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District Home » Student Success Initiatives » Student Success Stories

Student Success Stories

Student success is the top priority of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. These profiles are of students and alumni who exemplify success. Their stories inspire us.  

Franziska Collier
Franziska Collier has suffered through more than her fair shre of bad breaks. Her three young children and Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges keep her going. Read more.
Ritchie Hernandez
Ritchie Hernandez moved to the East County from high school with no car and little money. But he had plenty of ambition. Now, thanks to Cuyamaca College, he's thriving at UC San Diego's Ph.D. program in organic chemistry. Read more.
Violette Challe
Describing Grossmont College student Violette Challe as passionate about social justice would be more than a little bit of an understatement. Challe, who speaks several languages, wants to help change the world. Her passion - and her academic excellence - are among the reasons Challe recently earned an Osher scholarship from the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges. Read more.
Havin Sindi
Havin Sindi has overcome more than her share of life's challenges. A refugee from Kurdistan whose family was forced to flee after her father was threatened for cooperating with American troops, the Grossmont College student was often targeted with racist taunts and cries of "terrorist" while growing up in El Cajon. Sindi is now thriving at Grossmont College, where she is on track to earn an associate degree in respiratory therapy. Read more.
gDebbie Oliveira

Debbie Oliveira moved from Brazil to pursue her dream of launching a carer in engineering. Thanks to Grossmont College, the honors student is steadily moving in that direction. "I love it here," said Oliveira, who is on track to earn an associate degree that will prepare her for a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at San Diego State University. "It's a beautiful campus and it has lots of offer. The support services are really good, too. I feel like I get all the information I need whenever I ask for it." Read more.

Karla Garduno

Karla Garcia Garduno has dreams for her future: she wants to get her bachelor's and law degree after she graduates from Grossmont College, then become an immigration attorney so she can help others who have come to the United States from another country. But Karla's future is uncertain until the political controversy surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is resolved by legislators. Read more.

Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan had just $800 in his pockets when he walked out of Chino Institution for Men a free man in the fall of 2015. Today, the East County resident who has spent more than half of his life behind bars is building a new future at Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Randy Voepel

Assemblyman Randy Voepel credits Grossmont College with providing him a place where he could connect with other veterans after he returned home to El Cajon in 1978 after serving more than eight years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. "I needed support and camaraderie with other veterans. Grossmont College provided that," Voepel said. Read more.

Charles Harrington

Even while living in foster homes or on the streets, Charles Harrington was drawn to cooking, drawing inspriation from Food Network celebrities such as Rachel Ray or Bobby Flay. So when Harrington tired of the seemingly endless stream of minimum wage jobs and enrolled at Grossmont College, the Culinary Arts program was his first step. "It changed my life," Harrington said. Read more.

Iveth Estrada

Iveth Estrada didn't know she was an undocumented immigrant until shortly before she enrolled at Cuyamaca College. Today, she has found a home at Cuyamaca College. She is thriving academically and is laying the groundwork to secure a master's degree and launch a career as a clinical psychologist. Read more.

Alan Kassab

Alan Kassab has seen more than his share of challenges. A father losing his business. His family losing their house to foreclosure. His parents endhuring a difficult divorce. But today, Kassab is thriving at Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Tareen Mekany

Grossmont College student Tareen Makeny is dedicated to serving others in need. The Spring Valley resident volunteered for three years at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, and spent the last 18 months volunteering at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center and Rady Children's Hospital, along with Habitat for Humanity. Read more.

James McAllister

It took James McAllister just a few weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to enlist in the Marine Corps. He would have signed up sooner, but he had to wait until his 17th birthday. After 13 years as a Marine Corps avionics technician, McAllister is flourishing at Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Ben Lawson

Like a lot of teens trying to find their way, Ben Lawson was unsure of his future upon graduating from Omskirk HIgh School in Liverpool, England. He found his path more than 5,000 miles away at Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Adrian Tolbert

Adrian Tolbert has found a home at Grossmont College. Now the Grossmont College student and football player has his sights set on a football scholarship to a major Division I program and a possible future as an NFL wide receiver. Read more.

