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Wall of Honor 2015

Audrey Self

Audrey Self

Audrey Self

Audrey Self knows that life can change in the blink of an eye.

Audrey was homeschooled and came to Richland in 2010 as a dual credit student. She maintained a 3.96 GPA and earned an Associate in Science degree while also volunteering extensively in numerous ways. Her outstanding grades and dedication earned her a full scholarship at Southern Methodist University. Audrey’s hard work was paying off.

Everything changed on November 21, 2013, when Audrey was in a devastating car accident on her way to class at SMU. The accident left Audrey with serious injuries, including severe brain trauma, a collapsed lung and a broken arm in three places. The deputy chief with Dallas Fire and Rescue who was first on the scene didn’t expect Audrey to make it to the hospital. The ER nurse didn’t think she would survive the day. According to the "Journal of Neuroscience", 90 percent of patients with Audrey’s diagnosis never regain consciousness.

But within one month of the accident, Audrey was breathing on her own – a remarkable accomplishment.

Audrey’s goal is a complete recovery. As a gifted musician, she wants to be able to play Vivaldi concertos. After several surgeries and extensive therapy to repair her arm, Audrey recently started taking violin lessons again.

"I want to work and teach and play music and help people," said Audrey.

In addition to her music, Audrey also plans on returning to SMU to complete her education. SMU is holding that full scholarship for her until she is ready.

Bill Holston

Bill Holston

Bill Holston

Bill Holston credits Richland College with getting his professional life on the right track.

"I appreciated getting a quality education I could pay for", said Bill. "My professors all cared, were accessible and provided a great, well-rounded education. I would not have been able to get a degree, a 30-year law career and now a human rights profession without that beginning."

Bill attended Richland College from 1974 to 1976 and later went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Dallas and a law degree from Southern Methodist University.

During his law career, Bill tried jury and non-jury cases in federal and state court and conducted oral arguments in numerous State Courts of Appeal and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. His practice focused on bankruptcy and creditor’s rights, business transactions, civil trial and appellate, church and Canon law, equipment leasing law, probate and surety law.

Since 1987, Bill has provided pro bono legal representation for political and religious asylum applicants, assisting clients from 20 countries in Immigration Court or before the Houston Asylum Office. He has volunteered his services to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas since its founding in 2000, and in 2012 Bill left his law practice to become the organization’s executive director.

In 1997, Bill received the Outstanding Political Asylum Lawyer Award from the Dallas Bar Association. In 2002, he received an award for Distinguished Pro Bono Service by the Dallas Bar Association’s Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. He was awarded in 2005 with the Angel of Freedom Award by the Human Rights Initiative and was also awarded the President’s Award by the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association. Recently, the SMU Dedman School of Law named Bill the 2015 Distinguished Alumni for Public Service.

Claudia Graves

Claudia Graves

Claudia Graves

Despite living in economic poverty, Claudia Graves grew up in a household rich in love and support.

As the oldest of three children in Lima, Peru, Claudia often helped take care of her younger sisters while her mother sold food on the streets. Her family always encouraged her educational pursuits, and she was a great student.

Claudia noticed the educational system in Peru lacked many opportunities for women. Frustrated and forced to withdraw from school because of limited financial resources, Claudia decided to learn English in hopes it would help her get a better job. Her grandmother, who was illiterate, was especially encouraging and supportive of Claudia’s dream to learn a new language.

It was at this time that Claudia entered a beauty pageant in her native city, and the winner would receive a trip to the U.S. After beating 39 other contestants and winning, Claudia was able to apply for a visa to come to the U.S. and realize her dreams of a better education for herself.

Claudia started attending Richland College in 1998 and received an Associate in Arts. She later received a bachelor’s degree in humanities and a master’s degree in dispute resolution and conflict management from Southern Methodist University. Today, she works at SMU as the director of the international office.

"Richland is and will always be my home," said Claudia. "I became an adult in the halls of Richland. I met my husband and friends I now call family. I held my first professional job, and I was given the chance to help others who felt lost with the system."

"Richland taught me that my dreams were possible."

Linda Dao

Linda Dao

Linda Dao

When Linda Dao first came to Richland College, she spoke almost no English.

Linda grew up in Vietnam; her father was an American who fought in the war but left the family when Linda was only three-years-old. Because of her father’s heritage, Linda was ostracized and bullied by the community, teachers and government officials.

Linda, her mother and sister eventually were forced to do agricultural work in a rural area of Vietnam to survive, and Linda had to leave school in 8th grade to work in the rice fields by day and as a seamstress by night. Linda and her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, and Linda worked on an assembly line for several years before finding the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at Richland College.

Linda graduated with her Associate of Science in accounting in 1998 and then transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration. In 2013, Linda received an M.B.A. from Texas Woman’s University.

"Richland College opened the door for me to learn and pursue my dream," said Linda.

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree at UT Dallas, Linda worked at Richland College. Her husband also works at Richland College, further cementing the school’s important role in her life.

"I feel Richland College is my home since I worked and studied at the same time here," said Linda. "The library was a place for me to do research papers and also a relaxing place after studying. Richland built my confidence, education and career."

Today, Linda works as a financial affairs manager at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Quentin Rhoads-Herrera

Quentin Rhoads-Herrera

Quentin Rhoads-Herrera

Despite a slow start to his educational pursuits, Quentin Rhoads-Herrera is now thriving.

As a teenager, education wasn’t important to Quentin. He got into fights, skipped school and ignored his studies. After being kicked out of school, Quentin got his GED and decided to join the U.S. Army, in which he served for almost five years. His service included deploying overseas.

It was after his military career was over that Quentin decided to give his education another shot. He enrolled at Richland College in the summer of 2013, and since then he has thrived.

"When I first started going to college, I didn’t have very high expectations," Quentin said. "But when I made my first A, which happened to be in my first class ever, I started to realize I could do this. Currently I have a 4.0 GPA, which is a huge success for me, and I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa, which really made me feel proud as it was the first time I was recognized for my education."

Quentin is currently working on his Associate in Science. He hopes to transfer to the University of Texas at Dallas next spring to pursue a bachelor degree and a master’s, and eventually he hopes to earn a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When not at work or doing homework, Quentin helps other students study for tests and grasp difficult concepts in their classes. He also does contract IT work and donates a portion of the proceeds to charitable organizations.

Richland College Honors Current and Former Students in Wall of Honor Ceremony

Wall of Honor 2013-2014

Martha Camarillo
Martha T. Camarillo

Martha Camarillo was already a young wife, mom, full-time employee and volunteer in her community. But college student? That just seemed like too much.

“Getting a college degree as an adult with a family and a toddler seemed overwhelming. I didn’t want to give up anything, so I did it all,” Martha says. “‘Juggler’ is what I became and it always surprised me at the end of the semesters how many novels I read or how many essays I wrote.”

The adjustment wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the great unknown for Martha’s family. Because she was the first and only high school graduate in her family attempting to go to college, they weren’t quite sure how to help or support her.

“My role of traditional wife and mom had shifted and it took a bit of adjustment for everyone to get used to ‘student mom,’” she said. “Navigating through college as a young person is difficult enough, but as an adult with responsibilities it was a daunting challenge.”

Martha forged ahead, working in Richland College’s School of World Languages, Cultures and Communications and taking classes at the same time. She earned an associate degree from Richland and then transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish.

She took it another step further and added a Master of Business Administration from Texas Woman’s University to her list of accomplishments. It should come as no surprise that pursuing a Ph.D. is in Martha’s future plans.

Today, Martha works for UnitedHealthcare Community Plan and is responsible for marketing and outreach in North Texas. She volunteers extensively in the community, including at Richland College.

“Martha is always available to help students at Richland, whether it is participating on a panel for my classes, serving as a mentor or helping students find scholarship opportunities,” says her nominator, Kay Coder.

Martha says, “Richland College has a very special place in my heart because my Thunderduck family was and continues to be supportive in my learning journey.”

Karen Cuttill
Karen Cuttill

Richland College Counselor Karen Cuttill understands the difficulties many students are facing.

She had a turbulent childhood that culminated in running away from home and a suicide attempt as a teenager. She quit school at age 16 and married at 17. By the time Karen was 22, she was divorced with two sons.

About this time, Karen visited Brookhaven College with a friend and a helpful employee in financial aid convinced Karen that she was college material. After all, she had passed the GED test with flying colors a few years earlier with less than a 10th grade education.

Karen started classes at Brookhaven and took a few at El Centro College too. She did so well that she was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. But Karen wasn’t able to finish a degree at Brookhaven right then. Single parenting and her children’s serious health problems were creating mounting financial difficulties. Her college dreams took a backseat to life.

In the meantime, Karen met and married her second husband. After a few years, she was able to take some classes at Richland College to finish her associate degree from Brookhaven. Karen graduated in 1989.

Almost 10 years went by before Karen would return to college. Her son was finishing high school, and she was told that if multiple members of one family were attending college, they could get more financial aid. So in 1997, Karen enrolled in classes at Richland. One of her professors was Kay Coder.

“It was clear that Karen was an excellent student,” Kay says. “At that time, Karen did not believe that she could pursue a higher degree but I knew that she had a gift and that it would be a shame if she did not pursue her own dreams.”

Kay encouraged Karen to apply at Southern Methodist University. She was accepted and with the help of multiple scholarships, Karen took a full load of classes, raised teenagers, worked three jobs and graduated cum laude.

She went on to earn a Master of Arts in clinical and counseling psychology from SMU in 2003 and became a licensed professional counselor. Today, she is a full-time counselor at Richland and actively volunteers in the community using her skills.

“I know that our students are in good hands because Karen is not only a caring and compassionate counselor, she truly knows what many of our students are experiencing,” Kay says. “Karen had many real excuses and quit many times – but eventually she made it to her goal. Many people helped her and today she pays it forward as she helps others reach their goals.”

Tsegazeab “TJ” Gebreyohannes
Tsegazeab "TJ" Gebreyohannes

It was Richland College’s global environment that made Tsegazeab “TJ” Gebreyohannes feel at home.

TJ was born and raised in the impoverished area of Addis Ababa – Ethiopia’s capital city. His father was a truck driver and his mother was a janitor. The family struggled financially and when TJ was still young, his father died. Life was very hard for TJ, his mother and siblings but despite these challenges, they persevered.

Through hard work and dedication, TJ earned a spot in the top 15 percent of his high school class and scored in the top 10 percent on national exams. Because of his educational achievements, TJ was given an opportunity by a missionary from Dallas to come to the United States to go to college.

From the first time he visited the Richland College campus, TJ says he “fell in love” with the internationally and ethnically diverse atmosphere.

“At Richland, there is immense diversity with students from all over the world, yet there also is a sense of family and community,” TJ says.

TJ has excelled at Richland, maintaining a 3.7 grade point average. He is on the President’s Honor Roll and was the 2013 Phi Theta Kappa Texas honor scholar. TJ is one of the 2013-14 DCCCD Foundation STEM scholars and was a nominee for the 2014 International Scholar Laureate Program in engineering and technology.

TJ also volunteers extensively including helping at Richland’s STEM camp, tutoring at the STEM Center and assisting with Richland’s Disability Services. He also tutors for Family Gateway homeless shelter in Dallas.

Jorge Valderrama
Jorge Valderrama

To say that Jorge Valderrama is a hard worker is a serious understatement.

Because of financial challenges in his family, Jorge worked from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. every day of the week while attending high school. He functioned on less than six hours of sleep most days. Not working was not an option.

Despite this schedule, Jorge graduated in the top two percent of North Garland High School in 2012. His performance as a Richland College student has been just as stellar.

Jorge maintains a 3.8 grade point average, is on the President’s Honor Roll, is a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and is a Rising Star. He tutors at The Learning Center and recently organized a program called “transfer circles” for Richland students to discuss how to prepare for transferring to four-year universities.

Jorge is the recipient of multiple awards to further his education including the 2014 Faculty Association Merit Scholarship, the 2013 Celia Millemon Achievement Scholarship, the 2012-2013 Fossil Company Achievement Scholarship, 2012-2013 Rising Star Scholarship and the Texas Rangers 2011-2012 Scholarship.

As busy as he is, Jorge still finds time to give back to the community. For more than two years, he has been an intern at the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce where he volunteers one day a week.

Horacio Velador
Horacio Velador

Horacio Velador can tell you: Being first is never easy.

One of the biggest challenges on his journey to academic success was figuring out how to go to college. Horacio’s parents had limited English-speaking skills and he was the first in his family to go to college. He didn’t know where to begin.

Fortunately, Susan Garza, a RESTART counselor and math professor at Richland College at that time, assisted Horacio with the first steps. Susan guided Horacio through the application process and helped him complete financial aid forms. Horacio became a Richland student in the fall of 1995.

He put in 15-hour days taking classes, working and studying. He also was the president of Richland’s Student Association of Spanish Heritage. Under his leadership, the club was involved in the community by visiting area schools to promote higher education, tutoring elementary students and participating in the DCCCD’s Dia de la Familia and Hispanic Summit.

Also during this time, Horacio learned about INROADS, a summer internship program that would greatly impact his future career path. He interned for two summers with the Comptroller of the Currency, a bureau in the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Horacio graduated in 1997 from Richland with two associate degrees – one in arts and the other in business. He transferred to Southern Methodist University, where he earned a B.B.A. in finance and management information systems.

But he didn’t stop there. Horacio went on to earn an M.B.A. in accounting from the University of Texas at Dallas, graduating cum laude. Today, he is a vice president and portfolio management officer at Bank of America in Dallas.

