April 2, 2014

Waiting to graduate
Many students support themselves through college by working in restaurants
By Dino Moreno


It is not uncommon for students to have a job while attending college. College of Marin students are no exception.

I personally have been one of those students.  One of the most popular choices  among college students has been working in the restaurant industry.

Whether it be bartending, waiting tables, bussing, or food running, it has helped pay for school and rent while students make their way through college.  Sure there are other jobs that can be chosen, but what job is more flexible and consistent than working in the restaurant business?

“It’s the most lucrative and flexible job.  There is no way I can work a nine to five job and attend school full time,” says Katrina Wallace, a pre-nursing student at COM and also a server. “It’s really convenient to have cash in hand instead of paychecks.  I am able to pick up shifts if I need to, or give them up if I have too much going on.  If I am really busy with homework, I can give my shift to another co-worker and have time off to work on school.”

While most students take classes during the day, there are some students that take classes at night.  “I am able to get days off during the week and I can choose whether or not I work the lunch or dinner shift,” said James a 23-year-old busser who attends Berkeley City College and has classes that go until eight o’clock at night.  “I also like the fact that I get cash tips at the end of my shift.  I don’t like waiting every pay period to have cash.”

While having the advantage of choosing your schedule and having cash at the end of your shift may sound great, there are disadvantages to working in the restaurant business as well.

“Sometimes I don’t get off until really late at night and I don’t get a lot of sleep before I have class the next day,” said Elisa Miranda a 26-year-old server who attends Foothill College.  “Sometimes I get scheduled and can’t get rid of my shift which limits my study time.”

There are other disadvantages that come with working in the restaurant industry.  Wallace also noted, “Sometimes I don’t make consistent money.  The business can be seasonal. January thru March is pretty slow and I am not guaranteed to make money or have shifts to work. I also get stuck working on holiday weekends or school breaks when it is busiest in the restaurant.”

As an employee who recieves gratuities/tips, generally you are paid minimum wage and need to rely on tips.  Unlike many nine to five jobs where you may be paid a higher wage, as a tipped employee you work to make your money.  James also said “Depending on the week or the season some days are slower or months also.  I usually get about four to five shifts if it is busy, but sometimes three if it’s slow.  I also don’t like smelling like food when I am done,” he joked.

While working in the restaurant industry has it’s perks for students, it also has it’s downfalls.  Juggling a job in the restaurant industry and attending school can be stressful.  It’s a lot of work and long hours, but the money can be quick and easy to make. Next time you are dining at a restaurant and the bill comes to the table, know that the server helping you could be working to pay their tuition, and literally waiting to graduate.

Spring Break: COM students are not part of “party culture”
By Johnny McEvoy

Spring break is near, so don’t let work hold you back from having a good time.

Spring break is near, so don’t let work hold you back from having a good time.

Have big plans for spring break? Well then you might be part of the minority here at College of Marin. We all think of spring break as how it is portrayed in movies and TV shows, with big parties, trips to the beach, or exciting adventures. Unfortunately that does not seem to be the case for most COM students.

Many of our COM students cannot go away for a variety of reasons. Some have jobs that they cannot get enough time off from, some have families they are raising, while others cannot afford a trip. Whatever the reason, our students seem to be less likely to have spring break plans than other colleges.

When asked about his spring break plans, Simon Gibbs, an art student here at COM, simply said, “I have absolutely no plans for spring break.”

This seemed to be the general consensus around the school, as the biggest spring break plan a student had talked about was a picnic in the park.

When asked why he thought our students did not seem to have the big spring break plans we all dream about, Greg Donals, communications major, said, “There is just no party culture here at College of Marin like there is at other schools.”

Wendy Barbero, COM student and former San Diego State University student, is currently experiencing exactly what Donals is talking about. Barbero took a week-long trip to Maui with her boyfriend during her spring break at SDSU. This year however, her plans are a little different.

“My parents are leaving me to go to Tahoe so I can stay home and have no social life,” said Barbero.

Many students spoke about the lack of a social life here at COM. When asked about it, Greg Turnquist, student of the COM EMT program said, “Most people just come here to attend their classes then go home. They aren’t here for the social life.”

