Worldly Bakhiet Helps Others Find Greatness In Their DNA

Omar Villalpando/ Staff GREATER THAN THE SUM OF HER PARTS — Dr. Nouna Bakhiet is a DNA scientist but no reductionist. She encourages students to remake themselves into learned, potent beings who can advance human knowledge. Bakhiet was honored by her peers as the recipent of the 2012 Faculty Leadership Award.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 10:15 pm

In the California deserts, lizards with heavy scales bask at the top of ravines to warm in the sun. Living in the dark, wet climate below are lizards smooth and sleek. Though different, they are the same species—a biological adaptation. Many spend their lives wandering up and down the ravines to mate, continuing the chain of life of a species not concerned with of the differences in their biological appearance.

Dr. Nouna Bakhiet loves metaphor. She also loves teaching science.

Beginning her journey in the hot desert sun of Sudan, Bakhiet, professor of biology, said her inner life is that of the wandering lizard.

“It’s all in the DNA,” she said. “There is an inherent nature for all populations that some of that population will venture away from that natural habitat. We are designed to do this so that we could populate the earth.”

Bakhiet wandered from the expected path. She was an accomplished research scientist in a modern day laboratory doing meaningful work. She came to Southwestern College in 1997 to work as an adjunct by night and lab rat by day. Her students won her heart and she left the lab for a professorship at a college that needed a new direction. Bakhiet was the first Ph.D. in the biology department when she was hired full-time in 1999. Her research colleagues did not understand her decision to walk away from a more lucrative career to teach.

“Really, my calling, my talent, my nature is embedded in what I do here at Southwestern College,” said Bakhiet. “This is who I am. This is what I was meant to do. I was able to bring all of my experience, inside or outside of the classroom or inside or outside of the lab and lay it at the student’s feet.”

Bakhiet is the recipient of the 2012 Faculty Leadership Award, chosen by her peers for her innovative teaching, grant writing and program creation. Nominated by Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb, he called Bakhiet a campus revolutionary who not only thinks outside the box, but destroys them.

“Dr. Bakhiet rocks her students’ world right down to the foundations and challenges them to throw off their old selves and become something greater,” he wrote. “Many of SWC’s best and highest achieving students of the new millennium were her students or are alumni of the programs she has created, inspired and fed over the past decade.”

More than just a teacher, Bakhiet is faculty advisor for the Biology Club and active in SWC’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program, directed by her sister, Dr. Raga Bahkiet. She designed curriculum as academic director of the biotechnology program providing teaching and mentoring for students, whether seeking a technical certificate or a full college education in biotechnology. She led the Bridges to the Future program collaboration between SWC and SDSU for underrepresented minority students seeking a future in biomedical research.

As head of internships for BETSI (Biotechnology Education and Training Sequence Investment), she began with a grant from the National Science Foundation. BETSI is now a national model that produces a 100 percent hiring rate of SWC students completing internships within the industry.

“We are the DNA people,” she said. “We are the ones that change, modify, and turn off and on DNA. The next level up from DNA is cells, which is our tool. At the training level here, we work only with bacterial cells. Students get the opportunity to work with mammalian cells in internships and hires.”

Bakhiet said the community college is the most basic teaching system she ever experienced, unique to America with a financially logical path for students. Community colleges have the same caliber of teachers as a four-year-universities, she said, but community college teachers that have more time to teach and spend considerably more time with their students.

“I have always known that I had the ability to teach and wanted to train myself to become a mentor,” she said. “I could be a holistic teacher, not just in the classroom but to anyone that walks in my office. I could leave them with something that would help them as well.”

Branscomb said her blend of Eastern and Western thinking embraces the communal learning system of Asian and African cultures with the individualistic and creative characteristics of the American system.

“Without trying to be noticed she is noticed,” he said. “Without putting herself in the limelight she is watched. Without striving to be out front, she leads. She is an indispensable part of the fabric of our college.”

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Bakhiet said her wandering nature makes her comfortable living just about anywhere. She always sought people that were different from her she said, and confirmed to nothing. Her culture is a human culture, she said, not any restrictive labels or boxes.

One-half Saudi, a quarter Turkish and a quarter Sudanese, Bakhiet is part of the green people of the Sudan. Her features and color are common in the northern region. Sudanese language has no reference to black or white in regards to race. People of the nation are blue, yellow, green and red.

“I am green because I am a mix,” she said. “The blue people are the indigenous tribes of the Sudan. They are so dark they look purple in the sun.”

She said the yellow people carry the skin tones similar to Mexicans, Asians and Indians. Red is for Caucasians, the color they turn in the Sudanese sun.

Bakhiet spent her early years traveling and studying throughout the Middle East and Britain. Her native tongue is Arabic, but she was brought up to speak English and French. Her parents raised their children to be trilingual and able to live and thrive in an English-speaking country.

Sudan, a long time British colony, adopted the British educational system with a 10-year primary school and three-year universities. Her parent’s wandering culture took her education from the Sudan to England, where she earned her Certificate of Education (GCO) at the University of London. Her father’s work in irrigation engineering took the family to Libya where Bakhiet earned her first bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Tripoli.

While in Libya, her mother, only 51, died of breast cancer. Bakhiet said this is why she eventually moved into breast cancer research.

“On her deathbed, I sat next to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to do something about this someday’,” she said.

A short time after, her father died suddenly from a heart attack. Her family had already decided that she would take her younger sister to America. In 1980, with a sponsorship from American teachers who taught in Libya, they moved to Iowa.

At the University of Iowa Bakhiet earned a second bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a dual Ph.D. in micro and molecular biology. Though she was academically accomplished at a young age, she said she did not believe she had the life experience to become a teacher, her ultimate goal.

Bakhiet chose to do three post-doctorate tours. At UC Davis, University of Loma Linda and San Diego’s Sanford Burnham Institute she moved from microbiology to breast cancer research. She studied breast cancer for four and a half years and contributed to the creation of mixed drug cocktails used to treat breast cancer today.

Her gift for science blends seamlessly with her gift for teaching. Once she offered sage advice to Har Gobind Khorana of India, Nobel Prize recipient in 1968 for his “interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.” He received a quick tutorial in teaching from Bakhiet one day at a conference she attended with students at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Before the conference she saw Khorana sitting alone looking over the ocean. To her surprise, he motioned her over and confessed he was concerned about having community college and high school students in his audience. He had only ever spoken to post-graduates and professors.

“So how do I talk to them?” he wondered.

“I told him to tell them a story,” Bakhiet said. “There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Bakhiet said out of a folder of 300 slides of very high complex biochemistry work, Khorana picked 33 and gave his lecture.

“I then knew why he was a Nobel Prize winner,” she said. “Because it was a story, everyone understood it. Students asked questions and relayed it after we came back. It was a work of art.”