Horacio’s nominators, Fred Martinez and Diana Urrutia, say, “On a daily basis, Horacio exhibits a genuine care and concern for others that reminds us all of what our focus should be. Serving colleagues and society to the best of his ability is clearly exhibited by Horacio’s work ethic, follow-through, dedication and respect for others.”

Wall of Honor 2012-2013

Nde Ben-Collins “Collins” Asongwe
Nde Ben-Collins "Collins" Asongwe

American author Gail Sheehy wrote, “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” By this measure, Collins Asongwe is living a full life.

Even though he is young, Collins has faced multiple life-altering events. The first challenge came when as a 10-year-old, he was sent to Sacred Heart Boarding School in his home country of Cameroon. Being far from home at a young age was difficult but over the next seven years, Collins “was able to survive and finally thrive in the process,” earning the honor of being elected leader of his dormitory and finishing school with excellent grades.

Change would come again when Collins’ father arranged for him to go to college in the United States. His father found a Cameroonian couple living in Dallas who would sponsor Collins and allow him to live at their apartment. Collins landed in Dallas in March 2010 without knowing a soul and waited several hours at DFW International Airport for someone to pick him up.

“Once again I was in a new environment that required adapting,” he says. “This was a new culture, a new educational system, and new people”

Undaunted, Collins enrolled at Richland College in May 2010 and figured out how to get to campus taking the DART bus. He left at 5 a.m. to take his first class at 8 a.m. The first year of college was demanding, but Collins’ hard work was paying off.

He was fulfilling his dream of getting an education in the U.S. when his sponsor became seriously ill. Even though he was taking 17 credit hours and trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA, Collins took his sponsor to doctor’s appointments and assisted his care. Collins’ sponsor did not respond to medical treatment and eventually died.

Still reeling from the loss of his sponsor and friend, Collins was faced with a stark reality: if he didn’t find another sponsor, he would have to return to Cameroon before completing his education. Through the friendships made at Richland College, Collins found another sponsor and a part-time job as an economics tutor in The Learning Center.

Collins not only tutors in economics but also helps students with French, study skills, and Calculus I, II and III. He is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and is a founding member of Mu Alpha Theta (Richland’s Math Club).

“The full table of students who regularly come to seek his academic help and guidance is a testament to Collins’ positive attitude, mastery of various subjects and energetic personality,” writes one of his nominators, John Millemon of The Learning Center.

Collins will graduate from Richland this May with an associate degree in mathematics. The next change in his life will be when he transfers to The University of Texas at Dallas to study actuarial science.

“All of these experiences have encouraged me to find a way to cope with challenges. I have found friends and given and received support from others,” Collins says. “I am appreciative of the opportunities I have been given and I seek to contribute to others through my career and my life.”

A.C. Cristales
A.C. Cristales

A.C. Cristales knows about beating the odds.

He was raised by a single mother who spoke limited English. He grew up in a rough neighborhood in Garland where gangs and drugs were the norm. He was one of the only people in his family to graduate from college. He took it a step further and went to graduate school.

Today, A.C. is an assistant principal at Sam Houston Middle School in Garland – the same school that he attended as a young student.

“He believes that children who have ‘negative labels’ can change – he is a prime example,” says Kay Coder, a Richland sociology professor and A.C.’s nominator. “He has devoted his life to making a positive difference in the lives of others.”

Kay first got to know A.C. in her Introduction to Sociology in the spring of 2000. He also took her Marriage and Family sociology class in the fall of that same year. Kay says it was evident in class that A.C. had a talent for expressing himself well, both in writing and in person.

But it was A.C.’s willingness to share personal experiences with his peers that impressed Kay and his classmates.

“In Marriage and Family, students are encouraged to examine their family and socialization process to understand more about themselves,” Kay says. “Because of A.C.’s honesty and willingness to share his experiences and self-examinations, many students in our class were able to dispel many myths and stereotypes about males in general and Hispanic males in particular.”

A.C. went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Dallas in 2003 and a Master of Education from Texas A&M University – Commerce in 2005.

He has been a public educator more than 10 years, serving as a teacher and assistant principal. A.C. is passionate about helping young people but he also takes every opportunity to inspire parents and educators, whom he believes have the greatest impact on students.

He also volunteers at a local food pantry and is a motivational speaker for various organizations including a leadership seminar and a local women’s prison.

“People of all racial and economic backgrounds connect with A.C.,” Kay says. “His life story alone provides hope and encouragement that through hard work and perseverance, obstacles such as the confinements of family life, lack of monetary resources, and the overwhelming amount of peer pressure that young people face today do not have to be barriers to achievement and success.”

Melinda Fitts
Melinda Fitts

Melinda Fitts is the kind of person who takes her elderly neighbor to the grocery store. She reads to preschoolers at a local school every week. She volunteers at church. She puts herself second and others first.

Melinda’s husband died in a work-related accident in 2004. All of the sudden, she was a widow and single mother raising her daughter, who is now 12. Pursuing her dream of a college education wasn’t on the top of her priority list.

The strain of her husband’s untimely death caused Melinda’s stress-related speech disorder to worsen. It was very difficult for others to understand her when she spoke and ultimately, Melinda lost her job. Her prospects for re-employment did not look good. Encouragement from a friend changed Melinda’s direction.

“My dear friend Tammy challenged me to enroll in college and pursue my life-long dream of an education, which I was too intimidated to consider by that time,” Melinda says. “I met her challenge and went home to apply that same day. I am grateful to her to this day for her role in changing my life and the example I set for my kids.”

Melinda got help for the speech issue from a therapist she knew from church. She was thriving at Richland, maintaining such high grades that she was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa.

At the same time, Melinda was raising her daughter and her grandson. In 2011, just weeks after Melinda’s grown daughter was able to once again care for her son, Melinda’s mother suffered a stroke. She put school on hold for a few semesters to care for her.

After a while, her mother needed more expert care than Melinda could provide. She moved her mother to a facility close to her home and eventually went back to school. Melinda prepares her mother’s breakfast and visits with her at least six days a week. Melinda says she learned her kindness toward others and dedication from her mom.

“When I was growing up, my mom demonstrated Christ’s love for all of those around her and was an example of perfect faith for as long as I can remember,” Melinda says. “I aspire to the example she was for me.”

Last May, Melinda graduated from Richland with an associate degree and a 3.6 GPA. She transferred to The University of Texas at Dallas and is pursuing a degree in speech-language pathology and audiology. She hopes to work with stroke victims and/or people who have had traumatic brain injury.

“Melinda Fitts is a prime example of what can be done even in the midst of personal adversity,” says Sam Tinsley, a professor at Richland and Melinda’s nominator. “She was a joy to teach and an inspiration to me and her fellow students.”

Josiah Geffie
Josiah Geffie

Josiah Geffie knows the value of education. He was a public school teacher in Liberia, Africa, before the first civil war in the late 1980s forced his family to flee their home country.

Josiah, his wife and their five children took shelter in neighboring Ivory Coast. Josiah lived there from 1990 to 2009 until he had the opportunity to come to the United States through the Refugee Resettlement Program. He chose to come to Dallas, where his niece was living. His family stayed behind.

Josiah knew education would hold the key to new opportunity in the United States. He learned of the programs at Richland through his resettlement program sponsor. Josiah chose the pharmacy technician program and has maintained strong academic performance in each of his courses.

Last September, Josiah successfully passed the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board examination. Josiah was awarded the Community Pharmacy Technician Certificate, and is expected to earn the Institutional Certificate this year. Last fall, he began pursuing an associate degree.

Finding employment is Josiah’s greatest challenge, but he dreams of being able one day to afford to bring his family to live in Dallas.

Josiah notes that among the Liberian nationals he’s met in the U.S., there is often a sense of hopelessness about the investment of time that education requires. Josiah hopes his persistence and success as a student has motivated his compatriots to consider continuing their educations here in the United States.

“He radiates the hope, strength and resolve that will bring him great success in his career as a pharmacy technician,” says his nominator LiAnne Webster, administrator of Richland’s pharmacy tech program. “The circumstances that he has overcome are an inspiration. He serves as a great example to all.”

Dominique Jamal “D.J.” Wright
Dominique Jamal "D.J." Wright

Determination and faith. These words describe D.J. Wright, a young man with beautiful dreams for the future. Even though his life was tragically cut short, D.J. continues to inspire others.

D.J. started out at Richland College to earn an Associate of Arts in Teaching degree. He paid his own way taking credit classes, sometimes only being able to afford two courses. Despite financial difficulties, D.J. was determined not to give up on his dream.

He took a part-time job in Richland’s Facilities Services department. Unfortunately, he was laid off after a year of service due to budget cuts. D.J. again did not let unwelcome news destroy his hopes and dreams of getting an education and making something of his life.

D.J. heard there were grant monies available for students wishing to acquire a trade through the Richland College Machine Operator program at the Garland Campus. D.J. applied and was awarded a grant.

Celes Oppedahl, associate dean of Workforce Training, says D.J. demonstrated excellent customer service skills, was open to learning new things, had respect for all individuals, and was a quick learner.

“D.J. was an excellent student. His dedication to learning new skills and expanding his knowledge was an example for all students,” Celes says. “He had a positive attitude and always gave 100 percent to the program. D.J. is everything you would look for in a student or future employee. His future was unlimited.”

D.J. graduated from the 10-week program and two-week internship at the top of his class with exemplary remarks from the instructors, case management, staff, and the company supervisor where he interned. He was hired as a machinist at one of the leading telecommunications manufacturing companies in the area. His mother, Richland employee Sharon Wright, says D.J. was excited and hopeful.

On Oct. 23, 2012, tragedy struck – robbing D.J. of a promising future. He passed away after a serious automobile accident. He was 22.

From D.J.’s success at Richland to his volunteer work with the youth at his church and in the community with pee-wee football and basketball, Sharon says D. J. leaves an inspiring example for others – especially D.J.’s five-year-old son, Jeremiah.

“The moral is to never give up on your dreams, enjoy life, love one another and live as though each day is your last,” Sharon says. “Trust in the Lord, that not your will, but His will be done. God gave me D.J. for a season, to love and care for, and watch grow into this exceptional young man. And I thank Him. I miss D.J.’s laughter … he made us smile.”

Wall of Honor 2011-2012

Gwinnetta Crowell
Gwinnetta Crowell

Ten years ago when the owner of the firm that employed both Gwinnetta Crowell and her daughter announced the business was closing, the two suddenly found themselves unemployed. The mother and daughter shared a home and the fact that both of them were out of work seemed a catastrophe. But this sudden loss became the catalyst to transform Gwinnetta’s life – she decided to pursue a long-time dream of going to college and “getting that piece of paper.”

The prospect of returning to school at age 55 while unemployed was daunting for Gwinnetta, who finished high school with a 74 GPA. She and her daughter worked together to pay the bills. Gwinnetta found part-time work that could be done at home and arranged her class schedule at Richland to be there when her grandchildren came home from school. Gwinnetta smiles remembering all the nights that she and her grandchildren sat around the kitchen table, doing their homework together.

Not only did Gwinnetta graduate cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Texas Arlington, but she also went on to earn a Master of Arts degree.

Gwinnetta says that earning awards, being inducted into honor societies, receiving an undergraduate degree, and being hooded with a master’s degree set an example for her grandchildren. But she hopes they learned just as much from seeing her struggling through developmental math classes at Richland even when she initially failed all three courses.

“Hopefully, those struggles taught them valuable life lessons – that all we can expect of ourselves is to do our best. But more important, we cannot give up,” she says.

Gwinnetta has come full circle – today she is a professor of history at Richland College. Along with teaching regular college students, she also teaches dual credit students in a Learning Community. Her goal with each of her classes is to make the study of history an exciting and interesting venture.

Looking back, Gwinnetta reflects, “Had I not lost my well-paying, managerial job, I would not today be living my dream, more fulfilled and happy that I ever imagined.”

Theo Maraara
Theo Maraara

Theo Maraara didn’t know what the future held when he boarded a plane for the first time, traveling from Rwanda, Africa, to the United States in December 2007. His mother had died two years earlier and his sister, Betty, had assumed guardianship of Theo. One of the first things Betty did was to start the visa process so that Theo could go to Richland College in Dallas, where Betty lived.

Looking back Theo says, “I was one of the very few applicants upon whom luck smiled. Never in my wildest childhood dreams and imaginations did I ever think about being out here but I am living a dream now. Please don’t wake me up.”

Theo fulfilled the first part of that dream when he earned an associate’s degree in science last fall from Richland. He’s been accepted at the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington and hopes to start classes in the fall when he’s saved up enough money for tuition and secured a federal work authorization for international students. He’s still connected to Richland, working as a student assistant in World Languages, Cultures and Communications.

After college, Theo dreams of working as an electrical engineer but also of starting an organization or scholarship fund someday to help others. His says his desire to financially help students comes from being the recipient of Joe Lucky Memorial Golf Tournament Scholarship, the Sharon Conine Scholarship for International Students and Celia Riddle Millemon Scholarship.

Theo says that he owes everything to those who believed he could succeed.

“Being a Wall of Honor recipient is just too much for me to comprehend but it all comes back to that circle of wonderful human beings I have come know and admire during my time at Richland College.”

Beatris Martinez
Beatris Martinez

Going to college was already a long shot for Beatris Martinez, one of four children in a low-income family, but she and her parents dreamed it was possible. The dream almost slipped through her fingers when Beatris became a teenage mother the year after she graduated from high school.