Bigger schools such as state universities and UC’s seem to be what Donals is referring to, but even other junior colleges in California seem to have the “party culture” that he refers to. Community colleges such as Santa Barbara Community College, Cuesta College, and even Santa Rosa Junior College all have what COM students seem to be craving.

COM business major, Chris Ahmadia, said that for spring break during his year at Cuesta, he and some buddies took a road trip down to San Diego. This year, however, Ahmadia says he cannot go away for spring break because he cannot get enough time off work.

So do not feel bad if you have no big plans this April, you are not alone. That is no excuse to sit around and do nothing. If you have the means and the free time, get out there and experience the spring break you have always wanted.

Super Bowl XLVIII was totally for the birds
Relatively speaking, Super Bowl XLVIII was not so super
By Shirley Beaman

Student Shirley Beaman attended Super Bowl XLVIII, courtesy of nephew Sione Fua.

Student Shirley Beaman attended Super Bowl XLVIII, courtesy of nephew Sione Fua.

The confetti was the wrong color.  This wasn’t what I pictured at all.  I’m at Super Bowl XLVIII, with a ticket my nephew generously provided for me as a gift, and we lost.  How did we lose? And not just lose, LOSE. This. Can’t. Be. Right.  We lost so badly, it was boring to watch. It was so boring, in fact, that I left after the third quarter to charge my cell phone.

Who would have dreamed that the most entertaining aspect of Super Bowl 48 would go down in sports history as the halftime show.  Thank you, Bruno Mars, Flea, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for rescuing my first official Super Bowl experience.

After the Seahawks’ Percy Harvin ran a kickoff return for 87 yards, a touchdown and a 29-0 lead in the third quarter for the Seahawks, I couldn’t take it anymore. The game was too painful to even watch. I knew I was upset because I had lost my appetite.  I’m Polynesian.  We never lose our appetites.

I should give a little background information to my sports-sob story. I was in New York doing some freelance work for ESPN during the week leading up to the Super Bowl this year.  It was a great week to be in Manhattan.  Aside from the large crowds, there was an excitement in the air leading up to the big game.

People were excited to see a Super Bowl that was kind of a throwback to the old-school games, played outside, in the elements. A portion of Times Square was blocked off and allocated Super Bowl Boulevard in honor of the big game. It drew huge crowds and a highlight was a toboggan run  located in the center of Times Square and down Broadway.

It was a colder-than-usual winter in New York during the week prior to the game.  There were concerns that there might be a snowstorm in New Jersey on the weekend of the game.

In the ESPN Super Bowl office, there was a lot of interesting insight as to how the game might play out. But one thing was for sure: the number-one offense and the number-one defense in the country were about to go head-to-head in a matter of days, and it was sure to be a great game.

As fate would have it, one of my nephews, Sione Fua, was a member of the Denver Broncos.  At 6’1”, 290 pounds, Fua was a State CIF heavyweight wrestling champion out of high school.  He chose Stanford over offers from Cal, Oregon, and BYU. As a lineman at Stanford, and one of three co-captains, he played alongside Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) and Richard Sherman (Seahawks), and refined his game under the tutelage of 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh.  Fua graduated from Stanford with a degree in Science, Technology, and Society, and was picked up in the third round of the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Sione Fua’s untimely injury prevented his Super Bowl debut.

Sione Fua’s untimely injury prevented his Super Bowl debut.

The Panthers released him in November of last year, and when the Broncos added him to their team, I was ecstatic. And as the stars in the sports universe aligned, the Broncos made it all the way to the big game, and I just happened to be working there that very same week.

Things started to go south when an ESPN editor informed me that my nephew may have sustained an injury during pre-Super Bowl practices.  Upon speaking with George Fua, Sione’s father, I learned that Sione had indeed hurt his calf muscle and that he wouldn’t be playing in the game at all.  I couldn’t believe it, I was crushed.  I’m not sure who was more upset, him or me.  Here he was, poised to play in possibly the most important game of his career, and he was injured.

I couldn’t help but be sad for him, because I knew he would want to contribute.  There’s nothing worse than watching from the sidelines, wanting to help, but not being able to.  I know this because I’m a fan, and what fans do is live vicariously through their favorite players. His calf injury would prove to be a harbinger of things to come.

Game day was finally upon us, and I was grateful to be able to ride with the families of the players from Manhattan to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where the actual game was being played.  The atmosphere was exciting.  Parents, spouses, friends, and children of the athletes donned the jerseys of their favorite players.

