Year of the Student: North-Far North Colleges Set a Tone for Workforce Success in 2023

North-Far North Student Success Stories, 2023

Whether serving their communities, starting their own businesses, or just leveling up their life’s work, North-Far North students continued to prove the unlimited – and often underappreciated – value of career education in 2023. 

Community college grads made inroads in nearly every industry, showing off their impressive skills and staking their claim to the next generation of workforce success. From blazing new trails in fire tech, to revving up accelerated opportunities in the automotive field, 2023 was a showcase for inspiring student success stories in virtually every career education corner. 

With unwavering support from the Strong Workforce Program, which funded equipment, development, faculty, and more, students provided an optimistic glimpse into the future of Northern California, continuing to power a steady pipeline of qualified workers flowing into the region’s workforce. 

Hot Pursuit: New generation of heroes rises up to regional firefighting challenges 

Among the most vital roles in California’s workforce are those of the brave firefighters who combat the hundreds of devastating fires that burn throughout the state every year. 

Firefighter academies offered across the region help provide the skills for future first-responders to take charge of their careers. Like American River College alum Alex Kane, who now serves as a firefighter in Sacramento after completing ARC’s firefighter academy program in 2020. 

“It was incredibly hard, but that’s kind of the point,” reflects the proud alum. “They’re trying to build you up into somebody that can be able to be a firefighter and to do that, you need to withstand pretty hard stuff.” 

Before enrolling in the college’s Basic Firefighter Academy, Kane served his community in a much different way: “I’m coming from a teaching background, so it was a pretty big shift for me in terms of what they were looking for,” he explains. 

Kane’s unique perspective as a teacher gave him incredible respect for his instructors during his time in the academy. Throughout nearly 560 hours of hands-on coursework, partnered with a well-rounded classroom curriculum, Kane felt confident that he was well-equipped to blaze a trail in the high-demand field.

“I was like, ‘Wow, these guys know what they’re doing,” Kane recalls about his instructors in the program. “They have so many years of experience that they bring along … I thought they did amazing mixing the book side of it and blending that with actual real-world experience.” 

Dawn Mateo, who recently graduated from Lassen Community College complete with tassel swinging from her fire helmet, is living her own community college-powered success story.

Mateo discovered the Fire Academy at LCC in an attempt to reignite her passion for public safety. With a 20-year EMT career and experience as a volunteer medical lieutenant for the Janesville Fire District under her belt, Mateo’s dedication ran deep. In pursuit of yet another challenge, Mateo began work on her associate degree in fire technology.

“It’s a small community, and I’m really glad we have such an amazing program so close,” says Mateo about Lassen College’s vaunted Fire Academy. 

The proud alum plans to continue her hot pursuit by enrolling in a bachelor’s program for fire technology or emergency management, ultimately hoping to return to her alma mater to teach. Says Mateo: “It’s the best fire technology program in the state!” 

Among the Far North’s most-inspiring stories of 2023 is that of Raymond Curtis, who was part of Shasta College’s Shasta Technical Education Program-Unified Partnership, or STEP-UP Program. Curtis’s resilience is what sets him apart. From homelessness to jail time, the resourceful student continues to stand tall against adversity by channeling his determination into a firefighting degree.

“Because of the guidance [STEP-UP] provided me, I came to realize there was a tremendous amount of resources available at college,” reflects Curtis. “And if you’re resourceful and diligent, you can figure out which tree to bark up to get your needs met.” 

Today, Curtis is a graduate of the Shasta College Heavy Equipment and Heavy Logging Equipment program and the Truck Driving program. As he maintains a 4.0 GPA, the unstoppable student is currently completing a Forest Science and Technology degree along with the Firefighter 1 Academy course.

Curtis credits his own determination, plus unwavering support from Shasta’s STEP-UP program, for his success: “Asking for help in the right ways, learning how to articulate my need for help, and figuring it out,” he reflects. “Like I say: ‘which tree to bark up.’”

Helping Hands, In-Demand: NFN grads uplift communities via compassionate career paths

Passion was never in short supply for North-Far North career education grads Tamara Kilgore and Sharon Hammond. Thanks to bold foundations forged at American River College and Mendocino College, respectively, the students are making it their business to help others.

“I was kind of lost,” says Kilgore, who admits she struggled to find a direction before discovering ARC’s Gerontology courses. The notable program is recognized nationally as a Program of Merit by the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education. 

“I’ve always had a passion for working with older adults,” reflects Kilgore. “Going to ARC, I realized that there is a whole department that focuses on this field, and I just lit up after seeing all of the courses they offer.” 

Since completing the program, Kilgore has found her career calling as Director of Social Services at a Carmichael-based skilled nursing facility. She says her passion is what keeps her motivated and continuously inspired to move forward in her career path. 