“Insights from a Wandering Lizard,” Bakhiet’s philosophical book of whimsical colloquialisms, evokes Mark Twain and Ramakrishna. East and West blend like Turkish curry.

“We, the wandering lizards, are the heroes of new memes,” Bakhiet wrote. “We strike out and away from tradition. We create what is different; we dare to live beyond what is known. We are human revolutions.”

“Woman without traditions,” she asserts, can create a brighter way of life.

She wrote the words, and then created the art from a Buddha board her sister gave her. Drawing on water, the picture disappears as the water evaporates.

“This is supposed to teach you impermanence,” she said. “However, being Western influenced, I took a picture of it. All of the drawings in the book were done in five minutes or less.”

She dedicated her book to President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, because she is from Kansas, married a man from Kenya and then a man from Indonesia.

“She is definitely a wandering lizard,” she said. “Socially, she wasn’t looking around her to fulfill her social life. She was looking way beyond that.”

Embargos and sanctions against the government of Sudan left Bakhiet’s American citizenship application languishing for years. Finally, in November 2010, Bakhiet became an American lizard. Returning to Sudan was never an option, she said. Despite some progress and many highly educated-women, the culture remains male-dominated.

“It doesn’t work for me,” she said. “I may be different from most Americans because I don’t have its culture, but I am an alien from outer space in Sudan. I would be very different in the Middle East, being a woman that has her own mind.”

Bakhiet said she studied her choices carefully in life, but with no “baggage” to bring with her, she feels free and accepted. Her inner freedom fuels innovation. Research is her passion, but teaching is her talent and she had to answer the call.

“Talent will not let you rest.”


Winning The Race Of Her Life

Winning The Race Of Her Life

By: Albert Fulcher, Ernesto Rivera and Serina Duarte

Published: Monday, December 12th, 2011 at 9:40 pm

A FORTNIGHT AND ODD DAYS — Ayded Reyes was nearly deported, spent five days in INS detention, then won the PCC cross country championship and took fifth in state despite being tripped at the starting line. Photo by Serina Duarte