There was face paint galore.  People on the streets of New York City were wearing beanies, baseball caps, bright orange feather boas, and even mittens in the colors of their favorite teams.  Some fans had their hair colored to match whichever team they were rooting for.  It was a competitively fun atmosphere.

Game day was amazing, at first.  Some fans, after paying an average single-ticket price of $2,616, also had the headache of paying the $50 fee to get to MetLife Stadium from Manhattan.  I was spared this expense because the Broncos provided a fleet of chartered busses for family members.  Being related to a player has its perks.

We were bussed from the hotel, to the players’ hotel in Jersey, where a fabulous, all-you-can-eat brunch awaited us. This aspect of the experience made me very happy.

In the hallway leading up to the brunch, there were swag stations, where we scored free bags, game towels, necklaces, stickers, pins, pom-poms,  and all manner of Broncos cheering paraphernalia.  There were sign making stations, where we indulged ourselves. GO BRONCOS! GO SIONE FUA, #98!! WE LOVE YOU!

After a delicious brunch buffet, we were again shuttled for free, but this time to MetLife Stadium, the venue for the game.  After noticing the stadium and lack of cars therein – tailgating was strictly prohibited – I immediately noticed one of the longest lines I had ever seen.  It was the line for security screening.

Thank goodness for the friends-and-family line! We got in quickly after passing through metal detectors and a bag search.  Once inside, I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that we not only had good seats, we had great seats. “We” were a small band of family members who were there to cheer Sione on in the biggest game of his football career.  His parents, George and Helen Fua, his brother Alani and his wife Malaysia, and Sione’s wife, Ivy, and myself made up the official Sione Fua cheering section at the Super Bowl.

We were in the fourth row. “Warm Welcome” seat cushions awaited us.  Inside each seat cushion was a “neck gator,” ear muffs, lip balm, a muffler, handwarmers, texting gloves (in case we wanted to text on our iPhones without the inconvenience of removing our gloves), packs of tissues, and a drink sleeve.  Also included was an FM radio that allowed fans to listen to the live FOX television broadcast, and ESPN Deportes Radio, as well as in-game PA announcements.

Movie stars and famous athletes were milling around the sidelines at what seemed to be just an arms length from us.  It was selfie city.  Everyone in the crowd was taking pictures, and even Queen Latifah was taking pictures of herself with the crowd as a backdrop.  It was nothing short of entertaining.

When we arrived inside the stadium, it was a lot warmer than what we expected.  There was no snow storm that day, in fact it was a balmy 50 degrees.  It felt like Bay Area weather.  I even took my jacket off for a spell.

Joe Namath didn’t disappoint when he appeared in a mink coat for the official pre-game coin toss.  I don’t even remember who won the toss, “Broadway’s”  coat had my full attention.  World-renowned lyric soprano opera singer and four-time Grammy Award Winner, Renee Fleming, then sang the National Anthem, followed immediately by a fleet of Apache Attack helicopters, Blackhawks, and Chinooks from the 101 Airborne Division flying overhead.

Fireworks were in abundance that warm, 40-degree night. You could feel the excitement and electricity in the air. This bucket list experience was shaping up to be more than I expected!

Still, I couldn’t help but feel sad for my nephew who wasn’t able to play due to his calf injury that he sustained just days prior.

We settled in, it was finally game time.  And then…and then…nothing.  Play after play, snap after snap, there didn’t seem to be anything to cheer for – unless you were cheering for the Seahawks. It was like a deflating balloon, that took a really long time to deflate.

Although actors and athletes alike, including Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Strahan seemed to be meandering around the sidelines yards away from us, we were oddly unaffected.  Because we had nothing to cheer about.   The game was dismally sad.  Honestly, losing is OK if you put up a good fight.  That’s what fans are there to see, the good fight.  But losing like that was horrible.  It felt like, why did I bother showing up if Peyton Manning didn’t?

The prospect of seeing the number one offense (Denver) and the number one defense (Seattle) battle it out on the field was exciting. Add to that the fact that both the Broncos and the Seahawks were seeded number one in their respective divisions, it seemed like an inevitably super Super Bowl. Theoretically, it should have been a fantastic game.

