Congratulations to the 2019 Student Wall of Honor honorees! For more information on the Richland College Student Wall of Honor, click here.
When Hope Anderson began her educational journey as a dual credit student at Richland College when she was 16-years-old, no one knew just how far she would go. Hope’s journey is a testament to the power of purpose and planning.
As one of five siblings attending Richland College, Hope was responsible for her own higher education expenses. Undaunted by this challenge, Hope got a part-time job and created an aggressive four-year university transfer strategy.
By the time Hope completed 40 hours at Richland College, she not only was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and named to the President’s Honor Roll, but she also had a number of scholarship offers from top universities. Having an interest in human rights and wanting to stay near her family, she selected Southern Methodist University.
Hope graduated from SMU in 2017 with a 3.97 GPA and three undergraduate degrees: a B.A. in Human Rights with distinction, a B.A. in History, a B.S. in Sociology and a minor in Spanish. During her four years of study at SMU, Hope earned more than $150,000 in scholarships. Some of Hope’s many accomplishments include, but are not limited to, being a John Lewis Fellow, a Fulbright semi-finalist, a 2017 recipient of the SMU “M” Award, a Humanity in Action finalist and a member of both Phi Beta Kappa and the Dedman College Scholar University Honors Program.
In addition to her educational accolades, Hope’s human rights travels have taken her to countries including Nepal, Jordan and Chile. She served as a student leader for the Death Row Facilities in the American South program and interned with the International Rescue Committee of Dallas and the International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C.
In 2018, Hope became the community outreach coordinator for SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, and this fall she will begin her graduate studies in the field of human rights.
As a student in Richland College’s Honors Program, Kirubel Moges has been described as “fearless in his pursuit of knowledge and academic enrichment.” Instead of protecting his GPA and playing it safe, Kirubel has enrolled in honors courses in a variety of disciplines.
Kirubel grew up in Ethiopia, and when he was three-years-old his father passed away, leaving his mother to care for her three sons. The family moved into a smaller house on their property and rented out the larger main house, and it was from this rental income that the family survived.
Always having the courage to dream big, Kirubel graduated from high school in Ethiopia in 2016 and was excited to attend Richland College that fall. However, political instability in Ethiopia forced him to delay traveling for six months. He got to the U.S. just in time—his travel window to the U.S. expired only one day after he arrived in early 2017. Once on campus, Kirubel threw himself into his studies and did more than excel: he thrived.
In addition to presenting at the 2018 Richland College Honors Conference and the 2018 DCCCD Philosophy Conference, Kirubel presented research on the death penalty in the U.S. at the 2018 Great Plains Honors Council Conference, and he also became the first Richland College Honors Program student to have a poster presentation accepted at the national level by the National Collegiate Honors Council’s 2018 Conference. There, Kirubel’s presentation expanded on his previous research, utilizing computer programming and philosophy to examine interviews as a data set to find which word was most commonly said by death row inmates in their final interviews. Kirubel found the most common word was “love.”
Kirubel is also active in a variety of campus organizations, including Phi Theta Kappa, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Male Achievement Program, the Philosophy Club, the Computer Club and more. He is on track to earn the Richland Honors Scholar designation when he graduates this May, the highest designation possible through the Richland College Honors Program.
Adeeba Muntazer has a true joy for learning, and at one time in her life she risked literally everything in pursuit of an education.
Growing up in Afghanistan, Adeeba was just nine-years-old when the Taliban gained control of nearly 90 percent of the country and adopted brutal policies that forbade women from receiving an education. People who were found violating these laws were sentenced to death. Despite this risk, many female teachers who had been dismissed from their jobs rebelled and opened secretive, underground schools for girls.
As a teacher himself, Adeeba’s father knew of some of these covert schools, and he understood the value of his daughter receiving an education. At the risk of being killed for facilitating her learning, her father enrolled Adeeba in a secret school. Every day for three years, Adeeba walked jagged roads, sometimes crawling and hiding to evade authorities, to attend the facility her teachers had made into a school. She and other girls gathered in the small, dim and dank room to learn and support each other, and it was here that Adeeba completed her 5th, 6th and 7th grades.