Speedy cross-country champion Ayded Reyes is usually the fastest person around, but one evening fate caught up to her. So did the INS.
After her boyfriend was pulled over on a routine traffic stop by two Harbor Police officers in Chicano Park, she was unable to prove U.S. citizenship. Even though she was the innocent passenger in the car, the Border Patrol was summoned. Reyes found herself sitting alone in INS detention cells for four days, uncertain of what her once-bright future might hold.
“I came here when I was a baby,” said Reyes, who was born in Mexico City. “I was brought here by my parents. I had no control over that.”
Reyes said four days in detention cells was a horrifying experience and she wonders how many students like her have gone through a similar ordeal, lost and deported to a country they never knew. She said this is the reason she is willing to tell her story — to help those who do not have the same support that saved her from immediate deportation.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Reyes. “I cried like I’ve never cried before. I’m usually a lot stronger but this was just…”
Reyes said she was very uncomfortable with the sudden attention she has received from the news media, but as bad as it made her feel to talk about her ordeal she knew she had to.
“I started talking because I want to bring awareness to how horrible the conditions are for all the other people that have to go through this,” she said. “It’s too personal and I don’t know if I want everyone to know. It’s something I went through that was really hard. I’ve never been treated that way or put through such bad conditions.”
Taken initially to the Imperial Beach holding facility, Reyes said INS agents began trying to get her to sign paperwork saying she wanted to go back to “her country” immediately. She said she remembered a warning from a high school Spanish teacher to not sign anything under pressure by the Border Patrol or INS. Her teacher taught her that everyone in America has human rights, including the right to due process.
“The first thing they gave me was this paper in Spanish, even though I was speaking to them in English,” said Reyes. “When I asked for paperwork in English and told them I was going to college the officers didn’t believe me. They were making fun of me. I’m an immigrant, but I’m not dumb.”
Reyes refused to sign the paper, which made the agents unhappy. Reyes stood her ground.
“I’m not going (to Mexico),” said Reyes. “I have family, but I do not know anyone there. I kept wondering what I was going to do over there, where I would go. Tijuana is a very dangerous place to be now.”
Reyes said the pressure and the stress made her just want to sign the papers, but she knew better. She said the most important message she wants to get out to the public is the horrible conditions in immigration detention centers and the mistreatment of detainees.
“What about all the other people that don’t know they have the right to go to court?” she said. “What about the way they’re treated? It’s not right.”
While sitting in holding facilities, Reyes said many questions went through her mind and she felt completely isolated. She wondered what would happen next, what she needed to do and did not understand why she was being treated so badly.
“I’ve worked so hard (to earn a university scholarship) and now I can just lose it all,” she said. “The reason my parents came here was to succeed and when you see that you can just lose everything in a minute — it’s horrible.”
Reyes was shuffled from detention facilities in San Ysidro, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. She said in between transfers she was held in a small holding facility. She said the conditions were hideous and does not understand why they make people go through what she described as a nightmare.
“There’s no bed, you sleep on the floor,” said Reyes. “There were three of us in there. We only had one really thin blanket each and the air conditioner was on high. There’s a sink on top of the toilet and you are supposed to drink out of the sink with no cups, you have to slurp.”
Reyes said no one knows what people go through at these facilities until someone who has been there can go out and tell everyone. She said the Chula Vista detention facility was a little better, she at least got to take a shower. Guards, however, demonstrated a sadistic streak and subjected detainees to sleep deprivation and other tactics from prisoner of war or concentration camps.
“It’s horrible, you don’t even see the sunlight,” said Reyes. “At night when you were sleeping they would knock on your window just to wake you up. For no reason. There are little things like that that are just not right.”
Reyes said she wonders about all the people sent off to foreign places that were never their home.
“All those people probably had it worse than me,” said Reyes. “It just makes me wonder. You don’t know how they were treated and how they were sent back. It’s sad. I don’t think it is right. They’re humans.”
Reyes said her four-day incarceration felt like months. But she said she had to compete that week and wanted to be there for the team. Determined to do well at the Pacific Coast Conference Championship, she immediately focused on training and homework after her release. She did not want to break the Southwestern College streak of winning the conference over the past 11 years and said, “This is not going to stop me.”
“It felt great to have something positive in my life,” said Reyes. “ I was a little nervous because I hadn’t run in two weeks. But I fought with all my heart and ran my heart out. I just kept telling myself I have got to do this.”
In a storybook finish, Reyes won the PCC Championship going away. SWC’s championship skein lived on. Reyes was the favorite to win the California championship a week later in Fresno. Her heroic accomplishment could not have happened without the support she received from people she had never met.
“I didn’t know how close I was to being deported until Saturday, when coach told me,” said Reyes. “While in detention I didn’t even know what was going on. I actually thought they weren’t doing anything for me, but a lot of things were going on I wasn’t even aware of.”
Cross-country coach Dr. Duro Agbede said he was contacted by Reyes’ parents on Friday and informed that she had been picked up by Immigration.
“When I got the call from her parents I was shocked,” he said.
Agbede said that Reyes has been in this country all her life and her arrest caused many people to stand up for her.
“It’s not just her being a star student,” said Agbede. “It’s that she’s a student at this college and every student from this college has a lot to offer to this country.”
Agbede said he was blank after receiving the call, wondering what he could possibly do to help Reyes. He first contacted Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb and Professor of History Laura Ryan. Branscomb immediately contacted a human rights law firm recommended by Governing Board Vice President Norma Hernandez to block an immediate deportation.
“Immediately Laura and Governing Board President Tim Nader got involved,” said Agbede. “We were on the phone all day Saturday. From that Friday, especially that Saturday, which was the critical time. I was on the phone back and forth, back and forth with Mr. Nader. It was tough, it was really tough. I really have to thank him.”
Nader said he first heard about Reyes’s situation when he was approached by Ryan while attending an SWC Chicano/Latino function. He said he put Ryan and Agbede in touch with Congressman Bob Filner’s staff and also contacted an immigration lawyer that is very committed to this type of situation.
“As a lawyer myself, I believe it is best to get the best representation in this type of case,” said Nader. “It is very important that you have good representation in this.”
Nader said he made several phone calls to faculty, federal authorities, Filner and the detention facilities to let them know how concerned the entire college community was in the possibility of losing a star student.
“She is like the poster child for the many students that face this problem,” he said. “She is one of the best students that represents the college and deserves the right to fair representation.”
Nader said it was a collaborative effort by many people on campus that helped get Reyes out of the detention facility and he was happy to do “what little” he could do to help the process.
“When I spoke to the INS authorities, they said they were receiving many phone calls from people expressing that Reyes should be released,” he said.
Nader said the family had called an immigration lawyer, but the fees were well beyond their financial abilities for a sustained legal fight.
“I tried to put them in touch with resources that I know that are affordable or free,” said Nader. “I am not sure whether they found the help they needed there, but felt it was important that she received good representation at a cost the family could afford.”
Agbede said Saturday was a critical day because Filner’s office contacted him and told him Reyes was being prepared for immediate deportation.
“That was the critical period and luckily I was able to contact, for the first time, the supervisor from where Ayded was being held in detention,” said Agbede. “I explained to the supervisor the people already aware of Ayded’s situation. They needed to know that she was not alone. I was direct and I was forceful in making him understand that this is the type of girl you have.”
SWC Governing Board Trustee Humberto Peraza said he was taken aback when he heard about the Reyes saga and immediately contacted Filner and his staff for help. Reyes’ situation really touched a lot of people, he said he wanted to do as much as he could to help. Peraza, a former member of Filner’s staff, said it was the combined help of everyone who got involved that got her out.
“She is an amazing young woman,” said Peraza. “She is a great student and athlete and she is an American just as much as any citizen of this country.”
Peraza, a former high school cross-country runner, said he knew how hard it is to sit for a week, then compete. He said he was amazed at how quickly Reyes bounced back.
“It is astounding to me, after the stress and fear she went through that she went straight to competition and came out victorious,” he said. “I am so proud of her.”
Peraza said he is working with Filner and Reyes to do private legislation because he believes it really affects an individual that is going through this process. A U.S. Senator is also interested in the Reyes case.
Agbede said the contact with INS intensified once he learned Reyes had been moved to the San Ysidro detention center.
“Once they’re moved to San Ysidro it’s straight across the border,” said Agbede. “After that discussion Ayded was moved back to Chula Vista.”
The fight from Agbede, Nader, Peraza and Filner paid off.
“By Monday, I called the congressman’s office,” said Agbede. “They requested me to contact Ayded’s parents and send them down to the INS office and pick her up and by then Mr. Peraza sent an e-mail to everybody that Ayded would be out in two hours.”
Reyes said she is very thankful for the people that helped her through this ordeal.
“I thought I was going to get bailed out by my mother,” said Reyes. “But thanks to Bob Filner I was bailed out on Monday.
Agbede said Reyes said is an extremely talented student and athlete.
“The most important thing is that here is a girl who will definitely go to a university on a full scholarship,” said Agbede. “She has had an outstanding performance including winning the 2011 Pacific Coast Conference Championship and still remains among the best female distant runners in the state.”
Agbede said that Reyes’ PCC title enhances her opportunities for a full scholarship.
“If she didn’t run in the Pacific Coast Conference (finals) she would not have had the opportunity to run for regional and state,” said Agbede. “Winning the conference championship places her at a higher rate of a full scholarship. Without that, it would’ve been a hard sell because we would have basing her performance on the previous year and athletics is what have you done for me lately? Where are you now?”
Agbede said that Reyes’ timely release was pertinent.
Reyes said her parents and sisters are her strongest support, and this experience has brought them all much closer together. She faces a court date on March 1, 2012 and has a pro bono lawyer building her a case to help her stay in the U.S. She said she is unsure what is in store, but she is going to fight hard for the future she has worked so hard for.
Agbede said in the end he was filled with happiness and relief`.
“The joy was that someone who had been through this situation and with this kind of stress was able to let everything out and give the best performance of her collegiate career,” said Agbede. “It was very, very brutal competition.”
Agbede said Reyes feels all students in a similar situation should be educated on their rights.
“There should be a way to reach out the students in her situation and explain their legal rights to them,” he said. “Everybody in this country, whether they’re a citizen or not, has rights. Not only as an American but as human beings, fundamental human rights.”
SWC should provide all AB 540 students with information about their rights in case situations like these occur, Agbede said.
“Either through orientation, through counseling or through the international student department,” he said. “Letting them know that in case this happens, these are your rights, this is what you can do, this is important.”
Agbede said detainees are greatly pressured to sign a document approving their deportation before they have an opportunity to seek representation.
“Once they are taken they’re extremely fearful,” he said. “When you are in detention you can not be contacted by anyone.”
Agbede said Reyes was lucky because she was able to get assistance and believes everyone should be able to have that.
“Ayded wouldn’t be in this situation if she had no one to call,” said Agbede. “A student should know if they have this kind of problem they have someone to contact that can be of assistance and have their rights protected.”
Agbede said a lot of people helped Reyes.
“The credit goes to everybody. All the people that made this possible,” said Agbede. “I’d sincerely like to express my thanks to everybody. Particularly, Ms. Laura (Ryan), Mr. Branscomb, our board president and Mr. Peraza.”
Reyes has been offered scholarships by several universities, including Ivy League schools.
“There are a lot of reasons for me to stay here, I have a lot to lose,” she said. “Right now I just want to go to a good university and one that has a good biology program. I study here and I’m going to get a full scholarship, so I’m not even going to put the government in debt with loans. I’m doing this by myself and I have worked very hard for this.”

