speech therapist.

The mission of the ATHENA of the Inland Valley is to open doors of leadership opportunity for women through inspiration, education, cultivation and mentoring. Recipients must demonstrate leadership qualities, be knowledgeable about their chosen field of study, be able to demonstrate knowledge through academic achievement and have given back to their community through public service.


Michael Carlos

Michael Carlos (2016)

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“The ACE program is great. We covered everything from automation, PLC’s, microprocessors, AC/DC electronics, hydraulics and so much more. It was a great opportunity to gain new skills, which eventually helped me find a great job with Walmart Fulfillment.” -Michael Carlos, ACE graduate & new Walmart Fulfillment employee

Michael Carlos is a great example of a nontraditional student who returned to community college and dedicated 6 months to gain job skills and training for a new career. Michael recently graduated from the ACE (Accelerated Certificate & Employment) program in December 2015. By enrolling in the ACE program, Michael was able to complete his technical certificate in Industrial Automation. Michael exemplifies a hardworking and dedicated student. In fact, his classmates nominated him for an “Award of Excellence” due to his team-oriented attitude and professionalism. After completing the 28 unit program, Michael interviewed with several employers. However, the job offer he received from Walmart Fulfillment was the winner. They offered him a great opportunity and an excellent work schedule that allows him to continue his education.

Upon his recent visit to campus, Michael spoke to the new group of students pursuing the ACE program. He shared advice with the new cohort and encouraged them to stay focused and engaged in the program. Michael is now a proud member of Walmart Fulfillment working as a Maintenance Technician. His long-term goal is to continue his education and advance into management with his new employer. His new skills, positive attitude, and persistence helped him land the job of his dreams. Please welcome our newest alumni to the workforce.


Michael Anguiano

Michael Anguiano (2016)

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"If you only remember one piece of advice, remember to be the best student possible. Yes, this program is intense, but it will help you get the job you want. It worked for me." - Michael Anguiano, ACE graduate & new Intelligrated employee

Michael recently graduated from the ACE (Accelerated Certificate & Employment) program. By attending a full-time program, he completed his certificate in Industrial Automation in less than 7 months. Upon his recent visit to campus, he spoke to the new group of students pursuing the ACE program. He shared advice with the new cohort and encouraged them to stay focused and engaged in the program. He reminded students of positive study habits and gave examples of note taking techniques that worked for him. After completing the 28 unit program, Michael interviewed and was offered a job with Intelligrated in Ontario, CA. His new skills, positive attitude, and persistence help him land the job of his dreams. Please welcome our newest alumni to the workforce!


Mark Merritt

Mark Merritt (2016)

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“The ACE program at Norco College provided guidance and gave me insight about the variety of automated positions available in the local area. I learned that the concept of automation incorporates computer controlled devices along with various mechanical aspects. I appreciated the opportunity to create a bond with the professors and classmates as a result of the full-time schedule. Also, the program staff built connections with employers, which created a bridge between their open jobs and the students. This increased our employment opportunities upon completion of the ACE program. Although I am not a first time college student, this is the first time having such success after completion of a training program. There were many campus resources I found helpful, especially Norco College’s career resources. Despite some personal challenges, such as the usual juggling between family time and the school schedule and homework/study hours, the program ultimately improved my life. It provided me the skills, knowledge, and tools to progress in my career and ultimately landed me a great position at the Target Distribution Center. This new position will help me provide for my family. In the future, I see myself moving up the ladder to a lead or supervisor position and obtaining my Bachelors. I would like to thank Norco College for giving me an opportunity to put my career on a fast track so I can provide for my family. I would also like to thank all my professors and Norco staff for contributing to my success.” -Mark Merritt, ACE program graduate & Target employee


Candice Meares

Candice Meares (2016)

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The economic downturn in the United States forced good people to make some unexpected decisions about their future. For Candice Meares, it began a new and exciting chapter, becoming both a student and employee of Norco College.

Meares, a single mother of two young sons, had a long career as an executive assistant, but in 2014, she was unexpectedly terminated due to budget cuts. Despite her experience, finding a new job in the same field was difficult. After a career assessment tool suggested she pursue a career that was technical and creative, she decided to return to college.

"Although I was feeling intimidated by the idea of returning to college after so many years (I had last attended in the late 90's), I decided to look into attending Norco College," she shared.

After reviewing the available programs in Career and Technical Education, she was pleasantly surprised to discover the Game Development curriculum perfectly fit her needs.

She enrolled in Fall 2014 and within months was offered a Federal Work Study job in the CalWorks/Outreach office at Norco College. Now, in addition to being a student, Meares is a College Amabassador, visiting high schools, job fairs, and college fairs to promote Norco College programs.

