Monday, June 30, 2014

#SoCanU: African American Brotherhood chapter helps student succeed after heart attack

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar. Be inspired. :) 

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends? I love taking my dog out whenever it's a nice day out. I often put in my headphones, crank up some good tunes, and let my dog lead the way. Then I relax from there depends on where my dog "takes" me. 

Favorite food/meal? Indian curry and sushi is always a favorite. I remember when I was younger back when I lived in California that nothing hits the spot like a good carne asada burrito.

What made you decide to choose community college? I chose community college because I felt I wasn't quite ready to tackle a four year university. When I was in high school I had a heart attack and was brain dead for a time; I had to deal with a lot of memory loss, and not as bright as I once was, I didn't want to waste my time or money at a four year institution if I didn't know if I had the capacity yet to put forth my best effort.

Were there any obstacles in your life prior to attending community college that you had to overcome? One of my most difficult obstacles to overcome was my arrogance from high school. I assumed since I was smart, if you weren't as smart as me, you weren't worth my time. I missed out on lots of great friendships due to this. 

I was also too proud to ask for help in subjects I struggled in, and instead of getting the help I needed in topics I had issues with, I’d often just struggle through it. 

Another obstacle that I live with every day is my speech impediment. I stutter, and have my whole life, because of this, I’m usually the last to speak. This has improved some over the years, and it gives me the time to think through what I say before I vocalize whatever it is that I’m thinking.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree? My memory is still, by far my largest obstacle I face on a daily basis. I used to be able to read a chapter of a textbook, pull out all of the important tidbits, and remember them. Now, I have to be a bit more creative to help my memory. Flashcards and rewriting my notes helps a lot.

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond? I’d have to say that the most important thing that has helped me in community college is the support networks I’ve found myself becoming a part of. 

My family is first and foremost my greatest stream of support. After them comes my Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) brothers. These are a bunch of guys who inspire me to do better. They’re also like a second family to me. 

I’m honored that for my final semester at TCC, I get to be the president of the Virginia Beach chapter. I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the great instructors and mentors I got a chance to take classes with, work with, and interact with at the various campuses of Tidewater Community College.

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college? Plan and know where you want to be in life. Community college served as an inexpensive means to learn loads of useful information and prepare myself for my next step in my life plan. 

Also, surround yourself with those who have the same or similar goals to your own, who will push you to excel in all it is that you do. This was something that I got out of SAAB, I had brothers with similar education goals, who would push me to do better. We even had a mini competition going at one point to see who could get the best grades for a semester. 

If I was struggling in math, there was someone there to offer assistance who I could relate to. If the person who helped me in math needed help with any of his computer classes, I was there to return the favor. This is part of the things that we’re taught in SAAB is part of our affirmation, “I am my Brother’s Keeper and Together We Will Rise!”

Dexter Givens II will graduate from Tidewater Community College in Fall 2014 and is currently an Education Support Specialist I at Tidewater Community College's Virginia Beach Campus student center. After graduating TCC he plans on completing his bachelor's degree in computer science at Old Dominion University. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

TBT: How to Get a Job Without a Resume

About a year ago I wrote and released a free ebook called How to Get a Job Without a Resume, inspired by some community college graduates who were looking to build their personal brand, as well as the many e-mails I got asking how I got my book published and how I was able to work from home. 

Hope you enjoy the goofball video below, and hope the ebook can be a good summer read to help you start thinking about your online personal brand - you can never start too early!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#SoCanU: Why moms CAN rock college

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar. Be inspired. :) 

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends? Spend time with my kids and husband, read, sing, nap!

Favorite food/meal? Like a true California girl, In-N-Out

What made you decide to choose community college? It was affordable, nearby, and was recommended by several people.

Were there any obstacles in your life prior to attending community college that you had to overcome?  I was born to a single mother with a disability, and I too suffer from social and generalized anxiety disorder. I also became a mother of three living under the poverty line. 

I lacked confidence so I never really thought I was smart enough to be successful in college. 