Carolyn Fisher

It's not every day that a five-time world arm wrestling champion is told to get a life, but that's what Carolyn Fisher's son and daughter suggested to her after they grew up and moved out of the house. Fisher got a life at Grossmont College, where she found her passion in communications and public speaking. Read more.

Moises Morales

Moises Morales knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges. The 23-year-old San Diego resident hasn't let cerebral palsy keep him from excelling as a business administration major at Cuyamaca College or playing as a midfielder with the U.S. Paralympic National Soccer Team. Read more.

Maysaa Ibrahim

Maysaa Madhat Ibrahim is all about overcoming challenges. Single mother. Refugee. No matter. Ibrahim is one of six valedictorians graduating at Cuyamaca College's 38th commencement ceremony on June 1. Read more.

Sandy Adwer

Nearly a decade has passed since Sandy Adwer and her family were forced to flee the turmoil and violence of Iraq. Adwer graduated from Grossmont College in June 2016, and was the student speaker at commencement. Read more.

Rebekah Shtayfman

Rebekah Shtayfman refused to give up. Even after dropping out of high school, becoming a single mom at 18, and at times sleeping in her in car, Shtayfman persevered, never losing sight of her dream to pursue a higher education. Shtayfman was the student speaker at Cuyamaca College's commencement on June 1, 2016. Read more.

Barbara Adkins

Octogenarian Barbara Adkins has the energy and grit that would put a person a generation younger to shame. The 80-year-old, who earned a certificate in Child Development, was the oldest graduate in the Class of 2016 at Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Hin Regassa

Most days, Grossmont College student Hinsseenee Regassa is a blur of motion, always in a hurry to get things done. The drive for speed serves her well on the soccer field. The same goes for her academic pursuits. At 17, she was the youngest member of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District's Class of 2016. Read more.

Tina Thornton

Tina Snow Thornton is changing the world one foster youth at a time. Her efforts on behalf of foster youth were recognized by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. Read more.

Chris Cuilao

From making sure "The Tonight Show" cameras are properly set up for filming a performance by Adele to arranging the sound for a Coldplay concert on "The Today Show," Chris Cuilao is taking a bite out of the Big Apple as a result of the audiovisual skills he learned at Grossmont College's Media Communications Department. Read more.

Xavier Daniels

Just call him the Renaissance Man. Xavier Daniels excelled at sports in high school, is an accomplished musician, studies theater in hopes of finding work as an actor, and is planning on attending medical school en route to becoming a physician. Read more.

Mariah Moschetti

Mariah Moschetti is reaching for the sky. The Cuyamaca College Associated Student Government president was accepted into the super competitive NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program and spent time at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Read more.

Briona Partin


Being a wife and mother of five children ages 2 to 12 is tough enough, but throw into the mix the roles of college student, retail sales associate and president of the Grossmont College Student Veteran Organization, and you've got the hectic life of Briona Partin. Read more.

Chris Reaves


Chris Reaves' first try at community college 14 years ago ended in disappointment. But after his military service, the Air Force veteran is now earning solid grades as a wastewater technology major at Cuyamaca College, training to become a wastewater treatment operator. Read more.

Tommie Post


Tommie Post was raised to believe that going to college and earning a degree was critical for success in life. She hasn't been disappointed. Read more.

Diane Stoltz


Diane Stoltz was one of the nearly 9 million Americans who lost their job during the Great Recession. She turned her life around after enrolling at both Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges. Read more.

Brandon Kover


A doctor told Brandon Kover's parents soon after his birth that as the extremely rare individual born without a cerebellum -- the region of the brain critical to motor movement and balance -- he would be a human vegetable, unable to move or communicate. In June 2015, he was an honors graduate at Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Robyn Sarvis


She's been a Disneyland Ambassador to the World and an assistant director on Princess Cruise ships in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and the Pacific. Now Grossmont College graduate Robyn Sarvis is off on a new adventure: she's embarking on a career as a registered nurse. Read more.