"It's like I have come full circle," she said. "Only a year ago, I was here taking a tour of the campus, and now I am reaching out to prospective students to help them take that leap as well."


Austin Barraza

Austin Barraza (2015)

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Former Norco College Honors student Austin Barraza has been awarded a Transfer Alliance Program scholarship for $10,000 to attend UCLA. He is the third Norco student to earn this transfer scholarship.

TAP scholarships are tied to the completion of the scholars/honors program at a California Community College. Scholarships are based on merit and financial need. A TAP scholarship winner receives $5,000 a year for the two years at the university level.

“I'm both excited and honored to have been chosen,” said Barraza. “I know Norco has a legacy of producing TAP scholars, and I'm proud to continue that tradition.”

Barraza arrived at Norco College from UC San Diego after experiencing indecision about his major and financial concerns. Working full time and with no support system in place, Austin’s first semester at Norco was a challenge.

In spring 2013 Austin enrolled in his first honors course. He credits the Honors Program at Norco College with helping him find his focus in college. “Honors helped put me back on track,” Barraza said. While participating in the Honors Program, he chose to major in Political Science and also discovered new interests in philosophy, economics, and religious studies. Through the Honors Program, he also became involved in campus activities and participated in the RCCD and HTCC Student Research Conferences. Barraza is the recipient of Honors Transfer Council of California Exemplary Achievement Scholarship and the Phi Theta Kappa Academic Award.

Barraza graduated from Norco College in June 2015 and started attending summer session at UCLA.


Faran Imani

Faran Imani (2013)

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Norco College Honors student Faran Imani has been awarded a Transfer Alliance Program scholarship for $10,000 to attend UCLA. He is the second Norco student to earn this transfer scholarship.

TAP scholarships are tied to the completion of the scholars/honors program at a California Community College. Scholarships are based on merit and financial need. A TAP scholarship winner receives $5,000 a year for the two years at the university level.

“I am grateful to be chosen as a UCLA TAP scholarship recipient,” said Imani, who graduated from Corona High School in 2011 and picked UCLA over UC Berkeley. “It is amazing to see how my hard work paid off.”

Imani’s journey to UCLA began in his parents’ native homeland in Iran. His parents, Faramarz and Nahid, were members of the Baha’i Faith, the country’s largest minority religion in Iran. He says that after a political uprising, “new systematic persecution” of the Baha’is started.

“My mom escaped the country, while my dad, who was studying on a student visa in the United States, realized he might never return to his homeland in Iran for fear of being persecuted,” Imani said. “I remember being intrigued by the captivating stories my parents told about how politics rapidly changed their lives, stories that eventually contributed to my desire to become a political science major. I was bewildered by not only how one political event could change the course of my parents’ lives, but also how it could affect the entire world.”

His parents’ stories set him on a course he never imagined for himself. Imani began attending political conferences from California to Maine. For the last two summers he has traveled to the Eastern seaboard to attend a 10-day conference. In Santa Ana he joined the Citizen Leadership Program at the Delhi Center.

“Participating in these sessions gave me a new outlook on how individuals can use voting as a tool to make a difference,” Imani said. “I gained a realization of how social and political activism truly makes a difference in the community and, consequently, the positive effect it can have on our society.”

Imani’s desire for political action at Norco College eventually led him to Honors Program Coordinator Lyn Greene. It was the spring semester of 2012 and he was looking to make a difference on campus. A decision to run for secretary of the Norco Scholars Association further defined his educational path.

“That decision changed everything for me,” he said. “Dr. Greene really helped me reevaluate what I wanted and where I wanted to go as a student. Looking back on my experience in the Honors Program, I realize the real benefit of the program is not the fine look that it has on a personal statement, or the “H” on a transcript, but the motivating environment created by the students and staff who work diligently to build a community that is far more greater than anything a piece of paper could reveal.”


Trevor Tomey

Trevor Tomey (2013)

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Norco College student Trevor Tomey won two awards, including the top honor, at a June 6 ceremony that honored students in the college’s video game development program, which includes classes in art, design, audio and programming.

Tomey, 20, of Riverside, won the most outstanding student award and the best student award for the Game Studio Production course.

James Finley taught the Game Studio Production course. He described Tomey as a diligent student with a great work ethic. "He has an eye for programming and a talent for it," said Finley, who is also creative director and CEO of Broken Circle Studios, a video game development company in Riverside. "He is eager to assist and he is always pushing himself."