However through my own experience with social and generalized anxiety I was able to connect to other people with similar issues. I think it has made me more aware of the importance of respect for all types of people. I am still below the poverty line, but now I see a light at the end of the tunnel -- and I have found happiness where I am in life.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?

I lacked confidence and feared failure when at my community college. However, it was through failure that I grew and gained confidence with the help of my mentor. 

When I transferred, the transition was a bit difficult because I was a junior and yet I was brand new. I soon realized that being outside my comfort zone was exactly where I needed to be and made friends with other students like myself as well as traditional students.

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond? My mentor, Dr. McCormick. Without her I wouldn't be where I am today both academically and personally.

What are you most excited about for your future right now? Graduating next spring! But before that, writing my book College Success for Moms and being able to reach out and help moms who want to succeed in college.

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college? Don't give up, don't back down in the face of failure and adversity, rise above your circumstances and beat the odds set against you!

Dianna graduated from Mt. San Antonio College in 2013 and currently attends Cal State Fullerton where she'll graduate with a bachelor's in English. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Pearson Students blog and the founder and writer of

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How to create a lasting edge during your freshman year of community college

Recently I've been spending some time with younger children and teens in a low-income area of my community, and there is a question that's been plaguing me.

How do you help students catch up when they've received a poor K-12 education?

When you're young you don't control where you're born or what school you attend. What happens if you happen to go through life in a school that simply doesn't prepare you for what you hope to accomplish in your future?

Or what if other stressful things occur in your life that make it impossible to focus, study, or develop the habits necessary to learn what you need to learn when you're young? 

What happens when you get to community college and test into remedial courses. Is there hope? 

That's one of the many questions that's been plaguing me lately, and it's one of the reasons I'll be attending Harvard's Institute on Closing the Achievement Gap next week. 

So when I read this quote today by Jeff Nelson, the CEO of OneGoal (an organization that works with students from high school through their freshman year to ensure they graduate college) in How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, I was intrigued:   

See what stands out to you here as Nelson expresses why his program extends into the freshman year of college:

"'Freshman year is this unique moment in time. Kids who have not had to persevere as much walk into college and they coast, for the most part. Or they're partying too hard. And in that moment, if our kids are working diligently and building relationships with professors and studying and using all of the skills that we've trained them to use, they can close the gap.'" (as cited in Tough, 2013, p. 172).

(Did you see that "building relationships with professors" part?! If you've read my book, you know I loved that.) 

What really intrigued me about this is the idea that even if you don't grow up with a lot of money or in an area with a stellar public school system, maybe, just maybe, you can still compete - you can still catch up. You can still succeed. 

Regardless of whether your school failed you or you failed yourself, that doesn't matter as much as what you're going to do about it now. 

I've always believed that there's still hope. 

If Nelson is right, your freshman year can be an opportunity for you to get ahead and compete on the same level as your more affluent peers. 

But here's the thing - you can't coast. 

It may seem unfair. And you know, it is. 

But complaining about the inequality at this point won't do you any good. Focus now on catching up, fighting for the education you want, and then as you build your career maybe you can help fix some of these inequalities that make you have to work so much harder.

The cool thing, though, is that having to work harder and overcome adversity is said to develop some pretty great character traits that can help you succeed in life. Adversity, as Darren Hardy has said, can be an advantage. 

So with that in mind, realize that community college can be your opportunity to catch up, to get better, to get smarter, to compete, and to get the education you need to get where you want to go - wherever that may be. 

You still have a chance at the ivy leagues if that's what you want. Or you can be the absolute best paramedic, police officer, dental hygienist, nurse, or any other of the amazing career programs CC's offer. 

And here's the secret to making that happen, one I break down in my book:

You can't do it alone. 

You must build a community who can support and advise you. And you'll have to work harder than everyone else around you. You'll have to focus. You'll have to invest hours and hours outside the classroom. You'll have to spend tons of time in the tutoring center. You'll have to rewrite and rewrite your essays. You'll have to study like you've never studied before.

You can do it. 

You can not only catch up, but you can even get ahead. You have life experience and insight that no one else has. And if you can couple that with a solid education and develop grit in the process - well then watch out world, because you're going to do big things.