Caleb Martinez


Caleb Martinez overcame a childhood of poverty, living in crime-ridden neighborhoods and spending time in juvenile hall, to become a straight-A student in college. He is headed on a full-ride scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley. Read more.

Marissa Morrison


A stellar student dating back to elementary school, Marissa Morrison started college with the goal of graduating with straight A's. The Jamul resident had never known anything but perfection when it came to her grades. But her first day at Cuyamaca College made her realize that with college came untested waters. Read more.

Trevor Jacobs


He commuted more than two hours on buses and trolleys for his shift at a warehouse before embarking on another two-hour public transportation journey to school. Money was so tight that he couldn't afford textbooks. And he's been HIV-positive for the past five years. But Trevor Jacobs never made any excuses. And now the Grossmont College graduate is transferring to Cal State Northridge to further his studies in American Sign Language. Read more.

Janine Hardman


Determination. Faith. Perseverance. All underscore Janine Hardman's journey at Grossmont College that culminated June 3, 2015, when she graduated with an associate of science degree through the Occupational Therapy Asisstant Program - more than a quarter century after she first enrolled. Read more.

Martha Baugh


Martha Baugh knows a thing or two about adversity. Abandoned by her mother as a young girl in Mexico, Baugh has been struggling for more than a decade to become an American citizen after being brought across the border by the aunt who raised her. Despite such challenges, the Grossmont College scholar graduated with an associate of science degree in cardiovascular technology. Read more.

Evelyn Gutierrez


Evelyn Gutierrez always excelled in her studies. When the single mother of an 8-year-old girl decided she needed something better in life than a series of low-paying jobs, going back to school was an obvious choice. She opted for Cuyamaca College. Read more.

Yen Nguyen


It's not too often that someone will leave a foreign country to attend Grossmont College, but that's what Vietnamese native Yen Nguyen did. "I wanted to get a better education and have better opportunities,"Nguyen said. Read more.  

Joi Jenkins


Joi Jenkins never thought of herself as college material while growing up in Spring Valley. That changed after her children began growing into their teens and Jenkins enrolled in a Grossmont College Regional Occupational Program (ROP) class in baking and pastry. "At first, it just started out as a hobby," Jenkins said. "But I just loved the program and wanted to continue." Read more.

Mara Azlin


Mara Azlin is paying it forward. Azlin has endured more than her share of heartache during her 56 years, including a husband and daughter killed by a drunken driver and a young son who lost his life to leukemia. But the dedication she witnessed as health care professionals cared for her son, and her father during a heart valve replacement, convinced Azlin to chart a new career in medicine so she could help others. Read more.

Evelyn Martinez


When Evelyn Valenzuela Martinez was a 6-year-old girl growing up in Mexico, a freak accident led to a pot full of boiling water spilling onto her exposed legs. The painful path to recovery would include four skin graft surgeries and months of rehabilitation at a Shriner's Hospital in Sacramento. Now Martinez is at Grossmont College on her journey to become a nurse, she said, "so that I can do for others what the nurses at Shriner's Hospital did for me." Read more.

Hermilo Mejia


Hermilo Mejia first came to Grossmont College to improve his English. Now he's about to earn a certificate in landscape architecture and an associate degree in ornamental horticulture from Cuyamaca College. Transferring to a four-year university is among the options he's contemplating. Read more.

Barbara Gonzalez


Even when she was a child coloring with crayons. Barbara Gonzalez knew the difference between forest green and fern, chestnut and copper, or red and razzmatazz. That's the sort of thing you pay attention to when you have a talent for art at a young age. Read more.