Tomey graduated from La Sierra High School in Riverside in 2010 and enrolled at Norco College later that year. Initially, he wasn't sure what he wanted to study so he took several introductory classes, including computer programming, electrical engineering and video game development.

After taking a second computer programming class, Advanced C++, which Finley taught, Tomey was hooked. He liked that programming was measurable and quantifiable and provided a way of putting things in order and building structure. He also was impressed by how Finley taught the class. "He took what is very much a science and made it fun," Tomey said. "That is very difficult to do."

Tomey then took the Beginning Level Design for Computer Games class, also taught by Finley. In that class he was introduced Unity 3D, a program that serves as a template for creating video games.

Afterwards, Tomey continued to tinker with Unity 3D on his own time, served as a student assistant when Finely taught the level design course and took other computer programming courses.

He has one more course to take before he earns his associate's degree in computer programming. In addition, in the fall, he plans to take programming courses focused on game development. Meanwhile, he will be looking for work. He hopes to land a job using Unity 3D to script mobile games. "I just want to get to work and start making games," he said.


David Casillas

David Casillas (2012)

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The message David Casillas heard growing up in a gang-infested area of Santa Ana was that he would not amount to anything. His high school teachers told him that he was wasting space in their classrooms. He was in and out of trouble a lot, headed in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, his life changed when Casillas’s family moved to Westminster and then to Corona. A friend helped him get a job in the aerospace industry. He settled down, worked hard, got promoted, and starting earning $65,000 a year. “Pretty good, for a guy with only a GED,” David said.

Then the unthinkable happened. He suffered a stroke that affected his vision, hearing, and speech. He lost everything. He had no idea what kind of future lay ahead.

“I went from being labeled as wasted space to successful to disabled,” he said.

As he slowly recovered, Casillas realized he had to get an education and figure out a new path because he no longer could work in the aerospace industry.

He enrolled in classes at Norco College and investigated the Disabled Students programs where he found assistance that would change the tide for him once again. “There are so many resources here to help. I tapped into everything the EOPS and SSS programs had to help me.” He transitioned from being an auditory to a visual learner, and he was able to access small scholarships that helped pay for books.

“One thing I’ve learned throughout this difficult time is I have to keep taking steps forward,” said the first-generation college graduate. His example has inspired his daughter, who is graduating from high school, to go to college as well.

Casillas is graduating as a student of distinction with an associate of arts degree in Fine Art. He plans to transfer to either CSU Long Beach or Chapman University.


Veteran Spotlights


Mauricio Ruiz

Mauricio Ruiz (2016)

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Mauricio Ruiz decided to serve in the Marine Corps for 10 years before deciding to give college another try.

Ruiz, a child of immigrant parents, was always encouraged to pursue his education after high school, but college tuition was an obstacle and when his grades suffered, he decided to drop out.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for a decade and his life changed from then on.

“After a successful career in the Marine Corps my circumstances changed and I realized that this job was no longer what I needed. I had gotten married and my wife was expecting our first child. I knew it would be a difficult transition for them, so I decided to finish my contract and attempt college one more time,” said Ruiz.

Taking this leap of faith changed his financial situation and his wife went from being a stay-at-home mom to working 45 minutes away from home to stay afloat with finances. His family remained supportive and helped take care of their son.

“I realized that simply having a job would not be sufficient enough for me or my family. I needed a career and the only way this was achievable was to get a college degree.”

Ruiz works two jobs at times while being a full-time student. His motivation to finish what he started 14 years ago is much stronger and he will not give up until he is done.

He is on the path to receive his associate of arts in Psychology and Sociology from Norco College. He would like to transfer to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a baccalaureate degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Mental Health Services to better assist military members. Currently, Ruiz holds a 3.8 GPA and is president of the Norco College Veterans Club and works in the Veterans Services Center on campus.


John Barto

John Barto (2015)

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For John Barto, enlisting in the Marines at the age of 18 was a family tradition. He was a third generation infantry marine who followed the footsteps of his grandfather and father.

After 20 years in the service, Barto decided to enroll at Norco College to pursue a career in nursing. His goal is to work at a VA hospital helping other veterans.

“Moving from military life to college life is like entering an unfamiliar world,” he said. “I was nervous at first, but I adapted because it is important for me to get my education and set an example for my children.”

Barto retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of Staff Sergeant. He deployed seven times with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Combat Action Ribbon from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I am beyond grateful for my family’s love and support,” he said. “My military run has been a great experience for us because we’ve learned the importance of loyalty, respect and trust.”


Daniel Burbank

Daniel Burbank (2015)

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Daniel Burbank is a veteran who served four years around the globe as a turbine and diesel mechanic. He discovered the Supply Chain Technician specialization while working in Veteran Services at Norco College and later landed a position at a Home Depot distribution center, via the college employment placement center.