New Life After A Near-Death Experience

New Life After A Near-Death Experience

Professor Deana Alonso-Post triumphs over tragedy

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Editor-in-chief

Published: Friday, October 7th, 2011 at 8:30 pm 

April Fool’s Day was a good day for Professor of Spanish Deana Alonso-Post. It was her first day back teaching after eight months of terrifying illness and tenacious recovery. It was a perilous journey and not the first time she overcame catastrophic life-changing events.

A native of Mexico City, Alonso came to Southwestern College in 1979, took English as a Second Language and earned an associate degree in mathematics. She made Southwestern home again in 1995, this time as a newly-minted professor.

Within a year of her arrival an unthinkable tragedy hit. Her husband, the brilliant Professor of Engineering Dr. Costas Lyrintzis, was murdered by a deranged student gunman at San Diego State University in 1996 in a crime that shocked the nation. In an instant Alonso was a widow and a single mother of a one-year-old daughter.

She dyed her hair black and solemnly mourned her husband for a year. Then during a stirring address during a memorial for Lyrintzis at SDSU on the one year anniversary of his murder, she pledged to get on with her life. Even in death Lyrintzis was a model husband and father.

“If I had not had that full-time job and my husband had not provided us with good insurance, I would have lost my house and my life would have been totally different,” said Alonso.

Alonso rebounded to become one of SWC’s most talented and respected professors. She authored two successful textbooks and was voted Outstanding Faculty Member. Her daughter Sofia was growing up a spunky and outgoing personality like her mother and a kind intellectual like her father. Alonso was happily re-married to Frank Post, an SWC adaptive computer specialist with Disability Support Services.

Life was good for Alonso when tragedy struck again last year in August, shattering her life and leaving her new husband, family and the campus community in shock.

She underwent emergency surgery for an aneurism that burst, spreading blood through her brain. After days of headaches, nightmares and hallucinations, a perforated colon led to a second surgery, triggering a stroke. Waking up the next morning, she found herself in terror.

“I could not speak,” she said. “I could think in Spanish, but I could not speak a word of it.”

Even with the headaches and hallucinations, she said she possessed all her thinking and considerable language abilities, but the stroke prevented her brain from connecting her language center to her speech center. She slowly began to speak in small words, but only in English.

“I really panicked,” she said. “Inside my brain was fully working, but I could not tell anyone. I realized I was stuttering and sounding like an idiot.”

Her sister, Professor of Spanish Esther Alonso, said it began during a trip to Italy. She said her sister had problems with dizziness and had tripped twice.

“We just thought she wasn’t paying attention,” she said. “When her husband found out that she had had dizzy spells and fallen, he insisted that Deana go to the hospital and find out why these things were happening. The neurologist saw her and told her we need to have surgery tomorrow.”

Alonso’s doctor found a nine-millimeter aneurism with a weird shape and a daughter aneurism attached. He told her if it burst she had a 30 percent chance of living and an unknown chance of keeping all her abilities. Deciding to go with the surgery, she wrote her family and colleagues hoping for the best.

“After having someone die in my life, I know how difficult it is to deal with,” she said. “So I got all my papers in check, gave them to my husband, told him to take care of my daughter in case anything happened.”

Alonso said Post never left her side. Without him she said she might not have survived. Post did everything she needed, even changing the dressings of her open wound three times a day for four months while they waited for her colostomy reversal.

“My husband was an angel,” said Alonso. “So I believe I had an angel up above and down here looking after me. But it was tough.”

Behind the scenes, headed into surgery, Esther Alonso said that it was Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, chair of world languages, who did most of the work to keep the classes going, relieving the family to face the crisis at hand.

“It is amazing how fast you can solve problems when it is imperative,” said Esther Alonso. “It was one day to the next without any preparation. That tells you how fantastic the department is.”

Guadiana-Costa said she did what she had to.

“When she was going in for surgery, no one was ready for how things turned out,” she said. “That is, that her aneurysm would burst in the middle of surgery and she would remain on the verge of death for weeks.”

Anguished day and night by her condition, Guadiana-Costa said she could not stop worrying about Sofia, Frank and her dear friend Esther Alonso. Guadiana-Costa said it seemed impossible to start the new semester without Alonso.

“I felt like a ghost coming back to classes—invisible, empty and lost,” she said. “I went through the motions but they were rote and totally meaningless. She just had to get better.”

Alonso did get better, but only after several setbacks. With the horrible headaches and hallucinations she thought people were there to sell her body parts and believed her husband wanted her deported. Even though she had just gone through the “hell of brain surgery,” her perforated abdomen could kill her, meaning another surgery.

“I kept thinking, ‘This cannot be the end of me here’,” she said. “It was hard to have so much fear, but I did not break down. I was very strong. The whole time I was in the hospital there was always someone with me, even every night. I was not alone for a minute.”

After the stroke, she said she felt lost and the loss of her native tongue scared her most of all. She said little by little, she spoke more English and eventually the Spanish came back.

“When I began speaking in Spanish it came stronger and better than the English,” she said. “I believe it is because it is my native language and always a part of my life. It was amazing that I began in English, but it was scary because I teach Spanish.”

Esther Alonso said Deana was finally able to come home while waiting to have the colostomy reversed. While Alonso recovered from the surgery and the stroke, she started feeling ill again. She went back to the hospital for five more days, once again faced with deadly consequences.

“She had a bacterial infection that ruins your stomach and intestinal lining caused by the colon surgery,” said Esther Alonso. “It was very dangerous and painful for Deana. She had lost weight through the prior surgeries, but this was the one where she lost the most. When released from the hospital, she started climbing out of the hole all over again.”

Alonso said it took about three months before she began feeling normal. Going to a speech therapist and with a colostomy bag, she said she came out of the hospital “like an old rag, walking with a walker.” She said she lost more than 30 pounds on top of wounds from two surgeries and a severe infection that set her back.

“It was very difficult, both physically and emotionally. I was just so depressed,” she said. “Then they could not reconnect me because I had a huge tumor in my uterus.”

It took four months before the two surgeons could work together. During that time she got a huge cyst on her ovary, once again in extreme pain and facing another surgery. She said she was amazed that her current health benefits covered it all.

“But that surgery was good and I felt normal,” she said. “It was hard, but now I think my brain is between 95 and 98 percent back.”

For 20 days faculty fed her family, Alonso said. Each day someone would bring food to feed the family for the day. She said her 76-year-old aunt came to take care of her twice after the first and third surgeries.

“My aunt is a swimmer, beginning at 15, and has won medals in her division,” she said. “And she is in better shape than anyone. She would help me bathe. She made me walk every day, even when I started at about 10 steps at a time. Now I walk three miles every single day.”

Esther Alonso said it was “Deana’s personality, strength and tenacity” that sped her recovery. She said the tragedies and adversities that her sister has faced would have made another person give up, but her sister never loses sight of her goals in life.