Glynn Long


Glynn Long was living in El Cajon when the Marine veteran decided to explore the opportunities at Grossmont College. "I happened to be in the area and Grossmont College was close," Long said. "I decided to try out an acting class ended up stumbling upon the best theatre department in any community college in the region." The El Cajon resident has found his home on the stage and is a rising star at Grossmont College. Read more.

Riyam Mansoor


Grossmont College student Riyam Mansoor knew she eventually would be coming to America after leaving Iraq with her family for Turkey in 2008. Too young to work and unable to attend school, "I just stayed at home and watched a lot of English-speaking shows, listened to a lot of American songs and I tried to write only in English in my journal," Mansoor said. "I wanted to be ready." Her dedication has paid off. Mansoor served in the spring as the president of the Grossmont College EOPS Club, vice president of the Inter Club Council, and chair of a student government election committee. Read more.

Sheila Manosh


Grossmont College student Sheila Vanmourik-Manosh has dealt with more than her share of challenges. She is the single mother of a 21-year-old daughter who suffers from multiple sclerosis. A 13-year-old daughter ws hospitalized for several weeks in the spring. Vanmourisk-Manosh also cared for her mother last year following heart surgery and her father who lives with diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Vanmourik-Manosh herself is challenged by a learning disability that makes it difficult to remember lessons taught in class. Yet despite the setbacks, the La Mesa resident has earned more than one associate degree at Grossmont College and plans to earn one more before transferring to San Diego State University. Read more.

Sheila Manosh


Carin French didn't need to look far for inspiration when she was laid off from a well-paying management job in 2010. She looked toward Grossmont College. "I have a strong attachment to Grossmont College because my mother came here when we were kids," French recalled. "She was in her 30s and my dad was playing guitar in a rock band, so we weren't exactly rich. My mom decided to get a degree, learn a profession and find a job. I remember the rainbow of parking stickers on the back of our Volkswagen bus as she'd pull out of the driveway on her way to school. It was very inspiring." Read more.

Alexis Flores


Nothing was going to keep Alexis Flores from pursuing her degree at Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges. When the 22-year-old resident of Sherman Heights, a San Diego neighborhood a mile or so east of Petco Park, needed a way to get to Cuyamaca College, her grandfather drove her to school. When her grandfather fell il and could no longer drive, Flores transferred to Grossmont College, which is easier to reach from her home via bus and trolley. Read more.

Dani-Jo Hill


Life is filled with pivotal moments, but for Cuyamaca College student Dani-Jo Hill, none more so than on a particular day in March 2011, when a chance encounter during a church-sponsored visit to Haiti forever altered her life. Sitting alone in a dark storage room of an orphanage in Carrefour, a small city outside of Port-au-Prince, she spotted a toddler who appeared to be living underneath a wire mesh bed frame. Almost instinctively she reached out to the tiny figure who shied away with a primordial scream. From that life-altering encounter - tear-filled moments comforting a forgotten, neglected child -- came the start of Gabriel's Promise, a nonprofit group founded by Hill. Read more.

Melissa Hurst


Melissa Hurst always told her children they needed to secure a good college education. When she found herself at yet another job with no future, Hurst heeded her son's advice and decided it was time to pursue a higher education degree herself. At age 45, she enrolled at Grossmont College. "My son says, 'You know, you're the one who kept telling us to go to college. Well...," Hurst said. "So he sat me down in front of the computer and said 'Let's do this.'" Read more.

Kassandra Wallies


As William Shakespeare once wrote, all the world's a stage. Just ask Kassandra Wallies, an active participant in Grossmont College's Theatre Arts Department who is planning on a career as an elementary school teacher. "I love teaching, and I think a good background in theatre will help a lot," Wallies said. "A good teacher has to be able to capture their students' attention." Read more.