But those who know Beatris know that she’s a person of strong determination and faith. She struggled financially and had to apply for government help to have the basic items for her son, enduring poor treatment and long hours of waiting. Beatris decided that one day, she would be on the “other side” helping out, not getting helped.

In 2000, she decided to go to college and chose Richland. Confused by the enrollment and tuition process, Beatris almost quit before she even began. Then she met Carol Castillo with Richland College’s Working Wonders program. Carol walked Beatris through every detail.

“Carol’s patience and guidance initiated the moment that would change the direction of my life forever,” Beatris says.

In 2002, Beatris earned an Associate of in Arts degree from Richland. In 2005, she graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas and began her teaching career in the Garland school district while going through Richland’s Teacher Alternative Certification Program. She was named the Teacher of the Year at Freeman Elementary in 2007.

Beatris earned a Master of Arts degree from Texas A&M University -Commerce in 2008 and became an administrative intern at Centerville Elementary. The next year, she was hired at Carver Elementary as an assistant principal where she remains. She was named the employee of the year at Carver in 2010. Today she is pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Administration.

“Everyone’s life is full of choices that will end in one of two ways, a great excuse for a failure or a lesson learned for a success,” Beatris says. “The choice is yours.”

Yaqueline Rodriguez
Yaqueline Rodriguez

Yaqueline Rodriguez has come a long way from her first days in the United States. When she arrived from Columbia in 2001, she didn’t know a word of English. Today, she’s a bilingual 2nd grade teacher at Carver Elementary in Garland.

The journey wasn’t easy. Yaqueline started by enrolling in English for Speakers of Other Languages courses at Richland in 2001. After three years, she was ready to pursue an associate’s degree in Bilingual Education through the Richland’s Teacher Preparation Program. Yaqueline struggled during this time, going through a divorce and raising her children alone.

Despite the challenges, Yaqueline’s outstanding grades earned her an invitation to be a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She also was named to the National Dean’s List Award in 2005. Yaqueline made the Richland College President’s Honor List twice.

In May 2007, Yaqueline graduated from Richland with a 3.68 GPA. She then transferred to Texas Woman’s University as one of the first students to participate in the transfer agreement between Richland College and TWU. In 2008, Yaqueline graduated with a bachelor’s degree in General Bilingual Education, certified to teach early childhood through 4th grade.

Her educational journey continues. She started an Educational Administration master’s degree program in July 2011 with Lamar University.

Yaqueline’s hard work, passion, and dedication have set a powerful example for her children. She has two sons attending college (one goes to Richland), a married daughter who is going back to school next semester and a daughter in middle school.

Yaqueline’s advice to those facing what seem like impossible challenges is this quote by Muhammad Ali: “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

Cory Scott
Cory Scott

It’s hard to believe that academics are Cory Scott’s greatest challenge.

The Richland Collegiate High School student graduated in the top 10 percent of the class of 2011. He earned a 3.85 GPA while taking 17-21 college hours each semester and completing a rigorous capstone project. Today, he’s a pre-med student at Midwestern State University.

But since childhood, Cory has battled severe dyslexia. His struggle is so intense that at times, it has interferes with his health. Preparing for class takes Cory three times as long as a student without dyslexia, yet he does whatever it takes to maintain his grades – even if it requires he get only four hours of sleep each night.

Those who know Cory say that no matter the challenges, he maintains a bright, cheery personality and a bashful smile.

“He always had a smile on his face and was the epitome of politeness and good manners,” said RCHS Principal Kristyn Edney.

Cory actively served his community by volunteering at the Rowlett Library where he coordinated the children’s reading program. He also served as a receptionist and records assistant at Lake Pointe Medical Center, where he gained insight into his intended career.

Cory also served as a mentor for RCHS incoming students. His assigned color group was one of the more active groups due in large part to his leadership. Cory was selected by RCHS staff to serve on their Campus Improvement Team because of his dedication and maturity.

Wall of Honor 2010

Louise Rogers Keim
Louise Rogers Keim

By the early 1980s, Louise Rogers Keim had already graduated from Kilgore College, where she was named to the dean’s list, and moved to Dallas due to an economic recession in East Texas.

Louise had worked her way up the ladder to a respected position in the business community but an injury at work changed everything. She was temporally paralyzed on the left side of her body and lost the bulk of her memory.

After five years of rehabilitation, she was released for work as a disabled person but Louise suddenly found herself unable to provide for herself or to apply for a good job. She couldn’t remember the skills and knowledge that made her a successful worker.

After several years of small jobs, Louise finally felt like she had healed enough that she could go back to college. She took a position at Richland College’s on-campus bookstore so that it would be easier to go to class and work full time.

In her classes at Richland, she wasn’t trying to make an A – Louise just wanted to learn, so she was surprised and honored when her grade point average was good enough to join Phi Theta Kappa in 2004.

Louise has taken a break from classes but looks forward to continuing her Richland studies in the spring of 2011. She feels fortunate that Richland encourages its employees to further their education.

“I consider my injury to have been one of the biggest blessings in my life because it brought me to Richland,” Louise says. “I love being a part of this community as I continue to learn, laugh and grow.”

In her work at the bookstore, Louise helps students get their books but she also offers advice on classes and clubs they might want to consider. Like many professionals at Richland, she sees herself as a student advocate and supports them in every way she can.

Outside of Richland, Louise volunteers as crisis counselor, has worked with the Protective Animal League (PAL) and serves at the church she attends.

Alex Opoku
Alex Opoku

Alex Opoku knows how to play to win – whether in soccer or in life.

The former Thunderduck immigrated from the West African country of Ghana to the United States in 1994. He attended Berkner High School in Richardson. After graduating in 1996, he enrolled at Richland College in the fall of 1997.

At Richland, Alex was a two-year starter for the men’s soccer team, and made a major contribution in helping the Thunderducks achieve one of their best records ever of 17 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie (in 1997). Alex scored more than 30 goals in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

In 1999, Alex transferred to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls where he played soccer for two years. He scored 27 goals with Midwestern State and was named an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

In July 2010, Alex was named into the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame – the first soccer player at Richland to have achieved that honor.

“Alex is a model citizen,” says his nominator, RLC Men’s Soccer Coach Sean Worley. “He was a great leader and was always willing to help where was needed.”

Today, Alex can still be found working out in the Richland gym and helping Thunderduck soccer players with one-on-one skills.

Alex is married to Waded Boadi, who also is a former Richland College student. The couple lives in Richardson and has two little girls. Alex works for the Richardson Surgery Center.

Paige Justice-Reno
Paige Justice-Reno

Paige Justice-Reno didn’t anticipate being on the 13-year plan in her journey to earn a college degree, but she has been a little busy. Even though challenges threatened to derail her, the mother of three never lost sight of her dream.

Paige dropped out of high school in 1989. Very soon afterward, she got married. In 1997, the marriage ended in divorce and Paige found herself a single mother of three children with no high school diploma. She reached out to Bill Witten, a counselor at Richardson High School, who encouraged her to enroll in the dual credit program at Richland College. Paige lacked only a half credit of PE and a half credit of English to graduate.

It wasn’t going to be easy to return to the classroom. The loving encouragement of her English professor, Rica Garcia, made the difference. “You are a wonderful writer, Paige,” Professor Garcia wrote on Paige’s first paper. “I am amazed you thought you were weak in this area. I think you are in for a big, big surprise.” Paige completed her high school diploma and graduated in 1998. “After nine years, I was no longer a high school dropout, divorced with three little ones, but rather a budding new college student on my way to a college degree, of whom my whole family would be proud,” Paige says.

Paige is proud that during her college career, she didn’t take out a loan or borrow money for classes or books. If she had the money and time, she attended; if not, she picked up a temporary second job, saved and waited. Carol Castillo of RLC’s Working Wonders program was instrumental in helping Paige borrow textbooks. College was often challenging for Paige, as it meant time away from her children and participating without some of the resources other students had.

“Professor Taylor, my developmental math instructor, watched in awe one evening as I graphed algebra problems without the aid of a calculator,” Paige says. “He approached me and asked the whereabouts of the math aid. I replied, ‘Professor Taylor, if I had the money for a graphing calculator, I would have the money to buy my little ones a second pair of shoes.’ I persevered and excelled without the graphing calculator, and treated him to homemade enchiladas as a thank you for his patience.”

Despite the obstacles in her way, Paige has excelled. She was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa in 2009 and graduated from RLC in May 2010 with honors. Today, she works in the pathology department at the Medical Center of Plano. She’s most proud of the example she’s set for her children, now ages 19, 17 and 15.

“I have squeezed in, survived and succeeded in class work, and motherhood,” Paige says. “I think I have provided an excellent role model by attending college while they have been growing up. They are active and try to excel in their own educational experiences.”

Marilyn Stacy
Marilyn Stacy

Since 1972, Richland College has been a part of Marilyn Stacy’s life. She was a member of Richland’s very first graduating class in 1974. She went on to earn a BS in Counseling (summa cum laude) from North Texas State University (known today as the University of North Texas) and then an MA in Psychology from Texas Woman’s University.

She returned to Richland in 1976 as a career counselor and then became a faculty counselor from 1978-1991. Marilyn has raised five children, all of whom attended RLC.

Marilyn is an accomplished poet. Her first poems were published in 1997 in Voices From Within, UNT Press. Since then her poetry has appeared in many books and journals including A Galaxy of Verse, Half Tones to Jubilee, The Southwest Journal of Aging, The Texas Poetry Calendar, Generation to Generation, Swimming for the Moon and every Poetry Society of Texas Book of the Year since 1998.

The road hasn’t always been smooth for Marilyn. In 2006, she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. From the start, Marilyn promised she would use the experience to help others. That help took the form of a book of poetry entitled Sometimes You Have to Laugh: A Poet’s Look at Cancer, which includes the following poem, “Fuzz.”

Soft white fuzz
is growing on my head.
I cheer it on,
massage my scalp
and wonder when
the fuzz
will be long enough
to insulate and protect
my bare head,
when I’ll look like a woman again,
not a futuristic extra-terrestrial.

Next month I can finally fly
to visit my new great-granddaughter
for the first time. I’m told the fuzz
on her head is light brown.
A snapshot shows her
wearing the same kind of soft,
pink knit cap I wear to bed.
I know we’ll bond.

Marilyn has published two other books of poetry: Along the Path, and Dreams … and other altered states of consciousness. In addition to writing poetry, Marilyn has a successful private counseling practice and teaches Human Development part time for Richland.

Zoltan Szabo
Zoltan Szabo

After immigrating to the United States from Hungary, Zoltan Szabo had many jobs. He sold T-shirts, parked cars and worked as a chauffeur – all to finance his dream of earning a college degree.

He started working toward an associate’s degree at Richland in 1991, and in 1998, he was hired as a student assistant. He earned an AAS and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. Zoltan was hired full time by Richland’s Information Technology department. He earned two degrees all while learning a new language and working full time.

Zoltan worked for RLC as an IT support specialist, then advanced to a network systems specialist. Zoltan began working on a master’s degree from the University of Tulsa while employed full time at Richland. He commuted to Tulsa and completed the degree in nine months.

Zoltan returned to Richland, developed curriculum and started Richland’s Digital Forensics program, which teaches students to recreate missing or deleted files form digital media. Zoltan’s students say his industry knowledge is second to none.

“He has the experience to be able to teach us from both the corporate and the law enforcement angles of this business,” one student says. “I feel privileged that someone with this type of experience is teaching at a community college. He has given me a different perspective many times and made me think instead of assume.”

Since starting the Digital Forensics program, Zoltan and his students placed 11th in the international competition of the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center Challenge in 2009. He has also applied for and received the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS) National Standards 4011 courseware certification for his curriculum. Zoltan also was instrumental in negotiating and completing an articulation agreement in 2009 for the Digital Forensics Information Assurance degree with Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.

Jude Ayozie
Jude Ayozie

Jude Ayozie knows the power of seeing the potential in oneself and others.

He was almost two years old when his mother died in childbirth. When his father remarried a year and a half later, Jude’s hopes of having a loving mother once again were crushed. For the rest of his childhood, he suffered brutal, vicious, and continual violence at his stepmother’s hands, including sleep deprivation, physical attacks, and emotional abuse.

“I was always reminded how stupid and useless I was with a fist to my head,” Jude said. “It was an abuse brutal and cruel beyond human imagination.”

Jude woke up on Feb. 11, 1993, and could only see a very faint light from the corner of his left eye. All else was darkness. Doctors confirmed that trauma to his brain from beatings had left him blind. Multiple surgeries could not correct the condition. Rather than be consumed by bitterness, Jude chose to overcome.

“There has always been a part of me that refused give in. And that was my resolution to make a success story out of misfortunes,” he said. “Rather than being put down by the degrading words of my stepmother who always told me that I will never become anything worthwhile in life, I let those words become my stepping stone to greater heights. I drew from her hateful words the passionate fires of determination to be the best of what I am meant to be. And also my belief in God to help make that happen for me never wavered for once. No matter how bad it got, I promised myself that I would never give up my academic goal in life.”

Jude triumphed. He enrolled at Richland and earned a 3.15 GPA and an associate’s degree in 2000. He went on to complete a B.A. in psychology at the University of Texas at Dallas and a Master’s of Education in counseling from the University of North Texas in 2004.

“He never allowed his lack of sight to limit his drive or dreams,” said Jude’s nominator, Aliene Pylant. “Imagine having limited vision and still making As in algebra and trig. Jude did it!”

Today he is a role model and mentor for the students at Richland Collegiate High School, where he is employed as an instructional specialist.