“Even when her husband was killed, she did not fall to pieces because she had a 14-month-old baby that needed a mother,” said Esther Alonso. “She is incredible. If those things would have happened to me, I would have crumbled.”

Alonso said she notices small grammar mistakes or forgetting the right word from time to time, and experiences sciatic pain due to weakened muscles.

“I am a fighter,” she said. “I am going to come out of all of this just like everything else. I have my life, my family and my colleagues to support me. I won’t take no for an answer.”

She came back in April with a reduced load for six weeks to see if she was ready to teach.

“It was invigorating to me,” she said. “I love so much what I do, the minute I got into the classroom I forgot all the pain, everything. So, this semester I wanted to come back with a full load. It’s good to be home.”

SWC has been home since 1979, she said, when her father decided to move the family business. He sold everything they owned to make a home for his family. With the exception of her sister, the entire family moved to Chula Vista.

“My father burned all the boats leaving Mexico City, like any great Spaniard would do,” said Alonso.

Alonso said she came to the United States well educated, just finishing her first year of university in Mexico City. Her parents went back home to Mexico after a few years because they could not recreate the lifestyle they had there in Chula Vista. Her brother moved with his family to Tijuana, leaving the Alonso sisters living in a tiny apartment. Alonso earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics because she felt she did not have a good command of English. Numbers, she said, are numbers.

Her experiences as a migrant and an English learner gave her empathy for SWC students attempting to learn English without having a proper structure of their native language. Alonso returned to college to earn her Master’s degree in linguistics with an emphasis on second language acquisition at SDSU. She later earned another Master’s degree in English as a Second Language.

“I became fascinated in the transition of going to English from Spanish,” she said. “I had gone through it, but for me it wasn’t hard. I had a very good educational background and you transfer all of those skills with you. You do not have to relearn how to think, or organize thoughts for an essay. But my students had a lot of problems because they had no skills in their native tongue to transfer into English.”

Alonso said she is a strong believer in bilingual education and giving students the language they already have, strengthening and solidifying the foundation of language to transfer to learning English.

Before coming to SWC she taught at Castle Park High School, Pasadena City College and Citrus College. She co-authored, along with her sister, two textbooks. Entre mundo and Invitaciones. After many rejections and unwilling to give up, she published Invitaciones with her own money and eventually sold the rights. It is now the official text in more than 100 college and universities in the United States.

“Destiny has interesting ways of finding what you are going to need,” she said.

Alonso said she did not want to be a “halfway-there citizen.” She wanted to make sure the United States did not become like parts of Mexico where they do not protect their people. In August 1987 she became an American citizen.

“I wanted to be part of the people, to have a say and this country has always been so good to immigrants,” she said. “Those of us who want to work hard and do something. To be industrious and creative, this country has always been there for us. It is just amazing. I think anyone who comes to this country and works hard can. It is not so in other countries.”

Through all her trials, Alonso said the people in her world, her country and her home inspire her.

“Life has hit me pretty hard,” she said. “But it has also given me many blessings, my daughter and my family. I have an awesome sister. And now I also have an awesome husband. That is good news. I believe I have been blessed all my life by having people around me that make me a better human being.”

The Language Of Success-Faces Of Immigration


Vianney Louis-Quero

The Language Of Success-Faces Of Immigration

Vianney Luis-Quero was a licensed psychologist in Oaxaca, but worked in a U.S. thrift shop while she learned English at Southwestern College.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Editor-in-Chief

Published: Friday, August 5th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

In Oaxaca, Mexico Vianney Luis-Quero was a college graduate and licensed psychologist. In America, she found herself as another immigrant performing menial labor because she could not speak English.

Southwestern College—and her spirited quest to remake herself—changed all that. Today Luis-Quero, 27, is a doctoral student and role model for her countrymen.

“My story is one of challenges, possibilities and a vast future,” said Luis-Quero. “It is very possible that my story is also your story.”

Luis-Quero left her country, family and friends four years ago to follow her dreams. Armed with only a student visa, licentiate de psicología in hand and no understanding of English, she found herself in Southwestern College’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Her vocabulary was so limited she could only find work at a thrift store. Her greatest decision, she said, was to take ESL classes.

“When I arrived to this land I only knew a couple of sentences in English,” she said. “I had to learn simple things such as ‘Hello, my name is…’ and ‘I am lost’.”

Luis-Quero said ESL classes gave her the ability to help other immigrants, desperate because they were unable to communicate effectively in America.

“We were trying to learn English and share experiences, ideas and our lives,” she said. “Trying to adapt to a new life and get better jobs.”

In the beginning Luis-Quero said she did not understand why they had to learn about tectonic plates, climate change and theories of evolution. She saw no reason for using this type of vocabulary until after she graduated from the ESL program last year and starting regular college courses. She said her first day of regular college courses were full of fear and questions, and wondered if she could understand the teachers, communicate with her classmates or write a comprehensive essay.

Then that moment of realization—the information from the ESL in classes had foundation to help her feel comfortable with daily English.

“And guess what?” she said. “All those catastrophic ideas disappeared. I comprehended everything my teachers said. My classmates never pointed me out because of my strange accent and I was comfortable following prompts, writing essays and analyzing poems. I learned all of these tools from my ESL classes.”

ESL Professor Andy MacNeill said Luis-Quero took part in classes that follow what is called the Opportunities Model. He said the object
is to give students the tools and opportunities for interaction, taking the input and utilizing the output.

“Vianney took that seriously,” said MacNeill. “She took every opportunity she could. Her presentations were above the level of other students in the program. They were very high quality.”

On May 6 Luis-Quero spoke to the 2011 ESL graduating class and assured her peers that their hard struggle to get to regular college courses was not an end of ESL, but a beginning of their next step in their educational pursuits. She said it would not be without struggle, but the reward for their efforts would be a fountain of opportunity in their futures.

“As a student, I know there are times when we are just tired,” she said. “Tired of learning a new language. Tired of learning a concept while we work serving mashed potatoes, accommodating merchandise on a counter or working as a waitress in a restaurant.”

Luis-Quero said the cycle of learning was difficult and she endured many days of doubt.

“I know about those moments in which we feel very close to quitting school,” she said. “We arrive home at night after a long day at work and we still have homework to do.”

It was last year while taking English 116 that Luis-Quero decided to apply to Allied International University’s (AIU) doctoral program in clinical psychology. She said it was a difficult process.

“I was disappointed,” she said. “I was told that my studies from Mexico were not valid if I wanted to continue studying here.”

In her first step, she had to request a U.S. equivalency of her degree earned at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Oaxaca. Money, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essay and a resume were all required in order to get an interview with the college. She said a successful interview was critical for entering the program. After hours of what seemed like endless work, she received a U.S. equivalent degree—a BA in Psychology and an acceptance to AIU’s doctoral program.