As it turns out, we were on the wrong side of sports history on Sunday, February 2, 2014.  And to top it all off, it was my birthday.  What a birthday. Happy birthday to me.  The only thing sadder than the game was the chartered bus ride back to the hotel with the rest of the Broncos’ friends and family.  You could have heard a pin drop, it was so quiet.  I mean library quiet.  Funeral quiet.  What do you say? Apparently, nothing at all.  You take a nap and thank God it’s all over.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ungrateful. I have a lot to be thankful for.  I had a great week in New York, punctuated by a couple of Broadway plays and the ESPN The Magazine party.  Let me just add both Kendrick Lamar and Robin Thicke are great live performers, as are Bruno Mars, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

But, if you’re any kind of sports fan, like I am, then you can’t help but be disappointed by the game itself – or the lack thereof.  There’s no reason to feel bad for the team that loses because, hey – at the end of the day, they lost at the Super Bowl.  The fact that they made it that far is not only commendable, it’s truly something to be proud of and celebrate.

That’s why I was so excited about attending Super Bowl XLVIII.  Not only was I going to be there, but my nephew’s team was playing.  I couldn’t have been a prouder Aunt.

I’ve been cheering at my nephew’s football games since his Stanford days. Our family also cheered proudly at the Panthers/49ers game last year as we watched our Bay Area son playing at Candlestick Park.

In November of last year, when I received the news that Sione was no longer with the Panthers, but was now playing for the Broncos, I remembered thinking that he might, if the team continues to play well, have a shot at playing in a Super Bowl.  Well, he did.  Sometimes in life, we’ve got to be happy with having a shot.  And as long as you always give it your best shot, there are no regrets.  This is the dynamic of sports, and why true fans stay with their favorite players and/or favorite teams through the wins and the losses.

So I wasn’t bowled over with delight at the outcome, my team lost. And the game wasn’t super for me because, well, my team lost. But I’ll always have the experience – cross another major sporting event off my bucket list, not to mention the fact that I got a $1,500 ticket for free from my nephew who got to say his team made it to the Super Bowl. Thank you, Sione, for taking me along for the ride!

December 18, 2013

A native Samoan son returns to his roots
By Shirley Beaman

Samoa is a group of twelve islands in the South Pacific. They lie about 4,200 miles southwest of San Francisco, and were once called the “Navigator’s Islands”. The islands cover an area of 1,200 square miles and have a population of about 60,000 people.

Samoa is a group of twelve islands in the South Pacific. They lie about 4,200 miles southwest of San Francisco, and were once called the “Navigator’s Islands”. The islands cover an area of 1,200 square miles and have a population of about 60,000 people.

Those who follow American Football may know that there is a disproportionately high percentage of Samoan football players in the NFL.  American Samoa is a U.S. territory, and its government is under the supervision of the United States Navy.  Samoa does not have a written constitution, however they do have a House of Representatives, styled after their American counterparts.

Prior to this year, Ren Beck had never been to Samoa, homeland of the biological father  he has never met.  Raised in Marin by his mother and stepfather, Beck says he wanted to visit Samoa, “to know more about my family history. I never got the chance to know my biological father, so to get a chance to meet his father and know our family history was something I could not pass up.”

Beck took advantage of his summer break this year by going on a two-week vacation to Samoa.  From a traditional kava ceremony, to hiking the treacherous trail up to world renowned author Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave sight, to experiencing some of the most beautiful geography in the South Pacific, he says Savai’i is breathtakingly beautiful and he packed a lot of living into his trip.

Beck was surprised how difficult it was to get to where he was going.  Beck and his five cousins flew 13 hours to Auckland, New Zealand, spent 12 hours there on a layover, then caught another four-hour flight to Apia, Western Samoa.  Among many other interesting things, Beck learned that his paternal grandfather grew up in Western Samoa, holds a fa’amatai, or chiefly title, for two villages near Apia, and was instrumental in founding the St. Joseph University in Western Samoa. He also got to meet his grandfather’s brother, Albert Wendt, who is a “famous writer of Samoan culture and stories.”

Ren Beck and his grandfather met each other for the first time during Beck’s visit to Samoa.

Ren Beck and his grandfather met each other for the first time during Beck’s visit to Samoa.