“Jude is an amazing example for our students,” said RCHS Principal Kristyn Edney. “He is a living testament to the Richland College ThunderValues because he lives them every day.”

Judith Cayle Dumont
Judith Cayle Dumont

Judith Cayle Dumont’s students in developmental writing know they have a professor who can really relate. Judith was once a starving college student – sometimes donating blood for cash during her first two years in college to be able to eat.

Judith’s life experiences make her an excellent teacher, said her nominator, John Millemon

“Judith has turned the difficulties of her own childhood and youth into a resource on which she can draw to understand many of the problems which young people are facing today,” John said. “She can speak honestly with students about the hardships, rebellion, and anger that often make it difficult for young people to prepare for a meaningful life.”
For Judith, it was difficult from the start. When she was born, her father was in prison. Later, her parents divorced and she grew up with three siblings in a household constantly short of money. At age 17, Judith was on her own, financially and emotionally. College didn’t seem possible, but at the last minute, she was able to enroll at Oklahoma State University.

She attended Oklahoma State University for two semesters. At age 19, she came to Dallas with a friend, got a job as a waitress and started putting herself through college.

Judith found her voice and vocation at Richland College, where she took core classes from 1999 to 2001. She transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies. She went on to complete a Master of Education degree in counseling and psychotherapy from the University of North Texas.

Today, Judith is an adjunct professor of developmental writing at Richland. She has consistently won recognition from her department and the college for the high rate of student achievement in her developmental writing classes.

“Judith has a special gift for relating to students, helping them to learn more about themselves and the ways that they can interact positively with others,” John said. “Students may not always agree with Judith, and at times she may be tough with them, but they always trust her.”

Landon GregoryLandon Gregory

Most college students don’t think about how they will be remembered. Landon Gregory isn’t most college students.

At age 3, Landon was diagnosed with leukemia. He endured six years of medications, surgeries and chemotherapy at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. Battling the illness has given Landon a perspective most young people don’t have, said his nominator and mom, Angel Gregory.

“Landon realizes each day is a gift and he enjoys each and everyday. He knows what a privilege it is to attend school and that with an education he can become all that he is meant to be,” she said. “At the end of life, Landon has told me that he plans on looking back and being able to see where he made a difference in others lives.”

Landon started attending Richland College in the fall of 2009 in the dual credit program. He’s finishing his senior year in high school while earning college credits.

His other accolades and activities have included being awarded the bronze presidential star for volunteerism through Americrew. Landon volunteers for many organizations including American Cancer Society, Texas Stampede, Children’s Medical Center Hospital, Saturn Road Church of Christ, and Mimosa Lane Baptist Church.

Landon was chosen in 2009 to attend Camp Ryla, a leadership camp by the Mesquite Rotary Club and he was asked to be a Model Ambassador for Prestige Photography. Landon received scholarships to further his education from the American Cancer Society, Keep Mesquite Beautiful, Rotary Club of Mesquite, and Resource Once Credit Union.

Angel said, “Through the devastation of cancer and the fight to overcome that disease something great came out of it and it was the compassion and kindness that Landon shows others, the dedication to succeed, the passion to help others.”

Jeffrey Qualls
Jeffrey Qualls

If Jeffrey Qualls could write his story, it would be one of triumph and tragedy.

In the late 1990s, Jeffrey was involved in a very serious automobile accident and suffered for many years with injuries stemming from that accident. Through the years, he overcame many obstacles related to the wreck.

Despite these circumstances, Jeffrey was an outstanding student at Richland College. While studying at the college in 2007-08, his passion was writing, but he was successful in all the courses he took. Jeffrey was an excellent math student though this was not his real interest. He earned high praise from professors on his work ethic and attention to detail.

Armed with a stellar 3.9 GPA, Jeffrey transferred from Richland to the University of Texas at Dallas where he continued to excel. He was accepted into a master’s program at UTD upon completion of his bachelor’s degree.

Jeffrey’s dream of continuing his education wasn’t meant to be. He unexpectedly passed away during the summer of 2009 from unknown causes.

Those who knew and loved Jeffrey remember his involvement in animal rescue and his wide range of other interests, and of course, his passion for writing. Jeffrey’s legacy lives on through the words he wrote. At the time of his death, several of his works had been accepted for publication.

Wall of Honor 2009

Sobia Azhar Khan
Sobia Azhar Khan

Sobia Azhar Khan was working as a graphic designer when she realized that wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. She longed to write.

She started classes at Richland in 2002 and returned to her love of literature and writing. Between literature classes with Scott Shepard and writing classes with Rica Garcia, Sobia says her love for the written word "increased many folds. Rica nurtured, and encouraged me as a writer that would not have been possible elsewhere."

Sobia joined the award-winning campus newspaper, the Richland Chronicle, where she worked with students from all ethnicities and backgrounds – as valuable experience for the international student who was unfamiliar with America and its diverse culture. Sobia ultimately was the Chronicle’s news editor.

It wasn’t long before Sobia had enough credits to transfer to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in literary studies. Convinced there was more to be learned and explored, Sobia pursued a master’s in literary studies, which she completed in 2008.

Sobia’s not through yet. She’s halfway through a doctorate degree and hopes to take qualifying exams next year. She’s teaching sophomore-level Introductory Creative Writing. In addition, her stories have been published and she will present her scholarly work at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference this year.

"Creative writing, teaching, and further exploring the parameters of literature found their roots in my work at Richland," she said. "My willingness to keep going, and being competitive, stems from my experiences working at the Richland Chronicle. I truly am indebted to Richland College for making who I am today."

While Sobia has been pursuing higher education, she and her husband have been raising three children. Their eldest son is almost 15, their middle boy is 13, and their little girl is 8.

"With my older boys I know they are also equally motivated to go into higher education because that is all they’ve seen growing up," Sobia said. "They have inherited my love for books, the eagerness to know more, and to work hard."

Francis Lubuulwa
Francis Lubuulwa

Francis Lubuulwa is well acquainted with loss. His childhood in AIDS-ravaged Uganda taught harsh lessons. But through the tragedies he’s endured, Francis has learned hope.

When he was 10 years old, Francis’ father died of AIDS. Two years later the disease claimed the lives of his stepmother and stepsister. Not long after that, Francis’ mother revealed that she too was HIV positive. Francis was sent to an orphanage in the Rakai District of southern Uganda, the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic.

"While in the orphanage, I got a whole different perspective on coping with loss," Francis said. "The orphanage was so comforting, as every child had a different story to tell. We gave each other hope and strength to go on."

At the orphanage Francis also discovered his talent for music and performance. And in 2002, when he was 15, he was selected to travel with a troupe to perform traditional Ugandan dancing, singing and drumming on an American fundraising tour.

In his last two years of high school, Francis was elected president of the student body. In 2007 he received his school’s Most Outstanding Leadership Award and the Most Outstanding Academic Achievement Award. In 2008 Francis volunteered to travel again to America with a dance company called "Spirit of Uganda" as a spokesperson and chaperone.

Francis won a college scholarship through Empower African Children, a Dallas-based nonprofit organization. The scholarship made it possible for Francis to come to Richland College.

At Richland, his academic performance and his engagement in extracurricular activities has won him a Sharon Conine Scholarship for International Students for Spring 2010. This scholarship is for international students with clear financial need and whose academic performance is excellent. Winners must also have shown a commitment to making the world a better place.

Francis shares his hope for the future as a leader in Richland’s Peace and Justice Club and African Student Union. He recently spoke as part of the Macy’s Passport Fashion Show activities to raises funds for AIDS work in Africa. Through the show, Francis shared with more than 4,000 young people in San Francisco and Los Angeles the story of his family and how the AIDS pandemic has affected them.

Francis plans to return to Uganda to establish his own human resources consulting company after finishing his studies at Richland. Armed with a 4.0 GPA Francis is sure to be successful in his mission to spread hope in his homeland.

Gerald Napoles
Gerald Napoles

Gerald Napoles discovered his love of higher education at Richland College – first, as a student, then as an employee.

Gerald attended Richland from 1996 to 1997, and was touched by the teaching of professors Kay Coder and John Trickle.

"I had many great professors. Two in particular, Kay Coder and John Trickle, made learning fun," Gerald said. "Their style of leadership encouraged me to study, meet new people, and learn new things. Their positive attitudes and words of encouragement helped me along the way."

The love of sociology Gerald learned from Kay led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field from Sam Houston State University in 2000. Later, while working for Eastfield College, Gerald started his graduate studies. He completed earned a master’s degree in general studies in aging from the University of North Texas in 2004, while working at Richland. Gerald said, "The Thunderducks were there to encourage me to succeed in school as an undergrad, and once again as a graduate student."

Gerald’s thirst for knowledge wasn’t quenched: He wanted to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Administration with an emphasis in community college leadership. He reached that impressive milestone in 2009 from the University of Texas at Austin.

"Dr. Mittelstet was one of the key people that wrote a recommendation letter on my behalf," Gerald said. "I was honored to attend and graduate from the same program as Dr. Mittelstet."

At every institution Gerald attended, he was a model student – serving in student government and organizations, earning multiple scholarships and awards, and volunteering in the wider community. His service to the community has included work with the Philippine Community Center Incorporated, Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, Multi-Ethnic Education and Economic Development Center, Organization of Chinese Americans – DFW Chapter, Richardson Chamber of Commerce, The Bradfield House, and The Network of Community Ministries.

Today, Gerald is the dean of Learner Outreach and assistant to the president at Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky. He credits Richland College with helping him develop a love of learning and a passion for education.

"I am committed to the mission of the comprehensive community college," he said. "That commitment started through the doors in Crockett Hall."

Uyen Vo
Uyen Vo

Uyen Vo’s eagerness to learn served her well as a student at Richland College and continues today in her career as a interactive designer.

Uyen began courses at Richland College in 2002 immediately after completing high school. A highly motivated student, she excelled and maintained an excellent GPA while studying multimedia at Richland and serving as a volunteer student assistant. While at RLC, Uyen was well liked by her classmates and helped students with programming problems and animation.

"She showed talent as both a programmer and as an artist – a highly regarded feat," said her nominator, Professor Dwayne Carter. "Uyen also maintained a positive attitude. Her good disposition made it a pleasure to work with her."

In 2005, Uyen earned an Associate Degree in Multimedia Developer, with Level I and II certificates in Visual Design from RLC. With these successes under her belt, Uyen transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in arts and technology.

Today Uyen is an interactive designer at imc2, an Internet marketing company in Dallas whose clients include The Coca-Cola Company, Pizza Hut and Pfizer. Uyen is responsible for creating media campaigns and flash Web sites for imc2. She also works on 3-D modeling and animation, video editing, and special effects.

Because of her high level of academic and professional achievement, Uyen was invited to be a member of the Richland’s Multimedia Advisory Board. This advisory board makes recommendations on curriculum for RLC’s Multimedia Program.

Sara Weiss
Sara Weiss

You might say that dual credit is a passion for Sara Weiss. Her relationship with Richland College began as a dual-credit student in 1988 but has carried forward to her work with the college’s dual-credit programs today.

Sara contracted mono her junior year of high school and because of her illness, wasn’t able to graduate. Instead of being defeated, Sara enrolled at RLC as a dual credit student, taking classes that counted toward her high school diploma and toward college credit. She took as many classes as she could afford – sometimes only a class or two a semester. During that time, she worked at least one job and sometimes several.

Over the course of 10 years, Sara accumulated enough credits to transfer to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a bachelor of science degree with a double major in mathematics and statistics and a minor in literature. Sara’s quest for knowledge continued and she went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from UTD.

Today, Sara is heavily involved in Richland’s dual credit process. She’s the math lab coordinator for Richland Collegiate High School (Richland’s charter dual-credit high school). As one who understands the unique situation of being a dual credit student, Sara helps give students opportunities and works with them to overcome challenges.

Sara designs curriculum for the TNLZ 1000 math labs and advanced math labs and she teaches in both the continuing education and credit departments at RLC. Sara is also an adjunct mathematics faculty member for Collin County Community College District.

Besides her academic and professional achievements, Sara volunteers for Temple Emanuel in Dallas and is a member of the WRJ.

Cynthia Anderson
Cynthia Anderson

Understatement of the year: Cynthia Anderson is determined, and she won’t give up.

She’s had cancer, a brain injury, two strokes, diabetes, cataracts and is confined to a wheelchair. In spite of all this, she’s a Richland College honor student, Phi Theta Kappa member, poet, mentor and inspiration to others.

“Cynthia struggles but she has not let these monumental health issues affect her learning or positive attitude,” says nominator Carol Faulkner. “Cynthia is one of the most memorable and admirable students that I have encountered.” 

A survivor of Hurricane Katrina, Cynthia lost everything in New Orleans. She moved to Dallas and even though she had been out of school for 30 years, she decided to attend Richland as part of the Total Re-Integration (TRI) Program, which is especially designed for people with brain injuries.

“She never complains about her circumstances, even on the darkest days when her physical condition prevents her from coming to school,” says another nominator, Martha Timberlake. “Instead, she focuses her energy on getting stronger and getting back to campus where she can catch up on her work.”

According to her instructors, Cynthia urges other students to do their best and encourages them to work hard in their classes. If someone arrives without a pencil, she lends one, along with this gentle admonition: “If I can be prepared with all my challenges to participate in class, so can you!”

Nominator Terri Nelson says Cynthia has an insatiable desire to learn and grow and that “she is not satisfied with meeting the minimum requirements to pass a class, but works to make the best grade possible in all of her courses.”