MacNeill said the ESL program has had students like her that have an education from their country and need to transfer their skills from their native language to English.

“We have seen a few cases like Vianney where Boom!, they are not going into English 71, they are going into English 114 and 115, college-level courses right out of our program. And that is what we strive for,” he said.

MacNeill said Luis-Quero was always prepared and appreciated everything she could learn. She was a joy to work with, he said, and her upbeat
personality showed in everything she did. She has the intelligence and social skills to form relationships with those around her, he said.

“She just punched it out,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were getting, but we were happy with what we got. She has a captivating personality with a touch of humor.”

Dr. Joel Levine, dean of language and literature, said Luis-Quero is a top-notched student in the ESL program. He said her focused mind and motivating spirit took her where she wanted to go.

“She came here as an ESL student, with limited English and joined our program,” said Levine. “She made the absolute best use of this new design we have on content-based instruction. She was able to recognize the value of what that program was offering in order to prepare her for the courses she would need to take to get into that doctoral program.”

Luis-Quero begins her journey at AIU this fall. Her teachers at SWC stand by her, assuring and supporting her. While speaking to her ESL peers at their graduation, she said she is living proof that the program is a launch pad for achievement.

“Based on my experience, I am telling you do not give up your classes,” she said. “Don’t give up on your dreams. It takes effort and time, but it is within your reach. It is possible to achieve them. I am doing it.”

Faces of Immigration-A secret talent strides into the spotlight-Faces of Immigration

By Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Her long, elegant fingers dance across the computer keyboard throughout the day. At night, though, the music and magic begins.

 Leonila Baier is one of those secret talents who works hard and humbly all day as the administrative assistant to Dean Donna Arnold of the School of Arts and Communication. When evening falls she is an accomplished classical pianist.

 Baier was the breakout star of this year’s Faculty and Staff Concert, stunning the audience with virtuoso performances of Beethoven, Chopin and Ginastera. Hard-working, humble office manager exposed.

 Her parents fled the Fuchien Province of China in the early 1950s. Devout Christians, they fled the oppression of Communism.

 They created that life in Baguio City, in the Philippines province of Northern Luzon. Baier was born and raised there.

 Growing up, Baier had to tackle several languages. She learned the Fuchien dialect of Chinese at home, the native tongue of her parents. After school for 12 years she studied the Mandarin dialect. Living in the Philippines made her fluent in Tagalog and Ilocano.

All of her classes from elementary to collegiate were in English.

 Baier’s favorite language—the language of music—is spoken through her fingers and the ivory keys.

 Learning piano at an early age she took lessons as long as she could. She said the moment came when her parents could not afford the lessons any more.

 “I loved piano as a child,” she said. “But it got to the time when I could not pursue it any longer.”

 Things have changed radically for Baier since then. As an adult, her life is filled with a family, career, classes and performances. Lighting upon new inspiration, the past several years she rededicated her love of the piano accelerando.

 “My son inspired me to go back to the piano,” she said. “It is good to have talent and his is great. I thought if I continued learning, playing and performing, it would encourage him to continue his studies.”

 A long odyssey led Baier to SWC. With a temporary visa and a BA in Literature in hand, she left the Philippines in 1987 to marry her fiancÈ in America. They had met at her local nondenominational Christian church that promoted intercontinental fellowship.

Required to marry within three months, she arrived in October and married in December. She said that culturally, things were much different here than she expected. Growing up speaking English, she was not prepared for the dissimilarity of the language.

 “There are so many ways that English is spoken as compared to the Philippines,” she said. “So many complexities, even in something as simple as a joke. Many jokes require the cultural background of America to understand.”

Baier said her husband was very patient with her and would wait while she went shopping. It took her an hour or two to go through the supermarket, looking and learning about all the food that she did not have growing up in Baguio City.

“Of course, here in the U.S., there are so many more choices in everything,” she said. “I mean, how many cereals do you really need?”

 During her first trip to Fashion Valley mall, her husband only laughed at her excitement in seeing a sale sign in the window of one of the stores.

“I quickly learned that ‘sale’ in the U.S. does not mean the same as elsewhere,” she said. “The transition took some time, even today I am still learning.”

 Chula Vista is her home and November 2010 will mark Baier’s 18th year at SWC. Baier worked for the School of Business and Information Systems for 11 years, beginning as a clerical assistant. After an eight-month position with Math, Science and Engineering, she returned to Business and Information as an administrative secretary.

With recent reorganization of the School of Business, Baier was promoted to her position in Arts and Communications in July 2009.

 “I feel blessed to be in the environment of the Arts and Communications school,” said Baier. “I feel very connected. I am surrounded by music, art and teachers that have doctorate degrees.”

 Through the years, Baier has taken various classes to improve her professional status and wage. Continuing with her music she is now taking Music 125, Applied Music.

Professor of Music Dr. Jorge Pastrana discovered Baier’s talent quite unexpectedly passing a rehearsal room.

 “I remember walking by the music room one day,” said Pastrana. “And I heard classical music being played, like Chopin. This was very unusual to me.

You don’t hear that around here very often, especially considering we do not have a full time piano teacher.”

 Pastrana invited her to take his Applied Music class, designed to get musical artists of all instruments to play together and give them the tools to overcome stage fright. He said that Baier’s eyes lit up when he said that and admitted how difficult it was for her to perform.

 “Then this is the class for you,” he said. “We cover all aspects to teach you to be a better performer, how to get ready for it and get over the sweat. This can be done. It is a process of time and control.”

 Baier said she loves the class and has already gained tremendous confidence in taking it.

 “We have the best here at SWC,” she said. “Dr. Pastrana is my mentor. He really knows how to bring out the best in your abilities. He is such an inspiration.”

 Pastrana said he has gotten to know Baier better with her recent position in his department and that she is very serious about music and works hard. She has performed twice this semester, at the Faculty Staff Concert and the Student Honors Concert on Cinco de Mayo.

“She has learned that she is able to control and express herself in music, without the fear and pressure,” he said.

 Baier said she has an ongoing goal to improve as a performer. Along with her classes, she takes private lessons from Lee Galloway. Considered a music institution in San Diego for decades and an expert in musicology, Galloway is listed in “Who’s Who Among Young Professionals” and “Who’s Who in the West.”

 Baier has taken lessons from Galloway since May 2009. Galloway said that adults generally seem to progress a little more slowly, but Baier is an exception. He said Baier is improving in technique and interpretation.

 “She has a distinct dedication to her music,” said Galloway. “She makes music a priority and practices regularly, making good progress and is open to suggestions. She used to believe that she couldn’t play fast, but is beginning to get over that.”

 Baier’s son also studies with Galloway.

 “She takes an active interest in his progress, practice and study,” he said.

Galloway has worked with the Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) as president and evaluator, evaluating music festivals and competitions throughout the state. His music has remained in the Classical Top 40 since hitting the top of the charts in 1999.