“I was curious to find out who I was, where my family came from, what role they played in this foreign country, and to get to know my grandfather, the patriarch of our family,” Beck said. Regarding his relationship with the biological father he’s never met, he added, “I never met my father but have gotten to know all his siblings. He has never felt ready to meet me because he has his own family now. In fact I learned that he sort of cut himself off from his extended family because I was meeting them for the first time and I assume he felt they sided with me instead of waiting for him to be ready to meet his long lost son.”

Beck says the trip was a sort of self discovery for him. “I have always had this feeling that if you can’t learn who you are through your family, that the next best thing is to go where they are from…Upon landing in Apia I immediately felt welcomed by the sight of other Polynesian people around me.”

This was one of the things he thought about as he retraced the steep and difficult  journey his ancestors took when they carried the deceased body of author Robert Louis Stevenson up to his final resting place on Mount Vaea.  The trail zigzags up the side of a mountain, where the path gets “so narrow at one point,  you have to use a rope to pull yourself up a dusty portion where there is no sure footing.” With 74 percent humidity and 84 degree weather added to the equation,  it’s a testament to the physical strength and indomitable will of the Samoan people who carried a 200 pound casket on their backs, even before there was a trail.

”It’s amazing how things were done in those times,” Beck said.

The Polynesian cultures of the South Pacific are steeped in deep rooted tradition and ceremony, some aspects of which have significance that is centuries old. The  kava ceremony  is an example of this. This is a tradition that the Samoans share with most of their Polynesian neighbors, like the Fijians and Tongans. Kava has served an important role in maintaining and expressing the social organization and material culture of Polynesian peoples.  A kava ceremony is done for several reasons. One of its purposes can be to welcome a visitor. In Ren Beck’s case, it’s to welcome a son who is coming home for the first time.

October 4, 2013

Single mom balances school and work
By Rachel Mouton

Rachel Mouton, a business major at College of Marin, has her hands full with three boys between the ages of seven months and seven years.

Rachel Mouton, a business major at College of Marin, has her hands full with three boys between the ages of seven months and seven years.

Being a single parent and a full-time student is not easy. There is so much juggling required. At times, it’s overwhelming. I have three boys – a 7-year old, a 2-year old and a 6-month-old. I’m also a full-time student here. I work two part-time jobs on and off campus. In a way, I’m lucky. I have my own place, a car to get to and from work, my oldest is in school, and I’ve got daycare for my two youngest. But sometimes it’s hard to keep up with bills when there is only one income. I made the decision to attend College of Marin to better myself and get my degree for the sake of my children. I felt I needed something behind my name to separate me from people who are willing to work $8-an-hour jobs without a degree.

I always remind my oldest son, “If you start something, finish it!” Now I’m officially enrolled in school, and I’m excited as ever to finish. It’s a fresh start.

Since I am a single mother I have been provided with resources on campus to help me further my education and career at College of Marin. I know at times not everything will run smoothly, but the people that have been helping me, from teachers to counselors to students, have become my support system. The staff are friendly and make me feel welcome and good about myself. They make me feel like I can achieve, and I know that I will.

I found out about a program on campus called Extended Opportunity Programs and Services. It provides resources to help me and others through college. I’m lucky to have access to this resource because my two jobs alone can’t even buy the books that I need for this semester, and that’s where EOPS steps in. EOPS also helps me with transportation costs, childcare, tutoring and so much more. All I had to do was apply.

As a single mother juggling school, work, and children, I have been trying to stay on top of things. I write a to-do list   every week and schedule time to spend with my children, doing homework and other activities. Everyone is in bed no later than 8:30 and then I have some time to myself to clean and do homework. At first it was hard balancing school and home life. I would have to leave classes early to pick up my youngest two from daycare because I was only entitled to so many hours. But I’m getting everything on a smooth path and excited for the current and coming semesters.

I’m happy for the opportunity to go back to school and experience a new campus. This is my second go around with college and being a single parent. I am not going to let this opportunity pass me up. I’m willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to finally accomplish my goal, not only for myself, but for my children. I thank my counselors for helping me with my educational plan, because before coming back to school I felt discouraged and unsure of myself. Now I feel confident and like I can achieve anything. Besides being solely a scholastic student at COM, I’m hoping to try out for the woman’s basketball team in the coming semesters.

Being at the College of Marin and being productive has helped me to do better as both a person and a parent. I’m looking forward to my continuing education, and to the better life that it promises.