This isn't easy. If it was, we wouldn't have so many college dropouts. And while I care about the statistics and want things to be better for everyone, my main focus has always been you - the student in community college right now. I'm concerned with making sure you have what you need to beat the odds and get where you want to go. 

And it starts your freshman year.

To get started right now, read at least three books this summer on college success to learn strategies that can help you prepare to rock your freshman year and develop a lasting edge. 

Tough, P. (2013). How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. New York: Mariner Books.

Monday, June 23, 2014

#SoCanU Story: A first generation college grad earns six degrees

Inspired by the interest in the #SoCanU project I'll be periodically sharing interviews with some of the contributors so you can be further inspired by where community college can take you.

In these stories you'll find some great advice, obstacles you might be able to relate to, and successes to remind you what is possible.

First up, Don, currently a Programs & Events Coordinator with Maricopa Community Colleges and a graduate of Phoenix College, South Mountain Community College, Ottawa University, and Northern Arizona University. He now has an M.Ed.

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends?
Spend time at home with family and friends.

Favorite food/meal?
Chocolate!!! LOTS of chocolate (LOL) And, Mexican food, especially cheese enchiladas and chile rellenos.

What made you decide to choose community college?
Costs, smaller class sizes (compared to universities) and more one-on-one with instructors.

Were there any obstacles in your life prior to attending community college that you had to overcome? 
Financial hardship, but was hired as a temporary employee at Phoenix College in my second year attending there and it led to being employed into a full-time position shortly after graduating.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?
Being a first-generation college student, and my parents and familia, not familiar with college/university lingo, requirements, etc.

I had to do the whole process on my own and had to "learn the ropes" of how to navigate enrollment, registration, financial aid, etc.

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond?
Having one-on-one time with community college faculty that really helped me with my questions with subject materials and college processes.

What are you most excited about for your future right now?
Hopefully get a job promotion into middle management and pondering a doctorate degree.

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college?
Utilize all the resources available to you to make you become a successful student and graduate. Connect with your instructors and student support services available. And, find mentors to guide and counsel with you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ask Isa: "I feel like community college is going to be the end of the world."

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

I feel like community college is going to be the end of the world and that I'm missing out life. I'm so worried because my best friends are going away and I'm stuck at home going to community college because of money issues.

I'm trying to look on the bright side but its a little hard. Like its going to be so difficult I feel like meeting new people, parties, and just finding new and different opportunities. Basically, that it is definitely going to be a different ballgame.


Worried Future Student

Dear Worried Future Student,

You are the reason this blog exists. 

You are the reason I did the video "Community college isn't 13th grade" (which is my most viewed one, by the way).

Because I know your story. It's my story too

When I started community college I literally cried in the advising office. Bawled my eyes out. Hid in a corner so no one would see. 

Because, like you, I literally felt like it was the end of the world. I felt like I couldn't see where my life was going, and that maybe it wasn't going anywhere. 

My friends were all off at big football-focused public universities or small fancy private schools. 

And, because of money, I was still 15 minutes away from home. I went to class. And then I went home. I went to class, and then I went home.

But then - someone in a class invited me to a club meeting. 

I went to the meeting. 

I became an officer.

I kept coming to meetings.

I eventually became president.

The single best advice I can give you right now (aside from reading my book! ;)) is to join a club at your community college. 

Look on your CC's website right now and try to find a "student life" or "campus life" page and see if the clubs and club contact information are listed. If not, find the e-mail or phone number for the student activities office and go meet with the director ASAP. 

When you meet, be honest with him or her just as you have been with me. Express your fears, and ask for advice. Share your interests and ask about the most active clubs on campus. Ask about open officer positions. And then JUMP in. 

Attend meetings. Get to know the current officers. Express your desire to get involved.

The single best way to build a community at your community college is to get involved in a club. If you don't click with any active on campus, start your own. 

This is the best way to find friends, plan parties and events on campus, build valuable resume experience, and have a great time. Community college can offer a TON of rich experiences (many also offer study abroad which I highly recommend) but it's up to YOU to seek those opportunities out.