In addition to trying to realize her lifelong goal of getting a college degree, Cynthia also offers encouragement to others who are struggling with difficulties. Through her church, she helps adults and children. She also has written articles for the Richland Chronicle sharing the challenges students with disabilities face on campus and to advocate for changes that will improve their chances of success.

“She models the importance of accepting personal responsibility for one’s success, even in the face of overwhelming hardships,” Ms. Timberlake says. “As a result, Cynthia is an inspiration to all who know her.”

Earlene Bond
Earlene Bond

For almost 25 years, Earlene Bond and Richland College have been making a difference in each other’s lives.

The journey began in 1985 when Earlene started a part-time job in Continuing Education. She later held a full-time job in the Business Division for many years. While working in the Information Center of the real estate program, Earlene began taking classes toward her associate’s degree in real estate, which she finished in 1992. She earned the distinction of Certified Professional Secretary in 1993 and a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, magna cum laude, from Northwood University in 1995.

She went on to work in the Career Center, Organizational Learning and Service, and helped to start the Thunderwater Organizational Learning Institute. In 2001 she moved to the District Office as a founding member of the Center for Formation in the Community College, where she remained active in community and support staff activities.

Earlene retired from the DCCCD on April 1, 2004. Four years later she came out of retirement to work part time for the Center for Formation in Higher Education and moved with the Center (now the Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education) to Richland in August 2008.

Although she is a part-time employee, today Earlene remains active supporting many professional support staff and activities on campus.

Earlene is a member of the Rho Epsilon Real Estate Fraternity, Richland chapter; she was the Richland PSS Employee of the Year for 1997-98; and was named Innovator of the Year for the Richland ThunderSTAR Program in 2001-02.

Earlene’s dedication and participation in so many cornerstone programs at Richland continues to inspire those who know her.

“She earned her associate’s degree at the age of 50 and went on to earn her baccalaureate degree with high distinction,” says her nominator, Sue Jones. “Both degrees and her CPS credential were earned while working full-time, raising three daughters and making significant contributions to the community.”

Don Bratton
Don Bratton

Don Bratton shouldn’t be alive.

He should have died in 1980 when his motorcycle broke apart while he was riding it. He should have died in 1983 when an armed robber shot him in the face at point-blank range. He should have died in 1994 when he sustained a brain injury from a freak car accident.

He should have died, but he didn’t. And Don’s done more than simply survive these near-tragedies – any one of which would have crushed the spirit of a lesser person. He’s found a purpose in life: Helping others.

Today, Don’s a personal trainer at the Downtown Dallas YMCA and he helps others strengthen their bodies and believe in themselves – something he knows a lot about.

Don was 16 years old when he had the motorcycle accident in 1980. It left him with five fractures in his left leg. He battled back from the injury and was able to walk unassisted across the stage to graduate from Dallas’ Bryan Adams High School in 1982.

The next year, Don was shot after being robbed in a restaurant parking lot. The bullet went through his nose and into his spinal cord on the left side. The injury numbed his right side and partially paralyzed his left arm and leg. Within five months of the shooting, Don was walking without a cane.

Eleven years later, Don had landed his dream job as a jet engine mechanic with Microturbo in Grand Prairie, and was attending night school at the University of North Texas. A bizarre car accident on the evening of May 10, 1994, left Don in a 21-day coma. He lost 61 pounds and emerged from the coma with a permanent brain injury.
After months of relearning basic skills, physical therapy and psychological counseling, Don was ready for the next challenge. He enrolled in Richland’s Total Re-Integration Program, which is especially designed for people with brain injuries. Don conquered academia and graduated with an associate’s degree in 1998.

He went on to earn a certificate in Physical Fitness Technology from North Lake College and become a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise.

The following is an excerpt from a poem Don wrote during his studies at Richland. Nothing could say it better.

I am a healthy young man with a bright future. I wonder why tragic events happen to good people. I hear the sound of the wind blowing on the earth. I see the little blue planet earth from the cosmos. I want to help people learn how to get stronger. I am a healthy man, with a bright future.

Brittnee Lee Edmonds
Brittnee Lee Edmonds

Even when life hits a low note, RCHS student Brittnee Lee Edmonds keeps on singing.

A talented singer who has recorded two CDs, Brittnee has been living with the possibility of losing her greatest fan – her mother. Mrs. Edmonds has terminal cancer and has been told by her doctors that she’s a walking miracle.

Brittnee’s mom was told last year that she only had a short time left. Even though Mrs. Edmonds has been on hospice care for several months, she still is actively involved in Brittnee’s life.

In spite of this – or maybe because it’s taught her to cherish life – those who know Brittnee say she always has a smile on her face and a song in her heart.

Brittnee takes more than 17 credit hours every semester and maintains above a 3.0 GPA. Like other RCHS students, she’s pursuing a high school diploma and associate’s degree but she’s turned it up a notch by taking additional courses in foreign language, math and science.

She spent many hours during the summer of 2008 helping plan and coordinate a new student-mentoring program. Brittnee has mentored 15 new students through the program. She’s also the RCHS yearbook editor and a student speaker at the RCHS Information Sessions.

Brittnee has completed 15 hours of Service Learning and has more than 45 hours of contributions to the community, including working with the Garland Boys & Girls Club. Brittnee invited the children she worked with as her special guests to her second CD release party.

Besides writing and performing her own music, Brittnee sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” at all RCHS events.

Her nominator, RCHS Principal Kristyn Edney, describes Brittnee as “an amazing young lady who has had to deal with much trauma and has faced it with maturity and a positive attitude. Anyone who meets Brittnee is immediately impressed with her sense of confidence, drive to succeed and big-hearted personality.”

Ijeoma Emenalo Ibeh
Ijeoma Emenalo Ibeh

Ijeoma Emenalo Ibeh can be trusted. Trusted to support her family in Nigeria, trusted with customers’ financial information at her job at Sam’s Club, trusted to passionately pursue her own education, trusted to mentor children.

The death of her father when Ijeoma was 12 years old meant more than the loss of a beloved parent – it meant Ijeoma had to go to work immediately. Ijeoma carried homegrown vegetables long distances to market, to help her mother and the family make ends meet. Even with her efforts, they barely survived. She has written of those days: “We ate poverty, we drank poverty, we slept poverty.”

Ijeoma was given the opportunity for an education in the United States by her uncle and leapt at that chance with open arms, an open mind and a desire to learn.

At Richland, she was named to the President’s Honor Roll for Spring 2008 with a 4.0 GPA. She works hard to find the balance between maintaining her grades while working full-time at Sam’s helping customers open new accounts. With her earnings, Ijeoma supports herself and pays for the education expenses of her six siblings in Nigeria. 

Giving freely to others is not just a family affair for Ijeoma. She volunteered through Service Learning with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a refugee resettlement agency partnering with the U.S. State Department. In her work tutoring refugee children in the after-school program, Ijeoma has made a remarkable difference in the lives of children who are often overlooked.

In her role as organizer of the Richland College African Student Union, Ijeoma has mobilized a large group of other Richland students to tutor and mentor refugee families with the IRC.

Ijeoma’s other activities and honors include participating with SaveDarfur Dallas; being honored with the Student Success Award for leadership; and belonging to Phi Theta Kappa, and the Peace and Justice Club.

Those who know Ijeoma’s radiant smile and genuine love of learning believe her future is bright.

“She will be sought after for her intelligence and her willingness to give of herself in order to benefit others,” says nominator Tara Thompson. “She has applied to Columbia, Cornell, UT and SMU. I believe they will have to fight over her!”

Wall of Honor 2008

Joann Dao
Joann Dao

Joann Dao’s life was one of sacrifice for those she loved.

Joann and her family survived 17 years of hardship in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in 1992. They finally had freedom but little else. Joann and her siblings worked minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet. She went to community college before transferring to the University of California at Davis in 2000.

Within two years, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degree with honors. After marrying, she and her husband moved to Garland in 2002. Instead of pursuing a career in electrical engineering, Joann devoted herself to the newly created family business, the 2000 Auto Repair shop. She used her academic skills to oversee their inventory management processes and her diplomatic nature to bring family members together to build business success.

With the birth of her son in 2005, Joann embraced her new role of motherhood while still working with the family business. Soon after the baby’s birth, Joann’s son was diagnosed with severe allergies, especially to peanuts. Joann spent countless days and nights caring for her son, especially during sudden changes in weather or accidental exposure to peanuts.

Joann was infected with acute Hepatitis B during the seventh month of her second pregnancy. Joann’s foremost concern was the safety of her unborn daughter. She insisted on delaying any medical procedures and treatment for herself as long as possible so that her daughter could develop further. Despite being born two months prematurely, Joann delivered a healthy baby girl.

With the economic down turn in the fields of electronics and information technology, Joann sought to update her education. She started classes at Richland College to be a pharmacy technician. She had completed all of the coursework for the Community Pharmacy Technician certificate, and needed only to complete the clinical externship to receive her certificate. Unfortunately, Joann’s failing health prevented her from reaching that goal. She passed away before she could finish.

Joann was known on campus for her academic excellence as well as her friendliness. “Her sweet character and clever sense of humor were beloved by classmates and faculty alike,” says her nominator, Lianne Webster. “Her Richland College family rallied around her as she faced physical challenges and respected her courageous spirit and can-do attitude. Through it all, she never complained – she always remained positive, focusing on the joy and well being of those around her.”

Lauren Davis
Lauren Davis

Like thousands of others, Lauren Davis lost her home, her job and her beloved hometown when Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans in 2005. In the years since the tragedy, she’s been shaken. But one thing Lauren didn’t lose was her hope for the future.

Lauren was one of 25,000 people who made their way through the horror and devastation in the streets to take shelter in the New Orleans Convention Center. She later was evacuated to Corpus Christi. Even though her apartment in New Orleans was not flooded, the building where she worked was so badly damaged that it never reopened. Meanwhile, Lauren’s rent doubled, due to the lack of available housing in the city. Returning to New Orleans was no longer an option. So Lauren decided to make Texas her home.

She moved to Dallas but struggled to find employment in her field, which was bewildering after a 25-year career as hair stylist. Soon afterward Lauren was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “I didn’t know what would become of me,” she said. “I decided to reinvent myself out of necessity.”

She decided to try college again and started classes at Richland in January 2007. Since that time, Lauren has flourished, maintaining a 3.9 GPA. She was on the President’s Honor Roll for the Spring 2007 semester with a 4.0 GPA. With encouragement from Professor Young Eui Choi, Lauren entered an essay in the Literary Festival in March 2007 and won first place in the competition for Richland and the Dallas County Community College District. The essay was published in Parallax. And this year it won first place for a feature news story from the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association, along with first and second place in the feature photograph category for pictures Lauren took of the devastation in New Orleans.

After finishing an Associate of Arts degree in 2009, Lauren plans to attend SMU and earn a degree in History/Anthropology. She dreams of graduate school after SMU. She wants to teach a course on the history and culture of New Orleans, turning her experiences into something positive, while never forgetting what happened on August 29, 2005.

“Without the encouragement of Professor Choi, Professor Parker Nunley and all of the other professors I have had the privilege to study with at Richland, and my colleagues in the RLC Financial Aid Office, I don’t know what direction my life would have taken,” she said. “I feel blessed to have landed in such a stimulating and caring environment.”

Jennifer Foster
Jennifer Foster

Jennifer Foster’s life took an unexpected turn after high school &ndash. She became a mom. Jennifer credits her Christian faith, hard work and unwavering determination as the reasons she not only finished college in four years while raising her baby girl, she graduated with top honors.

Jennifer began her college career at Richland. During this time she went to school full-time; worked; cared for her daughter, Jayda; sang in church choir; and served as President of Phi Theta Kappa. She was a PTK Outstanding Chapter Officer. In May 2005, Jennifer completed an Associate of Science degree with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Recognizing her scholastic excellence, Jennifer was offered a full academic scholarship to Southern Methodist University. At SMU Jennifer was a member of the Mortar Board, an honor society for seniors; Mustang Corral; and the SMU Program Council as one of 25 students selected by faculty and administrators to advise the university president. She also was selected to participate in Leadershape, an intensive six-day leadership training program designed for future leaders. Jennifer graduated summa cum laude from SMU in 2007 with a 3.81 GPA, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.

Jennifer’s accolades include Psi Chi Honor Society for Psychology; Who’s Who Among Students in American University and Colleges; SMU’s Honor Roll; National Scholars Honor Society; Chancellor’s List and National Dean’s List.

Even as a busy single parent, Jennifer makes time to give back to the community. She has volunteered at Genesis Women Shelter; AIDS Interfaith Network; Human Rights Campaign Black Tie Dinner; Hope Cottage Center for Pregnant Teens; Bryan’s House (organization for children with AIDS); and the Richardson Police Department.

Since graduating from SMU, Jennifer has been working for Forex Capital Markets, an online currency trading company, and raising Jayda, who is 5 years old.

Jennifer says her driving force to be a success is her daughter. “I knew I had to finish college for her, to secure a future for her in the long run,” she says. “I also wanted to finish just to beat the statistics and prove a lot of people wrong.”

Samie Sabet-Sarvestani
Samie Sabet-Sarvestani

For Samie Sabet-Sarvestani, education isn’t simply an opportunity – it’s a treasure.

Growing up in Iran as a member of a Baha’i family, Samie endured discrimination. His grandfather died in prison and his father was limited in his choice of occupation, all because of their Baha’i faith. In school Samie passed all the required tests but was not allowed to participate in a talented and gifted program. Samie’s parents realized they had to leave Iran if he was going to get a proper education and have a chance to go to college.