September 20, 2013

The benefits of globalizing education:
Why international students are a hot commodity in today’s higher education landscape
By Brady Meyring

International student orientation, pictured, in front of COM’s new Science, Math, and Nursing building. Financially, foreign students help support the institution’s bottom line by paying out-of-state tuition and additional fees.

International student orientation, pictured, in front of COM’s new Science, Math, and Nursing building. Financially, foreign students help support the institution’s bottom line by paying out-of-state tuition and additional fees.

The construction and renovation of campus structures is not the only recent building project at College of Marin. Since 2011, Director of International Education Dr. Jason Lau has led the effort to establish a vibrant and strong international student program at the college. “We are growing and improving” he comments. “‘If you build it, they will come.’”

Globalization is oft-maligned on U.S. campuses, however, the American higher education system has benefited from a massive and continuing influx of international students. In the mid-1950s there were around just 35,000 international students in the U.S. By 2012, that number was up to 764,495.

International students are a hot commodity into today’s higher education landscape. Financially, these students support the institution’s bottom line by paying out-of-state tuition and, frequently, additional fees. More importantly though, their perspectives in the classroom and cultural contributions to college life are viewed as essential to a 21st century education.

College of Marin is no exception in recognizing the benefits of boosting international student enrollment. In Spring 2013, around 100 international students attended either the Intensive English Program (IEP) in Indian Valley or credit classes in Kentfield. This number represents 5% of the total student population and according to Dr. Lau, in 5 years “we probably will double, if not triple, in size.”

International students are attracted to COM for many of the same reasons as local students. Typically, smaller classes, a more intimate campus experience and cheaper tuition. On the other hand, community colleges are less recognized abroad and most offer no on-campus housing, a significant hurdle for students relocating from overseas. In 2012, only 11% of all university-level international students in the U.S. were enrolled in community colleges.

How can schools like College of Marin compete with larger four-year institutions with well-established international programs, more facilities and larger budgets? One answer is support services and social activities for students. International students may be attracted to the quality of a college’s programs but they also want to feel connected and supported while they are here. Under the direction of Dr. Lau, himself a former international student from Hong Kong, COM is seeking to develop initiatives to achieve these objectives. “Our goal is to create a home away from home for our international students so they feel safe and are able to enjoy and engage both inside and outside the classroom.”

The international friendship program matches international students with a local family willing to share a monthly activity with a student. This program requires a minimal commitment from the “host” family but can give an international student a one-of-a-kind insider look at American life and customs.

Another program set to begin running soon is the conversation partners program. Currently, students seeking one-on-one peer language exchange use a bulletin board located next to the tutoring center to make connections. The new program will be coordinated by the International Education Office and should run much more efficiently. Students are asked to commit to one semester of meeting weekly for an hour of informal language and cultural exchange.

The first steps in forming a friendship between an American and an international student can be especially tricky. However, making the effort can greatly impact the overall experience of an international student. “It is important for our international students to get engaged and actively participate in school and local activities.” remarks Dr. Lau. “Really, this is the only way to get to know the school and meet new friends.” The International Society Club is a social organization designed to facilitate this process and is open to all students. Those who join can expect to develop new friendships while hiking on Mt. Tam, playing volleyball or frisbee golf, watching movies and participating in internationally-focused events.

Marin County is a beautiful, safe area close to some of the most appealing transfer possibilities in the nation. Moreover, the only other destination for international students in the county is Dominican University. With sustained vision and effort, COM has the potential to become, sooner rather than later, the North Bay’s hub for international students. In the process, valuable global competency will be added to the education of all students.

May 13, 2013

From Marin to the Boston Ballet and back
By Austin Bodek

Bodek signed a one-year contract with the Boston Ballet in the summer of 2009.

Bodek signed a one-year contract with the Boston Ballet in the summer of 2009.

When I was seven years old I decided that I wanted to be a ballerina. I begged and pleaded to my parents for  ballet lessons, and one day I got just that. When the music began, I felt every cell in my body buzz with excitement. Although I was only a small child, I knew in that moment I had discovered my passion, and that I would do anything to become a professional ballet dancer.