They are there, but they won't hold your hand and drag you to them. You have to get involved, meet lots of people, and not give up. 

Most of all, never just go to class and go home. Make your college your community. Get to know it. Visit all the resources (tutoring, career center, library, student life office, etc.) and invest in a club you really care about. 

If I could have told my crying-self something all those years ago I would have told her this:

It's not the end of the world. It's only the beginning. And where you go to college doesn't matter as much as the effort you put into it. Make this the best time of your life, and make the most of this opportunity. It's one many never even get. 

Community college changed my life. It opened up SO many new and exciting opportunities (I went on my first airplane for a community college trip), and it can do the same for you. It's just up to you to go for it and grab them. Get out of your comfort zone. And meet LOTS of people. 

Opportunities happen through relationships. (And for tips on how to build those relationships check out my book.)

Good luck and continue to check this blog and my YouTube channel for advice as you continue your journey. 

I have a lot of faith in you. Reaching out to this blog and taking action to ask for advice says A LOT of good things about you. You have what it takes to make this experience life changing. Go for it. I believe in you. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The mentoring gap

It started out like any other typical Saturday night. 

My husband and I went out to dinner. We ate (too many) chips with salsa before our meal came. We talked. We laughed. We enjoyed the outdoor Florida nighttime air. 

Our meals came, and as we ate I couldn't help but overhear the conversation at the table right next to us. (I promise I wasn't being weird and nosy, but, you know, when you're just eating and not talking outside and there's no music, you can't help but hear what's going on around you.) 

From what I heard, it was clearly a mom, a dad, and a young man home for the summer from college. They were just having a nice family dinner, just like I was. But something was very different about their family dinner than any I'd ever encountered. 

After spending so many years immersed with low-income and first generation students, I'd forgotten this other world. 

During the course of a simple Saturday dinner, this young man was given a wealth of advice and support from his parents regarding college and his future.

The purpose of the dinner was not to lecture him. It wasn't to discuss his future. It just sort of happened, naturally, in between laughs and talk of other things.

By the time I was halfway through eating my mac-and-chorizo the dad had already related what medical school was like and how he got through it, and the mom was reminding her son why he had earlier decided he didn't want to be a lawyer. Both parents then gave him some advice and leads for his internship plans for this summer and next summer. 

In short, they had a very positive mentoring session. 

It was also obvious that this was a high income family. They talked about the young man's high school - the best private school in my area. The dad was a doctor. These were wealthy people, and this was an example of what a casual saturday night could look like in a high income family.

I saw these relationships all the time when I was a private SAT/ACT tutor. It wasn't just about parents who cared - I had parents who cared. And I would imagine wealth doesn't automatically make you a caring parent.

This was something different. It was parents who cared and who'd been there. They had this vast well of knowledge to draw from and pass along to their kid. A cycle of wealth. A cycle of success.

I spent most of my time thinking about how to create these similar relationship exchanges to help break the cycles of poverty that are all around us. 

I got in the car that night and said to my husband, almost teary-eyed, "how do you compete with that?"

And by "you" I meant of course all the students who don't have those kinds of Saturday-night mentoring sessions with their strongest role models - their parents. 

But here's the thing, I think you can compete. These types of conversations are vital to success, but it's okay if you don't happen to have them in your family.

That is where I believe other crucial support systems come in. Teachers, mentors, professors, school staff, college staff, non-profit staff, etc. That is why I'm constantly emphasizing those relationships and conversations in my speeches

We need the formal stuff, the systems, the processes, the programs, all that - but we also need to remember the importance of those informal one-on-one conversations. The moments where you can talk about what you want to do with your life, what's going on in your life, and have someone who cares about you and who has some experience help you figure things out. 

And not just once, but often, consistently. 

We all need this. I still need it! I was just on the phone with an important mentor in my life last week asking for advice. 

I wrote my book so that I could give community college students the tools to ensure that no matter where they come from they can build that community of success. 

There is a mentoring gap. But it's not too late to fill it. 

And I for one am thankful to all the unsung heroes out there who are having conversations like the one I heard that Saturday night, with students who, while they may not be their sons or daughters, are treated like they are anyway. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ask Isa: "Can you succeed in college while working full time?"