They sold all of their possessions and fled to Turkey. As refugees, his parents weren’t allowed to work, no one in the family spoke Turkish and they were emotionally exhausted from leaving behind everything they knew. But for the first time, they were allowed to openly practice their religion and to pursue learning.

During these months as a refugee, Samie studied hard and helped others. He was active in the Baha’i community in the new hometown, Kayseri. He started a class to teach English and organized a theater workshop for refugee children.

After being interviewed several times by the United Nations and the American Embassy, Samie and his family were allowed to immigrate to Dallas where he began his studies at Richland College in the spring of 2007.

Today, Samie’s dreams are coming true. He works a part-time job as a student assistant in the RLC Library and works another part-time job at night at Wal-Mart. On top of that, he’s completing a 96-hour internship in a CVS pharmacy. Despite this grueling schedule, Samie maintains a 3.8 GPA. He’s a member of Phi Theta Kappa student honor society and a recipient of a DCCCD scholarship.

This summer Samie completed Richland’s Pharmacy Technician program and passed the test to become a certified pharmacy technician. His future plans include pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medical technology and completing a graduate degree in pharmacy.

“Samie brings an attitude of joy to all that he pursues,” says Sharlee Jeser-Skaggs, Samie’s nominator. “He loves learning and takes pleasure in helping others learn. Samie exemplifies student success."

Tara Thompson

Tara Thompson

Helpful. Knowledgeable. Genuinely concerned. Loves her job. The best.

Sift through a stack of RLC Advising Evaluation Forms, and these are the kinds of comments you’ll find about Academic Advisor Tara Thompson.

Why students love Tara is no mystery – she cares enough to hold them to high standards and helps them believe they can accomplish their dreams. A shining example is when Tara implemented the Suspension-to-Probation Program, which has helped hundreds of students get back on track toward their educational goals.

“Your encouragement made the difference from me being on academic suspension to finally receiving what I dreamed countless nights for, my diploma and degree,” wrote one student on an evaluation form about Tara. “True, there were other people that helped, too, but you personally communicated with my instructors to check my progress. You have given me the courage and confidence to move on and complete my bachelor’s. If you ever wonder if you are making a positive difference, you have a believer in me.”

Tara has shared her passion for the Suspension-to-Probation Program in writing in the National Academic Advising Association’s quarterly electronic publication, and she’s presented information on the program many times, including at the 2006 DCCCD Conference Day.

Tara’s colleagues and administrators have recognized her excellence. She was the 2007-08 recipient of the Jean Sharon Griffith award for Student Development Leadership. She also was nominated as a member of the Suspension Advising Team for the 2006-07 Jean Sharon Griffith award. She was the 1999-2000 Professional Support Staff Association Part-Time Employee of the Year; and the March 2000 Employee of the Month.

Tara’s love of Richland College began with her own education. She earned a stellar 4.0 GPA and an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree from RLC. She was named to President’s Honor Roll three times. She went on to graduate summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Dallas with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She also earned a Master of Arts in Counseling from Amber University.

Elizabeth Haddon
Elizabeth Haddon

Elizabeth Haddon knew by age 5 that she wanted to work in healthcare. Ironically, it was her health that almost kept her from realizing that dream.

Elizabeth was a wife and mother of five children when she started college. Her youngest child was a senior in high school when she enrolled in college to pursue her dream of being a nurse. Just as Elizabeth was accepted to nursing school and began taking classes in the early 1990s, she was diagnosed with lupus. Undeterred, Elizabeth continued the rigorous nursing coursework.

Elizabeth was in her last year of nursing school when she went through a difficult divorce and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a type of lymphoma. She had completed the nursing coursework but not the clinical requirements and she wasn’t able to continue. She was devastated.

Elizabeth’s nursing classmates graduated in May 2005. Even though they recognized her at the graduation ceremony, everyday Elizabeth was overwhelmed with a sense of loss as the chemotherapy treatments began.

In May 2007, the cancer was in remission and Elizabeth applied to the Medical Assisting Program at Richland College. Elizabeth was nervous about returning to college as she was having some memory loss due to the chemotherapy treatments. With encouragement from her instructors, specifically Amber Reedy, Elizabeth persevered.

During Elizabeth’s clinical externship, a PET scan indicated a “hot” spot and she had to have another minor surgery. Elizabeth started to worry that she wouldn’t be able to finish and that her dream would once again slip through her grasp.

With the support of program administrator Shannon Ydoyaga to complete the externships, Elizabeth completed the program in January 2008 and soon after was offered a full-time Medical Assisting position with an internal medicine physician in Plano.

“Getting to this point in my life has taken many years of waiting, been full of sadness for losing my way to my dreams, and yet, I have found my dream again. It is living and breathing,” Elizabeth says. “In every downturn in life, if one looks and listens, he or she will see something good happening.”

Babs King
Babs King

Barbara “Babs” King has lived a life of service: She’s served her family, her country, Richland College and the community.

As a student, Babs worked hard to excel in her classes at Richland College, maintaining a 3.53 GPA. This was no small feat, as Babs became a single mother to her two sons in 1980. In 1981, she was hired as a secretary in the Facilities Department at Richland College. With the dream of one day becoming a teacher, Babs started taking classes at Richland in 1983 as a part-time student and continued taking classes until 1993, all while raising her boys.

Babs served her country by joining the United States Navy as a reservist. She served in a Public Affairs Unit and earned certification with honors in Journalism. She had the opportunity to work at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., for the Chief of Naval Operations.

Babs has served the community by teaching craft classes on a volunteer basis at the Garland Senior Center, the Wales House in Dallas, and for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She also has participated in projects such as providing a quilt panel for the AIDS quilt displayed in Washington, D.C., Race for the Cure events, and recently providing lap quilts for the Castle Manor Nursing Home project “Blankets of Comfort” sponsored by the Garland News. Babs continues to help her fellow Thunderducks, most recently co-chairing a silent auction which raised money to assist a co-worker seriously injured in a car accident. Currently, she volunteers as the editor for the Dallas Community College District’s Retiree’s Association newsletter, RET-Express.

She has taught craft classes and English as a Second Language classes at Richland for Continuing Education. Babs retired from Richland College in 2003, but continues to work part-time as Coordinator of Institutional Research. In this capacity, she supported Richland’s efforts in earning the 2005 Texas Award for Performance Excellence and the 2005 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Babs was named the 2003-04 Excellence in Teaching Award recipient for CE/Adjunct Teaching, and the 2006-07 Part-time Professional Support Staff Employee of the Year. She also is a recipient of the NISOD award.

Kyle A. Milberger
Kyle A. Milberger

Kyle A. Milberger success as a student, pharmacist, teacher, father and husband lies in his ability to find a balance in life.

“While many young men work their way through school, Kyle has done an outstanding job of combining his extremely demanding school curriculum with working constantly at a pharmacy and maintaining a loving relationship with his wife and baby daughter,” says his Wall of Honor nominator, Kyra Ayres.

Kyle attended Richland in 1996 and 1997, and returned in 2000 while simultaneously taking coursework at the University of Texas at Dallas. He finished his undergraduate studies in 2003 and then earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in May 2007.

He currently is a Pharmacy Practice resident at the UNM Hospital, and teaches classes for third-year professional pharmacy students. Kyle also is a part-time pharmacist at Walgreen’s in Albuquerque.

Despite his busy schedule, Kyle serves as a Board of Trustees Member of the American Heart Association and New Mexico Society of Health-System Pharmacists; and as a committee member of the American Diabetes Association, New Mexico Department of Health’s Diabetes Advisory Council, and the Diabetes Advisory Council Healthy Lifestyles Action Team.

Kyle’s accolades include making many professional presentations in New Mexico, as well as Cuernavaca, Mexico. He has worked on special projects for the University of New Mexico’s College of Pharmacy and done extensive research. He is a member of the Phi Lambda Sigma Leadership Organization and has received the UNM PhaA-ASP Mortar and Pestle Professionalism Award; Roche Pharmacy Communications Award; was named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, the University of New Mexico PLS Chapter Member of the Year, and Richland College President’s Honor List.

Keome Rowe
Keome Rowe

Keome Rowe is the kind of student who actively participates in class discussions and always excels on tests, even in the most demanding courses. His model scholarship is surprising since he is the first person in his family to graduate from high school and college.

“I had the opportunity to take a learning community course in government and history with Keome,” says his nominator, Lizbeth Garcia. “He is a prime example of the all-around student.”

Keome is an active member of Phi Theta Kappa and was recently elected the regional Vice President for Phi Theta Kappa. Because of his leadership, the Phi Kappa Theta chapter at Vernon College was named the most improved chapter at the organization’s recent regional convention. Keome was singularly responsible for reactivating this chapter and getting them to participate in district and regional events. He was also inducted into the Regional Hall of Honor. Keome is also a candidate for PTK International President.

He has been named to the President’s Honor Roll, Vice President’s List, and the National Dean’s List. His other honors and awards include being named the 2007 Richland College Student of the Year and an R. Jan LeCroy Scholar, receiving a Congressional Gold Medal, the President’s Volunteer Service Award, and Big Brother of the Year Award.

Keome’s admirable qualities extend beyond the classroom. He regularly volunteers for the Family Gateway, the Salvation Army, Keep Dallas Beautiful and Big Brothers Big Sisters. During Spring Break 2007, Keome joined the United Way’s relief effort in New Orleans and Lake Charles, Louisiana, to help with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and Rita. More than two years after the hurricanes, many parts of southwest Louisiana are still devastated by debris, mold, and unsanitary conditions. Keome and others helped by cleaning up as well as by spreading hope and kindness.

Keome is an intern for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and in the fall of 2008, Keome plans to transfer to the University of Texas to pursue a degree in political science.

Alhaji F. Saccoh
Alhaji F. Saccoh

Growing up during the civil war in Sierra Leone, the idea of getting a college education was an impossible dream, but Alhaji F. Saccoh likes to dream big.

He was able to escape his war-torn West African homeland and immigrate to the United States in 2004 to pursue his dream. When he started taking classes at Richland in the summer of 2004, Alhaji had to start with college prep courses. He worked diligently for almost two years and finally enrolled in his first credit class in the spring of 2006.

Alhaji continues to work hard to earn a degree in conflict resolution and international studies. He has a new dream that some might consider impossible: peace.

“This degree will help me to understand more about conflicts, how they are averted and how to secure a peaceful resolution,” Alhaji says. “It is my goal to help secure a sustainable society for Africans, one without war, hunger, disease and abject poverty.”

Fittingly, Alhaji is the co- founder of the Peace and Justice Club of Richland College. He also is an honor student at RLC and an officer the Phi Theta Kappa Honor society. He was the 2007 Annual Student Success Award Recipient, and was Richland’s representative to the 2007 Diversity Luncheon.

Volunteering for the International Rescue Committee, an organization that resettles refugees from around the world in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is dear to Alhaji’s heart as he was once a refugee. He also is a member of the United Nations Association of USA, and is an alumnus of the LeaderShape Institute and Leadership Richland.

Wall of Honor 2007

Hsiang K. "Frank" Fei
Hsiang "Frank" Fei
Hsiang K. "Frank" Fei was born in Hua-Lien, a small east-coast town in Taiwan facing the Pacific ocean. Frank spent the first four years of elementary education in Hua-Lien. But his father’s job relocated the family to Taipei when he was in fifth grade. The new school in Taipei posed a big challenge for him in the beginning because the academic standards there were much higher than that of the schools in Hua-lien. He did poorly at his new school, but was able to gradually catch up and eventually finish high school.

After high school, Frank attended college and majored in automatic control engineering. After graduation, he served in the Taiwanese army and later worked in an electrical component company. He then decided to come to the U.S. to enter a master’s degree program. After completing a master’s degree in Mobile, Alabama, Frank was offered a job in Dallas.

While everything in Frank’s life seemed exciting and promising, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1998. Over the next few years, Frank experienced a physical and emotional battle with all of the treatments, drugs, and tests he had to undergo. On top of that, he was laid off from work twice.

In 2002, a doctor from Baylor Hospital approached him with the possibility of having a bone marrow transplant (BMT). After some research, Frank decided to have the transplant as his last resort to survive. His sister graciously donated stem cells to him. Following the transplant, Frank spent 3 months in the hospital and struggled with several complications from the procedure.

After recovering, Frank decided to make a career change to a health-related profession, hoping to help others who experience similar events in life. For the past two years, he has taken 10 classes at Richland, making straight A’s.

Frank finds learning to be very rewarding loves to help my fellow classmates with what he has learned. His new career path allows him to offer encouragement and support to others who are receiving chemotherapy or are recovering from BMT. Frank’s ultimate goal is to contribute to the prevention and treatment of cancers.

Ervin "Koe" Jones
Ervin "Koe" Jones
Ervin "Koe" Jones often reflects on a quote he once heard in a human development course here at Richland by motivational speaker Les Brown: "If you can look up, you can get up." And Koe has done just that.

At an early stage, Koe began experiencing a variety of unfortunate events and tumultuous home life. He ran away from home at age 10 and began living a life on the streets. By 13, he entered the juvenile court system and lived the majority of his childhood in the foster care system.

At age 11, he developed a relationship with a woman he calls "Grandma". She ran a shelter for displaced teens. He was originally drawn to her shelter because he thought it was a drug house. It turned out to be "his sanctuary" and his "go-to place".