In 2007, when Adeeba turned 18, she honored her parents’ traditions and culture with an arranged marriage, and Adeeba was accepted to study at Kabul University the same year. She balanced her studies with motherhood and caring for a large extended family. In 2009, Adeeba and her family were provided with an opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. because of her husband’s employment with the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
Adeeba put her education on hold when she and her family moved, but in 2015 she resumed her dream and enrolled in her first ESOL class at Richland College. Since then, she has become fluent in English and has completed 58 credit hours, maintaining a 3.5 GPA. In the spring of 2018, she even earned the highest grade of her Speech 1311 class with Dr. Sherry Dean Rovelo. Adeeba has plans to soon transfer to El Centro College or Brookhaven College to complete a degree in nursing.
Thao Nguyen didn’t mean to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse. But when she grew to love science through her professors at Richland College, she changed her mind, and she has been using her profession to help other people ever since.
Thao was 17-months-old when she and her parents escaped the Communist regime in Vietnam on a small fishing boat with 72 other people. The trip was harrowing and included a pirate attack in the South China Sea before they were rescued by a U.S. Navy ship. The family ended up at refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before moving to the U.S. Once there, Thao’s parents worked hard, and Thao’s mother graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing in 1988.
Inspired by the tenacity of her parents, Thao enrolled at Richland College before transferring to Texas Woman’s University, graduating in 2004. In addition, she was awarded for having the most community service volunteer hours and was the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
After graduation, Thao became a registered nurse with Texas Health Dallas and won multiple awards and honors, including making the 2012 Great 100 Nurses list and earning the D Magazine Nursing Excellence Award in 2013. But even though Thao has a passion for nursing, she also has a passion for helping others. Thao enrolled at Christ for the Nations Institute in 2016 as a full-time student and will graduate in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in practical ministry with a major in creative media.
Some of Thao’s humanitarian efforts include partnering with World Relief to aid Afghan refugees in Dallas and creating ArtBark, a dog-friendly event that raises money for local nonprofits. She has also taken eight mission trips since 2012 to provide health care and take family photographs that were often a family’s first photo ever. Thao also volunteers her time to photograph babies in the NICU, documenting holidays and special occasions or taking bereavement photos to capture a baby’s final moments with his or her parents.
During his tour of duty in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Air Force, Steve Rodgers found himself facing a choice when feeling overcome with emotional and physical hardships: He could focus on the bad in the world, or he could become the good and help those who suffered. He chose the latter, and his first act was teaching English to Vietnamese citizens.
Upon returning to Dallas, Steve began raising funds and promoting business investment within the Asian community. He has been instrumental in encouraging young people of Asian origin to pursue an education, even helping some of them finance their studies at Richland College.
Some of Steve’s other humanitarian contributions include: working with young addicts at the Palmer Drug Abuse Program; serving lunch at the Stewpot Ministry at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas; cofounding Restart, a program that assisted homeless and unemployed individuals affected by the recession of the 1980s; volunteering with the Eritrean refugee community in Dallas through organizing and furnishing a community center that offered services including ESL courses, job placement and legal assistance; cofounding the Dick Granger Society to help individuals and families needing assistance with housing, job placement and other necessities; and currently participating in the planning for a retreat center for battered women and children in Belize.
Steve has a degree in international trade from Texas Tech, an MBA from the University of Texas and took French classes at Richland College. Steve has used these educational pursuits to further his global service. During a dangerous mission to develop a camp in Algeria in 1996, Steve hit upon the idea of drilling for water instead of oil in impoverished areas.
Steve learned about digging and repairing wells from Living Water International. Since then, Steve has channeled his oil drilling expertise to provide potable water and teach pump repair and replacement at more than 20 sites in Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.
Congratulations to the 2018 Student Wall of Honor honorees! For more information on the Richland College Student Wall of Honor, click here.
Fabian Castro has been described as a self-starter who has great self-direction. But one thing he has never been is self-focused.
Fabian was beginning his third year of medical school in Mexico when his family was forced to seek refuge in the U.S. due to threats from extortion groups. Fortunately, Fabian had learned English from spending a year in the U.S. when he was 12-years-old, and he was able to become a translator for his family as they began to establish a new life. For Fabian, this new life included enrolling at Richland College to continue his education.
While at Richland, Fabian considered several majors before eventually deciding on chemistry. Outside of class, he also learned all the aspects of his father’s car business, handled health emergencies his family members faced and mediated business disputes in Mexico.
But it isn’t just his family that Fabian has helped. He is active in the men’s group and is also a reader at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Richardson, where he works to bring the Latino and Anglo church members together to encourage comfortable collaboration and communication.