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

I just graduated from high school and I plan on going to community college. During my sophomore year of high school my dad got deported and that led me and my mom to have a financial burden. 

In my senior year of high school, I worked 30 or more hours a week so I could help my mom with bills and etc. The reason I chose community college is because I need to work full time so I could help my mom pay rent. 

However, I know being a full time student and having a full time job will be extremely difficult but I also do not want to take a long time just to finish community college. Is it possible to go to college full time and work full time? Do I have any options?



Dear Pessimistic,

First of all I am so sorry to hear about your dad. You sound like an incredible and brave person. I admire the work you're doing to help out your mom, and I'm so happy to hear you've decided to attend community college and get your education.

To answer your question right away: YES. It is possible to go to college full time and work full time.

But - you are right in that it is extremely difficult. I've heard many more cases of students who drop out and get poor grades who're working full time while going to college than I have of those who've done it successfully.

I don't say that to bum you out, but I want you to know the truth, because you seem to already understand how difficult this will be. 

You asked if it was impossible. And it's not. But in order to make it possible it will take an incredibly amount of not just effort, but strategy.

Here are some things I want you to consider that I hope will help:

1) Remember that the sooner you get your education the sooner you'll have the capacity to make much more money to help out your mom than you will with the kinds of jobs you can get now. When it comes to having to choose between work and school, as much as possible for you, choose school. 

2) Check out and research some of the careers you're interested in. You need a solid plan. Think about what it is you really want to do and what kind of education you'll need to get there. 

3) Sit down with your mom and show her some of the career profiles on that interest you, especially the salary projections. You'll need your mom as a partner in this, so let her know what you're trying to accomplish both for yourself and for her. As much as possible you'll want to be in this together and you'll want her to understand why you'll be studying so hard and why sometimes you might need to work less for a longer-term payoff. 

4) Find a job that will support your college success. This is more possible than you might think. The best job I had in college was being a nanny. I actually found the job through my community college career center (a place you should visit ASAP to ask for help in finding a job that will meet your financial and college goals). 

I was a nanny after-school on evenings and on weekends, and it was the best job in college I could've ever asked for. It's really great if you can find a family who needs a nanny or babysitter for late-night outings, as then you're able to do your homework after the kids go to bed. 

Putting together a few part-time jobs that will be flexible with your college schedule can also be an option. Working on campus is also a great way to stay connected to the college while making some money - look into work study options as well as positions at the tutoring center. 

Be creative and dedicate yourself to setting up the right situation that will allow you to make the money you need while still putting your education first. 

5) You'll have to become a master of time management. If you're going to work full time and go to school full time you'll probably have to say "no" to doing almost anything else. And you'll need to make sure you set aside dedicated time for studying while still making sure you sleep at night. I recommend looking for a good time management book at the library and brush up on your skills. 

6) Do monthly check-ins with yourself, your professors, and your grades. Constantly re-evaluate if your plan is working. You'll know it's working if you're getting the best grades you know you're capable of (which is probably all A's) and you're feeling energized and excited. If you're feeling overwhelmed and overburdened ask your professors and advisors and the career center for advice. There are always creative solutions to make it work - just don't try to do this alone. 

7) Ask around for great jobs. Sometimes the best jobs come through who you know. Tell everyone you can about what you're trying to accomplish; you never know who will know someone who knows someone who can give you the kind of job(s) that can help you make money and reach your college goals. 

8) Find someone who's worked full time while going to college to ask their advice. Ask around in your classes or ask your advisors if they know anyone who has done it successfully. You'll definitely want to find a mentor who can give you monthly advice as well as tips on how to make this work. 

(If someone is reading this right now who successfully went to school full time while working full time please add your comments below with your tips and advice for this reader!)

9) Remember scholarships and loans are also an option. Work doesn't always have to be the only way to make the money you need for rent. Don't scoff at loans if you think they'll allow you to work less, get better grades, and graduate faster. Also remember that the better you do in school (and the more time you have to get involved in leading clubs and other activities) the better chance you have at winning scholarships.