 “She now wants to become a piano teacher,” said Galloway. “She is about to begin the Cal Plan program of MTAC. Membership in MTAC requires a college degree in music or its equivalent. Cal Plan enables students to achieve this equivalent through a specific study program.”

 Beginning in 2007, Baier completed a Certificate of Merit Program with honors through MTAC. This program provides a systematic and comprehensive plan in developing performance, technique, ear training, sight-reading and music theory skills. There are 10 levels of developing skills.

 “I made a goal for myself to complete all 10 steps in five years,” she said. “I did it in four. It was always nice when I went in to take a level test. Someone would always tell me how nice it was to see an adult in the program.”

 In July Baier will perform at the MTAC Convention in Los Angeles.

She said she believes that musicians need great teachers to guide them and they need to be willing to put in the work.

 “Whether you have talent or not, you have to put in your 10,000 hours,” she said. “I hope that I encourage more adults and classified employees that it is never too late, not to be afraid and to realize that we are not too busy to continue to develop ourselves.”

 Returning to school as an adult, Baier said she views things very differently. She finds that every time she plays, it is comforting and therapeutic.

 “SWC is the best environment for adults returning to school,” said Baier. “I do not think that everyone on campus sees the resources that we have right here. They let it go to waste, right in front of them. There is a need for a proper environment in learning. I have found that here.”

 Moving from a computer keyboard to ivory keys every day Baier continues her professional and personal goals to learn, educate and encourage. She plays weekly for The Church in Chula Vista. Her performance repertoire includes the classics of Beethoven, the romantics of Chopin and the contemporary of Ginastera. She believes it is important to share thoughts in life and endeavors to illustrate this in her family, work and music.

 “Sometimes this helps us sit back and rethink about our life, to make sure our next journey is going in the right direction.”

Faces of Immigration-A heart large enough to love two cultures

By Albert H. Fulcher

Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009

“Mother Superior was a large woman, over six feet tall, and very smart. She always had a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other.”

Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, Professor of Language and Literature

Crossing the border is nothing new to Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, 54, professor of language and literature at Southwestern College. Since second grade forging la linea has been a constant part of her life.

“My parents decided that my sister and I should go to school across the border,” said Guadiana-Costa. “Many families at that time believed that it was important for their children to be bilingual. Crossing the border back then, as far as the wait, was really bad.”

A community-made carpooling system gave many individuals the opportunity to gain extra income for their families, and allowed parents to get their children across the border for a bi-lingual education.

“There was no bus service for us children,” she said. “Private individuals would pick us up from various homes and transport us back and forth to the border to attend school in those old station wagons, the kind that had the wooden panels on the side, All of these station wagons would be waiting for us every time we crossed the border. They would take us to the border for school and as soon as school was over, they would take us back.”

Guadiana-Costa spent many years in Catholic schools in America, but Tijuana was her home. Her family and friends were there. Her life was there and complete. Outside of school she experienced very little of America’s culture in this region.

Guadiana-Costa started attending SWC after graduating high school and had no idea what she wanted to study.

“In my first year, every time I did something new, I liked that,” she said. “That would be something not afforded to me had I lived in Mexico. There, you have to decide from the beginning and follow a course of study in that direction only. Here I was able to re-visit history or philosophy as an adult.”

Her stay at SWC was short-lived. She fell in love, married and started a family. She dropped out of college after her first year to be a wife and mother.

“Once I had my first child, in my mind that was it,” said Guadiana-Costa. “I had made a choice. It was more important for me to raise my child, and after my second, well, motherhood is a full-time job.”

But the time came when her own children started attending school. By then, she was a single mother and on her own.

“Something inside me must have been lurking, because as soon as my children started school, I started volunteering,” she said. “I started helping at a Catholic school teaching second graders. Eventually I was asked to start teaching an art class. I remember how nerve-wrecking it was to be up there and having the demands of teaching and controlling a room full of second graders. But it was also so fulfilling for me.”

At the age of 25 she had been teaching at the school for a few years when the Mother Superior of the school forever changed her view of her future in two short sentences.

“Mother Superior was a large woman, over six feet tall, and very smart,” she said. “She always had a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She could be pretty scary. But one day she walked up to me, pointed her finger at me and said, ‘Dinorah, you are a smart girl. You should be in college.’ I really began thinking about what she said and knew inside I could do it. The timing was perfect for me to start thinking about myself. She gave me the push I needed to go back to school.”

Guadiana-Costa came back to SWC, still without a major, but knew she could succeed. By the time she finished her second year she knew she wanted to major in Spanish. By 1991 she graduated from SDSU with a B.A. and M.A. in Spanish Linguistics and Literature. She then started teaching at community schools, including SWC.

It was the presidential race of 1992 that brought a change to Guadiana-Costa’s life that she had not expected. Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Al Gore Jr. were working hard to bring a new generation into the White House to end 12 years of Republican Party rule. She was inspired by Clinton’s visions of a better way to run America’s government. For the first time, she thought about citizenship.

“I had never thought about becoming an American citizen before Clinton,” she said. “I was perfectly happy being a ‘legal alien’ working here and keeping my nationality. It would have been unpatriotic. But I really wanted to be a part of the change that Clinton spoke about. By then I had learned more in life though. One thing was that patriotism, especially misguided, could be an evil thing. I came to realize that I could be an American and still keep the love, culture and history of my native Mexico without betraying my own heritage. So I started the process so that I could be a citizen in time to vote.”

Guadiana-Costa pursued her desire for citizenship and finally the day came for her to take the oath. She said that she is not normally one to let her mood dictate her day, but that morning when she woke up, she felt different.

“I was so excited about the day, but I was also very angry,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how to change the way I was feeling. But the day went on, and I went to the ceremony. Once I took the oath, I was happy, very happy. I was waving my little American flag all day. I am still happy that I made that decision in my life. I also cast my vote for President Clinton.”

SWC recognized Guadiana-Costa in 1993 with the Governing Board Faculty Recognition Award for Teaching Excellence. Soon after SWC offered her a position as full-time faculty.

“At the time I was offered a full-time position at SWC, I also taught at two other schools,” she said. “One was okay and the other one I loved. It was, well let’s just say it was a school for very privileged young people. I remember after summer break I asked students what they had done over the summer. One had been to China and another to Peru with her father who was a journalist for National Geographic. These young people had their lives already mapped out at a very early age, and were already heading for a life of success.”

It was the diversity of SWC that helped her decide to join as a full-time member of the faculty in 1996.

“As much as I loved the one school and the students that I taught, I wanted more,” she said. “There is a diversity at SWC that you can’t find anywhere else. I wanted to teach to students like me. To be able to make a difference in those who don’t know which direction they want to head and don’t have their lives already planned.”