In labs at Richland, Fabian was known for assisting those around him, yet his own work never suffered. He was also a student lab assistant in the chemistry lab prep area. When the new General Chemistry II labs were being developed, Fabian performed the test runs, documenting results and collaborating with others on modifications. He also took the initiative to improve the sulfanilamide synthesis in Organic Chemistry II. In his last year as a student lab assistant, Fabian had matured into a true lab professional and was able to assist both students and faculty members.
Fabian is now attending the University of Texas at Dallas, where he is continuing his degree path in chemistry.
Behrang Hamadani, Ph.D., is not just a Thunderduck. He’s an inspiration to future Thunderducks and an example of how success comes with perseverance.
Behrang was born in Norman, Okla., to Iranian parents studying in the U.S., and he grew up in Iran. His parents decided to send him back to the U.S. for college, and a family friend recommended Richland College.
While at Richland, Behrang supported himself with grants, scholarships, work-study jobs, tutoring for Upward Bound and retail jobs. In 1999, he transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas with an academic excellence scholarship that covered two years of tuition. Due to a positive experience at Richland, Behrang felt prepared for junior level physics classes at UT Dallas.
While completing the final year of his bachelor’s degree, Behrang taught labs and continued tutoring at Richland. In the fall of 2001, he began his graduate work at Rice University and completed his Ph.D. in 2006. He then worked as a post-doctoral scholar for four years at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) before accepting a permanent position.
Behrang primarily works on advancing measurement science to further U.S. competitiveness standards and developing reference materials. “NIST sets standards, from the number of calories in a bag of potato chips to how to measure the intensity of light in a room,” he said. “My project focuses on evaluating the performance of photovoltaic cells and modules to develop standards and measures for industry.”
Behrang’s favorite physicist is Isaac Newton, “a man who truly loved science for the sake of science, and who questioned everything.” He has followed the same model throughout his life and believes that life becomes more meaningful for people who question the mundane and have the curiosity to explore the world around them and discover new things.
When Jewell Love enrolled at Richland College immediately after graduating high school, she had a plan in place. Little did she know one class would change everything.
Raised in a single parent household, Jewell’s original goal was to pursue a business degree with a major in marketing. She wasn’t passionate about business, but she was good at it, and it would eventually lead her to a position that would offer the salary she wanted.
Jewell studied at Richland College before transferring to the University of Texas at Dallas and enrolling in a slew of business classes. But Jewell needed an elective, so on a whim she enrolled in Introduction to Sociology at Richland.
“I had never even known anything about sociology, thus all of the material was completely new to me,” said Jewell. “However, everything we talked and learned about was so relevant and relatable to me. I knew on the first day that I needed to change my major because I had found something that was truly my passion.”
Jewell realized she had been pursuing a business degree for the wrong reasons. So, she switched her major, focusing specifically on the most important aspect of sociology that had always been prevalent in her life: race. Since then, she has participated in various research studies pertaining to how racial micro-aggressions affect students of color in higher learning institutions and women of color in interracial relationships. Her current research is looking at how the lack of diversity within the medical field affects people of color.
Jewell graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from UT Dallas in 2016. In May 2018, Jewell will graduate magna cum laude with a Master of Science in Applied Sociology, also from UT Dallas.
Even though it has been ten years since Tito Salas left Richland College, he keeps coming back. It’s because he has education and soccer in his blood.
After graduating from Skyline High School in Dallas in 2006, Tito enrolled at Richland College, where he was active on the men’s soccer team in 2006 and 2007. Coincidentally, the Richland College men’s soccer team won the NJCAA men’s soccer championship both years.
Tito transferred to William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he continued to play soccer. Not only did Tito graduate with a 3.9 GPA, but he was also the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He also won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Champion of Character award and was named Mr. William Carey University his senior year, an award given to the man who best represents the ideals of WCU, nominated by faculty and staff and voted on by the student body.
Upon graduation, Tito returned to Dallas and began teaching at Franklin Middle School, where he was a physical education teacher and the athletic director. He also coached soccer at his alma mater, Skyline High School.
Tito decided to continue his educational journey and graduated with a master’s in education from Stephen F. Austin State University. He is currently the assistant principal at Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas.
Each August, Tito returns to Richland College to speak with the men’s soccer team and has mentored former and current team members over the years. But Tito’s influence has affected more than just the students at Richland and the schools where he has taught and worked. Since his graduation from college, his three younger siblings have also graduated, including two who attended Richland College and played soccer.