If you plan on transferring to a 4-year university consider the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer scholarship. Read books on getting scholarships and make that a job as well. When you can get enough scholarships they'll not only pay for tuition but also give you extra money for room and board that you can apply to rent if you're not living on campus. 

10) Find a mentor. I know I've mentioned this already but I want to leave you with this thought. Get to know EVERYONE you can at your college. Ask them for advice, be open and honest about your situation and what you're trying to accomplish. They will want to help you figure this out. 

This will be hard and it cannot be done alone. You will need an entire community and it's up to you to build it. What I would hate is for you to do this alone. It won't work. 

Instead, visit all your professors during office hours and ask for their advice. Visit the career center often and get to know a career counselor there who might be able to become your mentor.

Ask for advice about this from everyone you can at the college and keep asking advice of whomever you really connect with. That's all a mentor really is - someone you admire who you can ask advice from and who's advice helps you reach your goals. 

Thanks so much for reaching out and of course feel free to continue reading this blog as well as check out my YouTube channel for more advice that I hope will help you on this exciting journey.

You can do this. 



Monday, June 2, 2014

3 Steps to Master Anything Fast

I've learned something about myself in the past two years since I graduated from graduate school:

I'm obsessed with learning. 

It's like a fire that I can't quench; every book I read just makes me want to read more. 

I miss formal schooling every day, but I'm thankful that my education taught me how to learn so I can continue the journey on my own.

As I've been learning on my own for years now, today I thought I should share with you my strategy for mastering new topics as fast as possible.

The steps below have become almost like breathing to me, and when I consider how far I've come, I know I owe a lot to these strategies and my insatiable curiosity.

What interests me most is equity, education, communication, and social issues. 

What about you?

What is something you really want to learn more about right now?

Your learning desire could be about ANYTHING. Maybe you're like me and there's a social problem that just burns you up and you want to do something about it. Or maybe there's an idea you're curious about, an academic subject you want to get better at, a career you want to explore, a relationship you want to improve, or a new adventure you want to prepare for.

The only rule is that it has to be something you want to learn because it genuinely interests you. 

What is coming to your mind right now? 

Below are three things you can do to ensure that your learning journey is not only worthwhile, but also an amazing adventure that pushes your life closer to where you want it to go:

1) Read
I can't underestimate the power of reading. Today there are books on almost every nuanced subject imaginable. It's kind of amazing.

You'll be blown away by how your life can change and what you can learn by checking out a bunch of books on the subject at the library and/or buying some books yourself. 

Buying books on something you want to learn is always a good investment.

Action step 1: search for a book right now on your local library's website or on what you want to learn. Pick one for this week and then start reading. 

2) Find someone who knows
My book is all about mentorship; one of the quickest and best ways to learn something is to find a mentor who is already an expert in what you want to know or has done what it is you want to do.

Look for these people. Use your social networks. Be bold. And ask to meet in person or talk on the phone for fifteen minutes to ask your burning questions.

Just show your authentic desire to learn and express why you're interested in them and what they know/do, and trust me, they'll be more than happy to share.

Action step 2: Email someone who knows or does what it is you want to learn more about and ask to chat for fifteen minutes (if you don't know anyone, tell your mentors, family, friends, professors and anyone else you can about what you're trying to learn and ask if they know anyone who might be able to help). 

3) Get up close and personal
Getting more exposure to whatever you want to learn will teach you so much; there is nothing like personal, immersive experience. It's why most people say the best way to learn a new language is to spend time in a country where that language is spoken. 

Take that bold step and volunteer at, intern at, or visit a place that will give you a deeper understanding of what you're trying to learn. 

The internet is great, but it's not the best teacher. Experiencing what you want to learn more about in person will teach you so much more.

Be brave and invest yourself in some kind of new experience that will give you first-hand understanding of whatever it is you're trying to learn more about. 

Action step 3: Look online right now for some kind of opportunity that would help you get closer to what you are trying to learn about. This can also be a good question to ask a mentor who knows a lot about what you're trying to learn. 

I hope this helps; happy learning! :)