While Koe was living a life on the streets, "Grandma" encouraged him to go back to school and get an education. Despite the odds against him, Koe completed high school and later came to Richland College to play basketball. But there was one problem, he couldn’t read.

Koe struggled his first year, having to start with fundamental courses. But Koe pushed on to complete two years here, all while playing basketball, and left with a 3.4 GPA.

After leaving Richland, Koe earned a basketball scholarship to Peru State in Nebraska but the struggle continued. "Grandma" died due to injuries sustained in a car accident during his time there. But Koe continued to persevere, and later received his degree in sports management.

Koe returned to Dallas in July of 2006. He currently works for the U.S. Postal Service, serves as a youth minister at the Mount Olive Church of Plano, and serves as the strength and conditioning coach for the Thunderduck basketball team.

Gloria Reckner
Gloria Reckner

Gloria Reckner is a life-long student who loves being a teacher at Richland College. Her Emeritus students consistently appreciate Gloria’s enthusiasm and patience as they learn the latest in computer technology.

“When my students learn a new skill, it lights me up as much as it does them,” Gloria said. “I never stop looking for more effective ways to communicate whatever I’m teaching.”

Since 2003, the Richland adjunct faculty member has used her love for technology to teach senior students how to understand and use computer programs such as Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. In addition, Gloria has organized and written course materials for classes in Digital Photo Galleries, Advanced PowerPoint and Photoshop’s Organizer workspace.

Having first learned word processing on a memory typewriter with a read-out panel “about the size of an address label,” Gloria now has 30 years of computer experience to share with her students.

When Richland College opened in 1972, Gloria was among the first student body to earn an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree. Over the years, she has been a single parent for her two children and a surrogate parent for two of their teenage friends. By working days and taking night classes at Richland, Gloria also earned a Technical Writing Certification. She is an award-winning poet, a photographer and a SCUBA diver.

Gloria considers keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology one of her highest priorities. “For me, keeping up with technology is a passion,” she said. “I’m fascinated by the age we live in because there are so many interesting things to learn.”

Jasmine Deshone Thomas
Jasmine Deshone Thomas

Every day Jasmine Deshone Thomas wakes up at around 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus to Richland. Since transferring from Town View Magnet Center in August 2006, Richland Collegiate High School student Jasmine has already completed 52 course hours at Richland College, all while maintaining a 2.5 GPA. She takes 18 to 19 hours per semester, and works close to six days a week as a restaurant hostess to support her family.

Since starting college, Jasmine has displayed determination and commitment by taking on a full load and choosing to spend her summer here at Richland taking developmental courses so she could start in college-level classes in the fall of 2006.

Upon graduation in May 2008, Jasmine will earn both an associate’s degree from Richland and a high school diploma from RCHS, making her a first generation college graduate. Jasmine plans to transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington and major in psychology. Her ultimate goal is to become a forensic psychologist so that she can help others who are in need. Jasmine also plans to open her own practice.

RCHS principal Krystn Edny says, “Jasmine arrives to school every day with a huge smile on her face and a willingness to help others. Jasmine’s ability to persevere through difficult times is a true testament to her character. She is a strong, independent, joyful, and thoughtful individual with a servant’s heart.”

Rick Walker
Rick Walker

When an accident pierced Rick Walker’s left eye as a child, doctors said he would be blind in that eye, and probably would lose most of his sight in the right eye because of an infection. However, his sight remained intact and he now has a successful career in television and radio.

The Richland adjunct journalism faculty member of 10 years earned an associate’s degree in applied arts/ science from Richland College in 1986 and a bachelor’s degree in radio, TV, and film from the University of North Texas in 1991. Rick also earned a master’s degree from Southern Methodist University in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in communication.

Rick is a recipient of 34 national, regional, and local awards for “Excellence in Broadcasting.” He also has extensive public speaking experience, which started when he was 13 and traveled to Indonesia to speak to village churches for three months. Overall, Rick’s public speaking experience includes international travel – addressing crowds as large as 250,000.

Professionally, he is represented by the Thomas Agency as an actor and has appeared in dozens of commercials and TV shows. Rick currently hosts two cable TV broadcasts called “College Television” and “Richland Television.” He also hosts and produces Powertalk on 89.7 FM in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.

For the past eight years, Rick has been the youth director at New Life Fellowship Church and has done mission work in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. He’s also a member of the Advisory Board for Livingway Church in Garland, TX.

Barbara Goldstein
Barbara Goldstein

An education did not come easy for Richland College graduate Barbara Goldstein. And starting her education as a mother of three small children wasn’t the half of it. Her first day of class was also the day her mother began a two-year fight of breast cancer. Not only did she juggle college courses and a busy home life, but also assumed the role of primary caregiver to her ill mother.

Despite these challenges, Goldstein persevered and earned an Associate of Science in Biology and Chemistry in 1978. During her college career, she maintained a 3.9 GPA and earned a coveted spot as a member of Phi Theta Kappa and Beta Beta Beta, the national honor society for biology.

After graduating from Richland, Goldstein transferred to Texas Woman’s University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology/Chemistry. She continued on to make great contributions as a long-time volunteer at the Northwood Hills Elementary library, a deed that earned her a lifetime membership of the school’s PTA. She also served as the Vice President of the Jewish Women’s Organization of Dallas, where she coordinated large speaking events and developed and facilitated an adult education curriculum. Additionally, Goldstein served as a library volunteer at the Sherith Israel Synagogue and has supported a variety of events for senior citizens.

Her determination and attitude of service has touched many lives and continues to be an inspiration.

Jamie Chaney
Jamie Chaney

Jamie is a woman who had the courage to turn a negative situation into a positive one. She persevered through domestic violence and sought shelter at the Family Place in the Spring of 1998.

With no time to waste, Jamie joined Richland College in the summer of 1998. She worked as a student assistant on campus and was hired full-time as a Secretary in the World Languages Division in June of 2001.

Jamie balanced full-time work and school, and received an Associates of Applied Science from Richland in 2004.

Her triumphs through difficult circumstances have given Jamie a compassion and understanding for potential students’ needs. Today, Jamie is the Admissions Coordinator for Health Professions at Richland.

She uses advising sessions to mentor students and cultivate positive relationships. Jamie is a survivor and a strong voice for the women seeking assistance from domestic violence in our community.

Jamie is on the Board of Directors for the Family Place, an organization for women who have been abused and are seeking a safe haven. Having the strength to support other women, she also speaks publicly about her past for fund raising events, television shows and press conferences to increase awareness regarding domestic violence issues.

Jamie is bilingual and extends her expertise to offer services to the Hispanic community. She dedicates time to Los Patos Listos, which focuses on marketing and recruiting in what she considers an underserved population.

Now happily married, Jamie is an ideal former student and faculty member for Richland and the community.

Eddie Mercado
Eddie Mercado

The quality about Eddie Mercado that others find so special is his great sense of humor, with a touch of humility due to hard work.

Eddie started at Richland College in 1989. He began as a mediocre student and progressed into the early 1990’s as his grades got stronger. After he left Richland, he worked his GPA up to a 3.23 and transferred to Texas A&M, where he hit the cold wall of reality, finding the courses tougher than he thought they would be. The original plan of pursuing a pre-med major began to change.

Eventually, he received his Bachelor of Science degree, which renewed his interest in health professions. He had been working at a grocery store as a pharmacy technician for years. He decided to get serious about becoming a pharmacist.

In 2000, he transferred to Texas Tech University to become a full-time student in order to get into their pharmacy school. He was accepted, went through with excellent grades including some honors, and graduated in summer of 2006 with a doctorate in pharmacy.

At Texas Tech, Eddie is well-known for his contributions in service learning. He volunteers by calling students as a recruiter for the pharmacy program, as well as serving on interview panels for prospective pharmacy students.

He speaks to classes at Richland about the reality of pharmacy school and mentors eager students.

At present, he is working at Children’s hospital in the Emergency Room in a new program where pharmacists are placed in the E.R. along with doctors. New pharmacy graduates are almost never offered this position, however Eddie’s clinical rotations at Children’s made them aware of his wonderful work ethic, and offered the position that few are chosen for.

Eddie is currently married and now has a son. His path to success started at Richland, where he now graciously gives back, engaging in the lives of current students.

Jane Shelton Merz
Jane Shelton Merz

In 1972-1974, Richland College provided the setting for Jane Shelton Merz to begin her education, but the faculty and staff provided the encouragement and motivation for her continuation.

Jane came to Richland as a single mother of two young children and many times felt she would not be able to succeed, but with the encouragement of faculty and staff she persevered.

She struggled to support her children by working at various part-time jobs at the Richardson Library, a hospital emergency room, and playing organ for Arapaho Methodist Church.

Following a successful experience at Richland, Jane continued her education and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English, and a Master’s Degree in Library Science at the University of North Texas.

Currently, Jane is the Director of the Richardson Public Library and supports a variety of literacy projects in the community. At the library, she hosts the Murder Mystery each year, which benefits the Richardson Adult Literacy Center.

She was instrumental in establishing the Richardson Reads One Book Project, which has brought outstanding authors to the community. She is secretary of Altrusa International of Richardson, serves on the board of the Richardson Adult Literacy Board and is a member of the Richardson Woman’s Club.

Jane is a graduate of Leadership Richardson and former member of the Richardson Symphony Board and Chamber Music International.

Her commitment to the community proves that Richland students are carrying out the mission that Richland holds dear — Teaching, Learning and Community Building.

Andy Pang
Andy Pang

Andy Pang is a lifelong learner with a remarkable story. Born to illiterate parents in Hong Kong he is the fifth of seven children – the only one to earn a college degree. He spent the first three and one half years of his life living on a houseboat in Hong Kong Harbor. Despite growing up in primitive living conditions, no electricity, no running water and no bathroom, Andy says he had a happy childhood. He helped his family make ends meet by making plastic flowers at home. Pang says, "I kept wondering who were buying these millions of silly plastic things. Imagine my surprise and joy when I first stepped into a K-mart in 1989 in Dallas and saw the darn thing on sale!" At the age of 14 Pang determined he would head ‘west’ to pursue higher education. After high school and two years of Business College, Pang worked for five years to save money towards this goal. He left Hong Kong with just enough money for one year’s tuition.

Pang attended Richland College 1990-1993. With a 4.0 GPA and a full scholarship, he transferred to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where he majored in Marketing. There he graduated Summa Cum Laude completing the 4 year degree program in 2 years and 3 months while working at least 20 hours a week throughout the entire program. Pang also holds an MBA in International Business from UTA. He earned this degree while holding a fulltime job.

Pang has spent years tutoring and mentoring underprivileged children and adults here and around the world. From October 2004 through September 2005 he took a sabbatical from his successful career in the computer industry. He traveled around the world spending half of the time in Costa Rica teaching English and Computer Applications as a volunteer for different organizations. His sights and experiences are published in his book, Life’s Scenic Lookout.

On his personal website Pang describes himself this way, "In a nutshell, I am one of the most blessed people in this world and often times I envy myself."

Wall of Honor 2006

Eileen Albert
Eileen AlbertThe most extraordinary thing about Eileen Albert’s life is that she considers it ordinary.

Eileen struggled with reading all through school and as a freshman in college, tested at the bottom 2 percent of her class. But Eileen didn’t give up and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1958 with a degree in Home Economics Education.

After cancer left her unable to have children, Eileen adopted three children: two boys and a girl. Then the unthinkable happened six years ago: Eileen’s oldest son, David, was murdered.

David had made it through Special Education classes in school and was doing very well when his life was tragically cut short. Eileen was devastated. She resigned from her job and started taking classes full time at Richland. She had taken Continuing Education classes at Richland off and on since 1976, so she knew she would find healing and support among her classmates and professors at Richland.

Eileen chose the credit Pharmacy Technician Program and threw herself into the daily routine of going to class and studying. “I knew it would take time to heal,” Eileen says. “It was a good distraction.”

At age 67, Eileen read an article about a triathlon for seniors and asked herself, “Why not try?” The day of the triathlon, CBS News was doing a feature for their CBS Sunday Morning show and sent a reporter to follow Eileen. Her goal was simply to finish, but she ended up placing first in her age category. Eileen gives credit to Richland’s P.E. Dept. through the Emeritus Program for being able to do so well.

Eileen applies her inspiring energy to volunteer work too. She delivers Meals on Wheels and serves beverages at the Stewpot, a soup kitchen for the homeless. She volunteers with the Dallas Arboretum’s education department. And she works with Neighborhood Crime Watch and volunteers at her church.

In all that Eileen gives back, one of the most important is her story of courage and determination.

“I am just an ordinary person,” Eileen says. “When bumps come along, face them and then go around them and move forward – sometimes in a different direction.”

Zabdi Hernandez
Zabdi Hernandez
Zabdi Hernandez has come a long way from the little girl who silently hoped that everyday at school, the teacher wouldn’t ask her to read out loud.

Today, Zabdi is an Assistant Principal in the Garland Independent School District, and a role model for Spanish-speaking students and their parents.

When Zabdi was 10 years old, her family came to the United States with only a suitcase of clothes and hope of a better education for their children. At first elementary school she attended, Zabdi was one of five Hispanic children. She recalls crying every day and being very embarrassed when called on to read aloud because she only knew a few English words.

Zabdi vowed to become a good student in spite of the insults she endured from some classmates. She quickly learned English and regularly began making the Honor Roll.

She graduated from Garland High School in 1998, and followed in her older brother’s footsteps of working full time during the day and attending Richland College at night. Zabdi completed an Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences Degree with a 3.8 GPA from the Educational Personnel Program with the Bilingual Education specialization.