Before Burbank came to Norco College, he worked a warehouse job he was forced to take after failing to find a position that fit his skill set. Less than two years later, Burbank is back working in a warehouse, but this time as a supply chain technician at Intelligrated, a provider of intelligent automated material handling solutions. He is part of a team that sorts over 100,000 packages delivered daily and continues to utilize his GI bill to further his education at Norco College.

“I’m excited for the number of opportunities the supply chain technician field will provide to veterans,” said Burbank. “For me, it has been refreshing to be able to combine my military knowledge with new technology.”


Denise Prado

Denise Prado (2014)

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At 18, Denise Prado was making life-changing decisions.

Two months after graduating from Rubidoux High School in 2003, she enlisted in the Army. She survived three tours in Iraq. When she returned home, she decided to enroll at Norco College and major in sociology. On June 12, she and the rest of the 2014 class will participate in the annual graduation ceremony at the College.

Prado will continue her studies at UC Riverside. Ultimately, she hopes to become a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I joined the Army out of high school because I wanted to serve my country and travel,” she said. “It turned out to be a very difficult transition for me, leaving my family and the home where I grew up. It was a life-changing decision. However, the Army really helped shape me, and allowed me to become more independent.”

Her last deployment turned out to be the toughest for Prado. Prior to leaving for her third tour in Iraq, she became a mother.

“Deployments had always been nerve wracking for me,” said Prado, who was an automated logistical specialist. “However, to leave my daughter (Azaelah) with my mom (Lena Ortega) was perhaps the toughest thing I ever had to do. Leaving for a war zone, for an extensive period of time, and having a fear of the unknown is indescribable. Obviously, the scariest thing is not knowing if you’ll return home or not.”

Knowing she’d have to provide for her daughter, Prado wasted little time in enrolling at Norco College after she returned home. She wanted to be an example for her child, and to let her know that education is important and that “with everything I’ve done in my life I still managed to return to school.

“Returning to private life from the life I knew in the military was a tough adjustment,” she said. “However, I’ve had a great support system with my mother and my cousin, Ruben Aguilar. They both inspired me to push beyond my limitations. I will be forever grateful to have such positive people in my life.”

Prado said Norco College also deserves a lot of the credit.

“There have been several people who have been instrumental in helping me adapt to my educational demands,” she said. “I will reflect back and be thankful for all the positive role models who have crossed my path. Those who have made an impact on my life and helped me be where I am today in this educational journey. At Norco College, I’ve had the privilege to meet amazing professors and work such friendly staff members. I will truly miss the College.”


Jonathan Trdan-Schmidt

Jonathan Trdan-Schmidt (2014)

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US Naval War College student Jonathan Trdan-Schmidt has been selected as Norco College’s 2014 Young Alumnus. A 2003 graduate of Norco College, Trdan-Schmidt, earned an associate of arts degree before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2009. In 2011, he attended US Naval Post Graduate School in System Engineering, earning the Meyers Award for Academic Excellence.

Jonathan works as a Force Development Assessment Operational Analyst for the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco. He authored a simulator/calibrator program and is the lead designer for the aircraft development team. He also serves in the US Naval Reserve.

“Jonathan Schmidt’s story is a classic student success story for Norco College,” said college president Dr. Paul Parnell. “A student shows up for classes needing encouragement, confidence and high quality, caring instruction. As a result of receiving those essential foundation skills they go on to advanced degrees and careers. We wish him the best in his career and academic pursuits and also congratulate him on his Young Alumnus Award."​​


Liseth Espinoza

Liseth Espinoza (2013)

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Twenty-year-old Liseth Espinoza joined the Marine Corps Reserves right out of high school. She survived boot camp and combat training. “It was a challenge but I wanted to do it,” Liseth said. “I wanted to do something bigger than myself.” She then took on another challenge. With her parents’ encouragement, she became the first in her family to go to college. In the Norco College Puente program Liseth found the same kind of support that she had experienced in the military, especially from English Professor David Mills and Puente Counselor Zina Chacon. Both encouraged her to study hard and to transfer to a four-year university. “I wouldn't be where I am now without the help of all my loved ones and teachers,” she said. Liseth graduates this week with an associate’s degree in Social Behavioral Studies. She will attend Cal State Fullerton in the fall with financial help from the GI Bill and plans to study communicative disorders. Her goal is to become a speech therapist and to work with elementary school children. Liseth’s perseverance and dedication have not gone unnoticed. She recently received a Certificate of Achievement from the Norco College Veterans Services Office.