Guadiana-Costa has been a full-time faculty member for 13 years. She teaches Spanish to both non-natives and native speakers alike with courses in Hispanic culture, Hispanic literature and Spanish language. She co-authored “El español de hoy, cuaderno para nativos.” (Spanish of Today, Textbook for Natives.) This text is used in Spanish classes for Spanish-speakers and also co-authored and published a workbook to accompany “Entre Mundos,” a textbook for native Spanish speakers. This workbook has been adopted at SWC as well as 22 other colleges and universities throughout the country.

Her Spanish class for the beginning non-native is what is known as a “total immersion” course. Her teaching methods and text teaches how to speak the language, to read, write and understand the culture that drives it. Each class is an interactive experience in which all students are required to participate.

Aryn Lee Copeland, 24, psychology major, is in her second semester with the professor. She said she was really scared about taking Spanish due to bad experiences in high school. It was by chance that she registered for her class but the first day that the professor walked into the room, she felt at ease.

“She was welcoming, professional and I felt she cared about our success,” said Copeland. “She made a point to remember our names on the first day. She also had us students participate in an exercise to remember each others names. It made me feel like we were a team conquering Spanish 101 together. After that I knew I had to continue the next semester with her. I arranged my schedule to fit her class time.”

Joel M. Levine, Ed.D., dean of languages and humanities, described Guadiana-Costa as one of the strongest advocates of higher-language learning using a communicative approach and infusing the latest educational developments.

“She is the kind of person trying to build a diversified community that is positive and welcoming,” said Levine. “Spearheading the International Film Festival each year is just one of the many things that she brings to SWC along with her teaching. With this festival she works diligently with others to bring the campus and the students films that highlights a view of the worlds of different cultures. She knows how to get people excited, motivated and involved in creating this special event.”

This year’s Ninth Annual Culture & Language International Film Festival will be held October 12-29, featuring films from Spain, Italy, France, Japan, China, Portugal and the Philippines. This event demonstrates that entertaining and teaching is a strong link between culture and language.

Deana Alonso, professor of language and literature, said she has worked with Guadiana-Costa for 13 years and called her an excellent colleague.

“She loves to work cooperatively,” said Alonso. “She is fair, willing to listen and is so patient with students. She has worked very hard on our film festival and just as hard in bringing community service into her classes.”

Former SWC student Shannan Casteen, 24, a social work major at SDSU, said Guadiana-Costa would always be the one teacher who made a difference in her life.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I hear her name is best friend,” said Casteen. “She is a woman who goes above and beyond what is required of her as a teacher. She truly cares about her students and how they perform, even their everyday lives as people. When I was going through a rough patch in my personal life, Dinorah reminded me of all the positives, and actually really helped me through that time. I hope to always keep in contact with her, even if it’s just to say hello.”

Since her beginnings here as a student and career as a teacher, SWC has traveled with the professor all of her adult life. She said her love of teaching, the diversity of this campus and her closeness to her native nation creates an atmosphere that she loves being part of.

“You ask me why I am here,” said Guadiana-Costa. “Southwestern is where I belong, it is home.”

¿Ustedes hablan español? Puedes si tomas las clases con la profesora.

Faces of Immigration-Japanese student finds SWC great place to learn languages, salsa

Japanese student finds SWC great place to learn languages, salsa

 By Albert H. Fulcher

Published: Thursday, May 14, 2009

She saw an open door, came to America and discovered herself in English and Spanish classes at Southwestern College. This is not what Kazumi Ito, 29, from Tachikawa City, Japan had expected. Now, she is very glad to be here. Ito’s goal in coming to America is to become trilingual and use her new skills to get a job in Japan.

“I had never planned to go to college in the U.S.,” said Ito. “I was planning to go to Mexico to study Spanish after I studied English at a language school for a year. I have wanted to study English in America since I was 22. Most of my friends have already taken the more traditional roles in Japanese life with work, marriage and children. This was a good opportunity for me to go.”

A San Diegan military friend she met in Japan was a big influence on her decision to come to the corner where western America meets Mexico. Ito said this would be the ideal place to achieve her educational goals in the time permitted.

Ito is here on a five-year student visa. For the first year and a half she attended Human International Academy, Mission Valley and the International Academy of English, San Diego Campus.

“I changed my mind about going to Mexico to study Spanish,” said Ito. “After attending the other schools I thought my English was nothing. So I decided to go to college here to improve my English, learn Spanish, get an American education and have an experience.”

Ito started to feel comfortable living in the U.S. after a year. Living close to SWC helped her decide this is where she wanted to go to school.

Falling in love with the clean, green campus, Ito is in her first semester and tackling 12 units. Ito said taking all of her classes in English is not easy.

“It’s really tough, but this is what I choose to do, so now is the time that I have to study hard in my life,” said Ito. “Study abroad is not only studying, it’s a great discovery of my world that I can’t buy with money.”

Ito said she is benefiting by learning in the diverse culture of SWC. Already armed with the basics, Ito was able to jump into the second semester of Spanish 101. She is also doing well in her English classes.

Professor of Language and Literature Kathy Parrish, described Ito as an excellent student in her English 71 class.

“She is really interested in improving her English language skills and is always looking for new ways to practice,” said Parrish.

Tutoring at the Academic Success Center is “saving” Ito with her 12 units required as an international student.

Rubi Guido, an Italian, English and Spanish tutor, called Ito a good and dedicated student.

“Kazumi is very intelligent,” said Guido. “She is advanced in her Spanish, able to start in a higher level of class. She learns faster than other students.”

Very pleased with SWC’s facilities and tutors, Ito said she is satisfied with the choices she made.

“Teachers are very helpful and enthusiastic, now I feel very happy to be here,” said Ito. “I am impressed about students who study in this school. They are from teenager to elder, studying together. I’ve never experienced studying in this environment. It is very new to me, but I am motivated by the enthusiastic students.”

Ito grew up outside Tokyo. English is a mandatory subject in Japan, but Ito said that what they learn is so basic that it is very little help in the real world. She said she was so surprised that there was such a fine system here for people who want to learn.

“One thing that I like about this country is that the door is always open,” said Ito. “If you really want to do something, no matter where you are from, how old you are, you can do it.”

In high school, Ito attended a music academic school, majoring in the electronic organ. Learning to play the piano at age six, she has always thought of becoming a music teacher.

“I have great passion for music,” said Ito. “I love Latin music and I love to salsa. These are the main reasons I chose Spanish for my third language.”

Language, music and salsa are not the only things that interest Ito. She currently takes yoga classes at SWC. Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of music, dancing and fighting maneuvers, is another one of her passions.

Ito is at the beginning of her journey here at SWC. She is excited about the possibilities available to her here and plans to work towards gaining her associate degree. Though she has not officially declared her major, she is quite confident that it will be in languages.

“I really appreciate studying in college with people who are different age, and have different culture, different background,” said Ito. “After I get my degree here, I’d love to travel to South America. Then I will go home to Japan and get a job that I can use my language skills.”

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