Tito is married to former Richland student and soccer player Karrina Almendarez, and together they have two children, Gabriela and Xavi.
In his personal statement submitted to the University of Texas at Dallas when he transferred from Richland College, Temesgen Zerom said he learned the basic principles of mechanical engineering before he could even read or write. When you consider how he absorbs knowledge, this makes complete sense.
Temesgen is originally from the State of Eritrea in Africa, a country known for its poor human rights record. Hoping for a chance at a better life, in 2010 Temesgen paid someone to smuggle him into Ethiopia, walking for days under the threat of death if captured. He ended up in a refugee camp for a year in Ethiopia. With his mother’s help, Temesgen finally made it to the U.S., where he enrolled at Richland College.
While at Richland, Temesgen was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Honors Society, and he received the All-Texas Academic Team Award, awarded to the top community college students in Texas. He maintained a 4.0 GPA despite taking some of the most demanding math and science classes offered, and graduated with an Associate of Science in Mechanical Engineering. During his time at Richland, Temesgen was also a member of the STEM Institute, mentoring middle and high school students who had an interest in science.
Temesgen’s dedication at Richland paid off, and he was awarded the prestigious Terry Foundation Scholarship as a transfer scholar from UT Dallas, where he is currently still making a 4.0 GPA.
Temesgen not only defied the odds and has a bright future, but he is also a role model for those who go through difficult circumstances. He often reminds anyone who will listen that your biography does not have to be your destiny. You can do anything.
Five current and former Richland College students will be honored at Richland College’s 2016 Wall of Honor ceremony at 10 a.m. April 20 in Crockett Hall for their outstanding academic achievements, perseverance through adversity and/or contributions to the community.
This year’s Wall of Honor recipients are Hardeek Barot, a former IT professional from Africa who started his college career at the age of 29 at Richland College and is now on his way to completing two master’s degrees; Cynthia Cano, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who thrived at Richland College before going on to become a television journalist in the DFW market and soon-to-be U.S. citizen; Omar Demachkie, a current Richland College student who dreams of someday researching pathogens and cancers that specifically target children; Sana Hussein, a former Richland College student who now attends Southern Methodist University with a full scholarship due to her incredible academic achievements; and Vicki Wood, a tennis professional, instructor and lifelong learner who got her start at Richland College.
Each year, nominations are gathered from members of the college community, and from these nominations a committee chooses approximately five people who exemplify Richland College’s mission of teaching, learning and community building to receive the distinction. Photos and biographies of this year’s Wall of Honor recipients will be displayed in Crockett Hall until next spring, when the next honorees will be selected.
Five current and former Richland College students were honored during Richland College’s 2015 Wall of Honor ceremony on March 26 for their outstanding academic achievements, perseverance through adversity and contributions to the community.
This year’s Wall of Honor recipients were Linda Dao, a former student who overcame adversity as a child in Vietnam and came to Richland College with virtually no English; Claudia Graves, a former student who entered and won a beauty pageant in her native Peru for a chance at a better education in the U.S.; Bill Holston, a Richland College graduate and lawyer who did pro bono work to assist those in need and is now the executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas; Quentin Rhoads-Herrera, a current student and military veteran who now volunteers his time to help others; and Audrey Self, a former student who has not let a near life-ending automobile accident get in her way of success in college and in life.
Each year, nominations are gathered from members of the college community, and from these nominations a committee chooses approximately five people who exemplify Richland College’s mission of teaching, learning and community building to receive the distinction. Photos and biographies of this year’s Wall of Honor recipients will be displayed in Crockett Hall until next spring, when the next honorees will be selected.
A theme that emerged this year with the recipients was a feeling that Richland College is a place where dreams and goals can be realized with hard work and perseverance.
“When I first started going to college, I didn’t have very high expectations,” said Rhoads-Herrera. “But when I made my first A, which happened to be 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.”
Dao talked about how Richland College has always felt like home for her, not just because she both studied and worked on campus, but because the college’s library was a haven for her to relax. Holston recognized Richland College for being a jumping-off point for his 30-year law career and now his human rights work. Self came to Richland as a dual credit student, and her success earned her a full-ride scholarship to Southern Methodist University.
Graves summed the feeling up well. “Richland taught me that my dreams were possible,” she said.
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 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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 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 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 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.”
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.”
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 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.”
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 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.”
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.
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 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 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.”
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
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.
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 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’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.”
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.”
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.
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 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 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’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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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 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!”