Zabdi then went to Texas Woman’s University on a full scholarship and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Bilingual Education in 2002. She began teaching and working on her Master’s Degree in Education Administration simultaneously. She completed the Master’s Degree with a Principal Certification at Texas A&M-Commerce, Magna Cum Laude, in 2005.

Ms. Hernandez has served as a mentor for Region X first-year teachers. She has also served as a mentor to students from the Richland College Teacher Preparation Program and served as a guest speaker for the future teachers student organization, Educators of America. Zabdi has also taught English as a Second Language to parents of Garland ISD students through the Parent Study Night Center.

Zabdi was the Teacher of the Month in November 2002, the Teacher of the Year for Caldwell Elementary in 2004, a Disney Teacher of the Year Nominee for 2006 and won the Garland Association for Hispanic Affairs’ GANAS Award in 2004.

Zabdi is the proud mother of a bilingual daughter.

Barry Lee Horn
Barry Lee Horn
Barry Lee Horn’s passion for teaching and learning began at Richland College.

He holds four college degrees and has dedicated his career to education, for which he’s been recognized and rewarded. But what honors Barry most is helping others.

Barry is assistant principal at Bullock Elementary School in Garland, which has about 70 percent Hispanic students and 20 percent Vietnamese students. To assist the diverse community Bullock Elementary serves, Barry facilitates programming that helps students and their parents understand the American education system. He actively seeks out educational partnerships, develops enrichment programs, and mentors parents – many of whom are recent immigrants.

Barry’s desire to help others isn’t limited to students and their parents. While working as an assistant principal at Lister Elementary, Barry filled in for the principal – doing both jobs during the principal’s extended leave of absence.

Barry also serves the community by volunteering. He has served as U.I.L. coordinator, president of the Dallas Metro North Phi Delta Kappa organization, and co-director of Odyssey of the Mind (Outer Metro Region of North Texas).

He was honored as Employee of the Year at Austin Academy in 1993; Exemplary Dissertation at UNT in 1992; Kappan of the Year in 1992; and Teacher of the Year for the Richardson Independent School District in 1982.

Barry earned an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree in 1974 from Richland College. He went on to the University of North Texas, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education in 1975, a Master of Education degree in 1982, and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration in 1991. He also did graduate studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, the American College of Switzerland and the University of Texas at Austin.

Steve Park
Steve Park
Steve Park suffered a massive stroke at the age of 31 that seriously affected his speech and motor abilities. He decided to return to college and chose Richland College, even though a counselor at Texas Rehabilitation Commission told him the only job he would ever hold again was as “a parking lot attendant.”

He earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Richland in 1997 with a 4.0 GPA, won first prize in the Literary Contest and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa. He continued his education at SMU on a full scholarship, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. At SMU he was the student representative of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Needs of Persons with Disabilities, was named the Outstanding Adult Student Learner in 1998, and received the Dorothy Amann Award in 1999. Steve went on to UNT on the RAS Scholar Fellowship, where he earned a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.

The same man from Texas Rehabilitation Commission who told him he would never work again, hired him as a full-time rehabilitation counselor. He counseled groups and individuals who have head injuries. Steve worked a writer for “Stroke on the Web,” a column for the American Stroke Association’s Stroke Connection magazine from 2000 to 2002. He was a North Texas Stroke Survivors volunteer from 1995 to 2002.

Steve now works as a marketing and development specialist for LifePath Systems MHMR Services, Strategic Training and Recruitment Resources.

Steve’s powerful story of courage and perseverance deeply inspires others. Rica Garcia, one of Steve’s professors at Richland says, “In class, he did not let his disability in any way affect his work and turned every single assignment in on time doing exemplary work. He was a wonderful teacher to us all.”

Ms. Garcia also tells of a wellness conference in which she and Steve did a reader’s theatre performance of a piece Steve wrote describing his stroke and its aftermath. “I can’t tell you how powerful his words are and how many people he has helped by finding the courage to write and speak them.”

Richard Wills
Richard Wills
From an early age, Richard Wills was clearly aware that learning how to read was a major source of pressure and frustration. He often had to read through assignments three or four times for full comprehension. Studying was laborious, time consuming and discouraging.

Richard grew up in the 1940s and ’50s – a time when little was known about learning disabilities. Help wasn’t available, so Richard did his best to survive, focusing on math, science and other subjects that were less reading-intensive.

He did survive and went on to college at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He graduated with a degree in mathematics, and went on to do graduate work in computer science, math and instructional technology at Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

The pivotal point in his career was the day he noticed an odd-looking “typewriter” in the business office of the Chicago high school where he taught math. It actually was an IBM computer terminal, and Richard’s curiosity led him to ask if he could use it. The computer came with a manual, so Richard taught himself Fortran, the computer’s language. The manual also contained IBM’s phone number, so Richard called and asked for a job! He finished the school year and then started a 27-year career with IBM as a systems engineer.

After retiring from IBM, Richard started a freelance editing and proofreading business. He says his reading disability “makes it very easy to edit because it takes extra care.”

Richard says it’s important that people understand that a learning disability is not “cured” – it is overcome through sheer determination. “It never goes away,” he says. “It’s just a matter of not letting it hold you back.”

In addition to his business, Richard has worked in the volunteer tutoring programs at Children’s Medical Center and Scottish Rite Hospital. He also volunteers for a number of area performing arts groups. And he works with students studying for their GED, and tutors at Richland’s Center for Teaching and Learning Connections.

He continues his lifelong love of learning by attending community events, and taking courses at SMU and in the Emeritus Program at Richland College. Many of the courses he takes at Richland are in performing arts – his passion. He recently received the Richland College Emeritus Program Certificate in Arts and Letters.

Richard’s greatest sources of joy are his sons, Darren and Rob.

Cipriano Gonzalez
Cipriano Gonzales
Cipriano Gonzalez’s distinguished career in healthcare started at Richland College. He took most of his undergraduate courses at Richland, maintaining a 3.8 GPA, while preparing to enter the physician assistant program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern).

His professors at Richland said Cipriano was “a joy to have as a student – inquisitive, friendly, helpful, optimistic.” But his educational goals were not attained easily. Cipriano’s first application to the physician assistant (PA) program at UT Southwestern was rejected.

Undeterred, Cipriano went all out to maximize his chances for the next year’s admissions. He volunteered, rewrote his personal essays, and sought the advice of PA students.His determination paid off and he was admitted the second time.

After finishing the program at UT Southwestern, Cipriano was board certified and went on to work in the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a world renowned facility.

In January 2005, Cipriano was named M.D. Anderson’s outstanding employee of the month. His colleagues recognized him for the dedication and care he showed to patients facing the terrible and frightening diagnosis of cancer.

In his work with critical-care patients at M.D. Anderson, Cipriano’s job was to ease the fears of patients, family members and caregivers by providing important information about available treatments and side effects, clinical trials and quality-of-life issues. One colleague said, “Cipriano realizes anxiety levels are high, especially while waiting for pathology and radiology results. It’s not uncommon for him to stay late to find out the lab results and communicate them to the patients.”

Cipriano said, “The best part of my job is getting to know each patient and being there for them. It’s like reading a story, each with its own tragedies and victories.”

Cipriano continues to show the same compassion and dedication in his new job in the Division of Medical Oncology at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Washington.

Jobickson Modi
Jobickson Modi
Jobickson Modi spent much of his childhood fleeing civil war in his home country of Sudan and in the neighboring countries where he tried to take refuge. Then when Jobickson was 11, his mother died. Unbelievably, Jobickson’s father died two years later, leaving him to be raised by various relatives throughout East Africa.

Jobickson’s hopes for an education had all but vanished when a man in his community gave him a job at at his small restaurant. With his wages and other money he earned from sewing clothes, Jobickson was able to return to school and pay for his books and school clothes.

Jobickson moved back to Sudan in 1979 to escape the perils of war-torn Uganda. There he got married and had his first child. He also finally finished high school. But it wasn’t long before Jobickson and his new family were on the run again as civil war erupted in Sudan in 1983. They fled to Uganda and then to Kenya in 1989, where they met up with Jobickson’s brother. At that time, Jobickson and his family filed for refugee and resettlement status in the United States. They arrived in 1992 and settled in Dallas.

Tragedy wasn’t far behind, though. Jobickson’s first-born son died of pneumonia in 2000. Jobickson and his family grieved as they made a new life in America.

Determined to further his education, Jobickson enrolled at Richland College and earned an associate’s degree in Business Administration. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2005. Of his 15 brothers and sisters, Jobickson is the only one who went to college.

Jobickson is the father of five children who range in age from 14 to 22, two of whom are now college students. One attends the University of Oklahoma, and the other attends University of North Texas.

In addition to his full-time job as an accountant at RLC, Jobickson voluntarily serves as treasurer of RLC’s Professional Support Staff Association, treasurer of Help the Needy People of the Sudan in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area, deputy treasurer of Equatorian Sudan Community Association in the United States of America, and the interim president of Equatorian Sudanese Mutual Assistance Association in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

When Jobickson looks back on his life, he says “I see that all that has happened can befall any human. As long as I live, my eyes will never forsake what the Lord has in store for me”.

Sherry Hadley Nunn
Sherry Hadley Nunn
Sherry Nunn didn’t let the fact she’s deaf or that she was starting college 10 to 20 years later than most of the other students keep her from pursuing higher education.

Through Richland College’s Office Computer Technology and Support program, Sherry earned an Office Assistant Certificate, Software Application Specialist Certificate, and Administrative Support Certificate.

In May, she will graduate with an Executive Assistant Associate’s Degree from Richland College.

The path to reaching these goals was not an easy one. Sherry has had to rely on an interpreter in each class session to understand what the instructor and the other students are saying. And while a student at Richland, fire ravaged Sherry’s apartment, destroying all of her belongings.

Still Sherry persevered. With very little computer experience, Sherry tackled coursework on the Microsoft Office Suite, mastering Microsoft Access, one of the most challenging of the Office suite. She received an A in Access class and uses her skills to help others at her part-time job in RLC’s Disability Services office.

Throughout her academic career, Sherry has maintained a 3.5 GPA or better, and made the Vice President’s Honor Roll. Sherry’s achievements at Richland also earned her a Dallas Area Rehabilitation Association scholarship.

Sherry is a model Thunderduck, persistently encouraging others to continue their education no matter what the obstacles.

Angelica Sandoval
While it is not entirely uncommon for students to be athletically and academically talented, these skills typically take years to develop. Yet, it was only four years ago that Angelica Sandoval arrived from Mexico speaking no English and never having played soccer.

Today, Angelica earned an associate’s degree from Richland with a 4.0 GPA and transferred her credits to Dallas Baptist University, where she was offered a full scholarship after leading the Lady Thunderducks to a National Junior College Athletic Association Soccer National Championship in 2005.

To acquire and master a second language is difficult, but imagine also developing all new athletic skills to the point of earning national recognition for your achievement, all while adjusting to life in a new country.

Angelica said a friend encouraged her to play soccer. “Soccer is big in Mexico, but mostly it’s a man’s game,” she said. “I never played as a little girl or anything. I was willing to try it because I thought it would be fun. I never thought I would play at this level.”

Angelica dedicated as much time to soccer as to academics, and she excelled at both. This motivation has helped her in the classroom and on the field. Angelica was an active member of Richland’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for community college students, and of Richland’s Connections Club.

The lessons that Angelica learned on and off the field are an asset to her as she pursues a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Dallas Baptist University.

Angelica’s work ethic, bilingual skills, positive outlook and intelligence make her a model athlete, student and global citizen.

Brenda Welcome
Brenda Welcome
Brenda Welcome believes so deeply that education changes lives that she was worried about the strength of her own educational background. She already had two associate’s degrees under her belt, but believed that she would have a stronger educational testimony, especially to her young son, Adonis, if she had a bachelor’s degree.

With associate’s degrees from McNeese State University in Louisiana in 1990 and Richland College in 2002, Brenda pursued her dream by transferring coursework to the University of Phoenix (Dallas location). She reached her goal and completed a Bachelor of Science in Management degree in 2005 – all while shouldering the responsibility of being a single mom; attending her son’s swimming lessons, science fairs, basketball and baseball games; going to PTA meetings; working a full-time job; serving in her church; and volunteering in the community.

Brenda truly is a Richland College success story – not only as a student, but also as an employee. Her career with the Dallas County Community College District started in the Chancellor/Board of Trustees’ office. She later came to Richland as a student services specialist and academic advisor.

Today, Brenda is the DCCCD’s only Curriculum Management Web Specialist in the Vice Chancellor of Educational Affairs/Curriculum Management office. She manages the production of the DCCCD’s Web and print catalogs.

Brenda’s hard work and can-do attitude has paid off: She was part of the team that won the DCCCD’s 2005-06 Innovation of the Year award, and part of the team that won a national award for Web design. She was named the DCCCD’s Administration Office’s Employee of the Year for 2003-04 and Employee of the Month (twice); nominated for Richland College’s Advisor of the Year; named Employee of the Month at Word of Faith Ministries.

She serves the community with the same zeal. She is a volunteer for the Dallas area’s African American Read-In, Upward Basketball in Garland, and Girls and Boys Club of America in Mesquite. She is a member of Disciples of Faith Worship Center in Arlington.

Brenda said her student experience at Richland marked a turning point in her life and has given her the competitive edge she needed professionally.

For all of Brenda’s academic and professional accomplishements and so much more, Adonis can be proud of his mom – Richland College is.