“I’m able to be on the same team with the doctor, director, rehab nurses, and then myself,” says Kilgore. “Everybody puts in their piece … [We] plan out what a person needs to stay here, what more services they need, what safe discharge planning looks like for them.” 

The passionate ARC alum’s career goals all center around a single objective: uplifting the people around her. “I knew I could benefit the community in so many ways by doing this.”

Hammond, similarly, was determined to land a career lending a helping hand – and tackling the Mendocino College hybrid Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program would put her dedication and resilience on full display. Facing a 158-mile weekly commute and working around a learning disability, the strong-willed student never backed down on her career goals.

“I can finally say that I’m a professional at something in my life at 42 years old,” the proud graduate declares. Now, Hammond drives just a few minutes to work every day at a local job near her Eureka residence — meanwhile earning nearly double her previous salary. 

With a growing need for physical therapy assistants in rural communities, the PTA program at Mendocino College couldn’t have emerged at a more opportune time. The hybrid program is helping connect students to careers throughout the region and state, and PTA program director Sara Bogner says they’re even receiving interest from as far away as San Diego.  

“Sharon is a great example of how hybrid education can help students reach their educational goals,” says Bogner. “It’s so rewarding to see the students who have completed the program and are successful in their jobs.” 

Daring to ‘DIY’: Entrepreneurial spirit going strong in the Far North 

Innovation is innate for students like Sierra College’s Angele Carroll of Sierra College and Sacramento City College’s Humberto German Rodriguez Jimenez. The entrepreneurial learners are turning their ingenuity into independent career pathways that allow them to engage their biggest passions every day.

With help from the Strong Workforce-funded Sierra College Microgrant Program, students like Carroll can test new business ventures, all while learning valuable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaborative skills. Monique Brown, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the business accelerator, The Growth Factory, helped present the concept for the Microgrant Program at Sierra College. 

“The idea is to encourage students to take action on their ideas,” said Brown. “Over time, those are going to end up turning into real businesses.”

Case in point, Carroll is putting her business venture to the test. Harnessing her background as a music teacher, Carroll is partnering with mentor and HR consultant Marcie Shelton to achieve her goal of running singing workshops for corporate team-building. 

“Working with Marcie has been invaluable,” reflects Carroll. “When you’re trying to start something new, it really helps to know like-minded people who are supportive and can give you insight.

“Having someone to help you forge that path and guide you is incredibly helpful.” 

Carroll even had the honor of receiving the Soroptimist Club’s “Live Your Dream” award, which gives back by assisting women attending college who are the primary financial support for their families. The award is further proof that Carroll, a single mother, is within reach of her career aspirations. “Getting the feedback from Marcie and the people she’s connected me with has given me confidence in my goals.”

On the creative side, Humberto German Rodriguez Jimenez is proud to be working in a career of his own design. Upon graduating from Sacramento City College’s Design program, the first-generation student channeled his skills into his own successful company, Creative Samuraii. Offering services like branding, web design, art direction and more, Jimenez’s business allows him to showcase his skills every day.

“The Design Program at SCC is unique because the professors helped me bridge the gap between the classroom and the industry/market,” explains the proud Panther. “They gave me connections and a network of resources that were vital to my success thus far.” 

Seeing the Future: Tech advances make way for next-level opportunities

The winds of change continued to bluster in 2023, with realities like climate change and artificial intelligence forcing industries to keep pace in Northern California and beyond.

Ready to take the reins on the new reality were innovators like the Folsom Lake College AI program, the only artificial intelligence program in the Sacramento region. 

“Honestly, it was eye-opening and life-changing,” says AI student and FLC grad Armand Link. “As a Black queer individual, it’s been super important having access through Folsom Lake College, which has opened doors for me. I’m incredibly thankful.”

The determined Falcon received his CIS degree from Folsom Lake College and is now pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colum

bia University in New York. Link is dedicated to following his passion at the next level, continuing to focus on studies in AI ethics and natural language processing. 

“The program couldn’t have been more timely for my academic aims and interests,” Link concludes.

Timing, as it happens, was also the prime motivating factor for Mendocino College student Upton Adams. The automotive industry veteran joined MC’s Electric and Hybrid Vehicles program, looking to get a leg up on the future of transportation in the Golden State. “California’s electric vehicle law will affect the fleet at my company,” says Adams, referring to the fast-approaching 2035 deadline for all new cars to fit “zero-emissions” standards. 

With a solid decade-long background in the industry, Adams knows what it takes to tackle a new technology challenge. His current career as a heavy-duty diesel technician prepped him for the hands-on skills needed in the new program. As fast as the automotive industry manages to shift, Adams is determined to be in the right gear. 

“I’m positioning myself to remain valuable to them,” he says. “There are very few technicians in the field who have occupational experience with these vehicles.” 

December 2023