Wall of Honor 2013-2014
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.”