Zach Bolz


Zechariah "Zach" Bolz is graduating from Grossmont College with an Associate Degree in German, and he will be starting in the fall at the University of California, Berkeley, where he plans to major in economics and political science. With a 3.92 grade point average, he also received acceptance letters from other top universities -- Cornell, UC San Diego and UC Irvine. Bolz, who studied abroad in Germany and China, said Grossmont College prepared him well for the road ahead. ""I am really confident it has laid a foundation for going on to Berkeley," he said. Read more.

Nancy Yousif


Cuyamaca College's valedictorian, Nancy Yousif, remembers the sinking feeling back in 2008 of going to her son's school to register him for kindergarten. She faced page after page of forms in a language not her own. Resolute, Yousif took the pages home and with dictionary in hand, translated every word and filled out the forms. Fast forward to 2014 and Yousif is about to graduate as valedictorian from Cuyamaca College with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Read more.

Artisha Johnson


Artisha Johnson is  the embodiment of perseverance. Homeless, hungry -- and, at 16 years old -- a single mom, Johnson bought a ticket for a Greyhound bus trip west to California at the dawn of the Great Recession, only to find life in the Golden State as challenging as the one she left behind in Chicago. Eviction notices and long days at low-paying jobs were the norm. Then she discovered Grossmont College. "There were times when we had no food, and I said I was not going to put my son through this," Johnson recalled. "The only way things were going to get better was if I was to get an education. So I enrolled at Grossmont." Read more.

Lewis Grimes


Lewis Grimes discovered the artist inside of him when he began attending Cuyamaca College after a successful career as a literary agent. "I didn't know I had an aptitude for art at all until I came to Cuyamaca and took some assessment tests that this is where I had a talent," Grimes said. "I've received nothing but encouragement from my professors, who were excited about me starting out in something new and loved what I was doing." Grimes, who was named to the Phi Theta Kappa All-California Academic Team, has a 3.8 GPA and has his eyes set on securing a master of fine arts degree. Read more.

Juan Barraza


Cuyamaca College student Juan Barraza hasn't let a troubled childhood keep him from excelling in school and mapping out a career in engineering. The 21-year-old El Cajon resident grew up in a single-parent household, was booted from his high school and found himself hanging around some friends who weren't too interested in education. But when he came to Cuyamaca College, he found success. Now he's planning to transfer to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and study electrical engineering. Read more.

Sarah Conway


Call her a computer prodigy. Sarah Conway helps develop training manuals for the database management system PostGreSQL, is a consultant on open-source software and has a side job as a freelance web designer. The academic standout at Cuyamaca College is all of 17. Read more.

Cindy Hull


Cindy Hull was studying criminal justice at Grossmont College when she secured an internship with the San Diego Police Department’s fingerprint division. Today she heads her own company doing contract work for a growing number of Bay Area police agencies and is a leader at one of the world’s leading forensic science identification associations. She credits Grossmont College for much of her success. “All of the courses I took at Grossmont College, from report writing to fingerprinting to photography, all of the courses that I took at Grossmont, have helped me and catapulted me to where I am today,” Hull said. Read more

Derrek Gudino


Cuyamaca College student Derrek Gudino hasn’t forgotten his roots. The product of an impoverished San Diego neighborhood, Gudino now spends endless hours helping youth there as a volunteer teaching young children how to read at the Malcolm X Library in southeastern San Diego and working with the AVID program at an Encanto middle school.“I just want to do what I can to help kids who are in the same situation I was in when I was growing up,” said Gudino, who still lives in the neighborhood with his family. “I want to have an impact.” Read more

Tamara McMillan


Grossmont College was Tamara McMillan’s destiny. It just took her a little while to get here. Born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, McMillan was a standout discus thrower in high school, a national champion in the weight throw at Cowley County Junior College in Arkansas City, Kansas, and an Academic All American athlete at San Diego State University. A few years after graduating from SDSU, McMillan enrolled at Grossmont College in the fall of 2013 to pursue her longtime dream of becoming a nurse.“Being a nurse is something I really want to do,” McMillan said. “It is my calling.”  Read more




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