So for the next 12 years, while my friends went to movies and parties, I trained 6-7 days a week on blistered toes so that I could achieve my dream. After one year of high school, I decided it was in my best interest to enroll in the independent study program at Independence High in order to fully dedicate my time to training at the San Francisco Ballet School.

I rushed through my school classes, with little regard to grades or the thought of college. With envious eyes, I watched my friends socialize and enjoy the ‘high school experience’. I didn’t go to my senior prom because of a performance the next day, and my graduation was nothing more than a diploma in the mail.

But the rush of adrenaline from thousands of eyes watching me dance, and the standing ovations received after months of practice, made my sacrifices feel trivial, and my hard work worthwhile. My perseverance paid off when I turned 19 and was offered a professional ballet job with The Boston Ballet, which accepts 1-10 dancers out of thousands who audition per year. I packed my life up, said my farewells and headed to Boston, Massachusetts.

I arrived in Boston at the end of summer 2009 to sign my one-year contract and start working. Having been born and raised in California, I was in for a harsh awakening as to what a real winter felt like. As the leaves began to fall, a cold wind picked up, and my schedule became busier and busier as our production of the Nutcracker grew closer. A typical day began with a warm up class, where the teacher gave exercises that became increasingly difficult as the class progressed. Dancers would start out holding a bar, and eventually move to the center of the room. Once class was over, we were ready to start a six-hour day of rehearsals, where we learned numerous ballets, and rehearsed these dances over and over until they were ready to be performed.

The female dancers wear Pointe shoes for almost the entire day. Pointe shoes create a magical effect as the dancer goes on her tiptoes. What many people outside of the ballet world don’t know is the irony of the shoe. It looks so effortless and graceful, yet can be utterly agonizing for the dancer. After wrapping your toes with toe tape, similar to a boxer wrapping his hands before a match, the shoes stays on the foot for many hours. At the end of the day I would take my Pointe shoes off, only to find purple swollen feet covered with blisters.

By the time I was ready for bed, my entire body would throb, crying out with exhaustion. The athletic requirement that a ballet job entails is the same as for any other professional athlete. Ronald Smith, a University of Washington psychology professor and lead author of a new study published in the current issue of the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping, said that the injury rate for ballet dancers over an eight-month period was 61 percent.

This is comparable to the rates found in other studies for athletes in collision sports such as football and wrestling. Smith said, “Ballet is physically grueling and the act that other dancers are competing with them adds to the physical stress. They often perform hurt and are afraid someone will take their place… the level of precision required is comparable to that of an Olympic gymnast.”

With such a demanding schedule, keeping your body healthy and injury free is crucial. To aid its dancers, Boston Ballet provides healthcare, access to unlimited physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage. On the top floor of the ballet building, a gym and physical therapy room allowed the dancers to have easy access to equipment.

After performing 42 shows of Nutcracker in November and December, my body was beat, and I was ready for a break. Our last show was on New Years Eve and then we were given a two-week layoff to see family, and heal our battered bodies. Coming home to California from freezing cold Boston made me truly appreciate how wonderful Marin County is. I missed the hills, the hikes, and especially Sol Food. Like a fish that feels trapped in his own tank, I had done everything in my power to get out of Marin. It wasn’t until I was out of the water that I could appreciate where I had been.

After resting for what felt like a millisecond, it was time to head back to Boston to prepare for our upcoming ballet season that would span over the next five grueling months.

My second year with the Boston Ballet progressed in a similar manner to the previous year. It wasn’t until the final months of the season that things went terribly wrong. I was given a huge opportunity to go on a five-week summer tour with the company to Spain. Barcelona, Madrid and Granada are just a few of the locations where I would be performing. While practicing a dance, I spun around and jumped in the air. As soon as I landed, I heard a crack, and fell to the floor in agony. I knew right away that it was serious. I found out later the same day that I had fractured my heel bone, and it would take at least 10 weeks to heal. Completely heartbroken, I realized that I would not get to tour Spain.

It wasn’t until I was back in Marin that I realized breaking my foot might have been a blessing in disguise. I had been involved with ballet for basically my entire life, and I had never allowed myself to do anything besides dance. I felt this surge of desire to go to college, to learn how to play the piano, and to have time to socialize. I knew I wanted to achieve so much, but I felt like ballet defined me, and without it I didn’t know who I was. As frightening as it was to leave ballet, I knew that by opening myself to opportunities, I would discover a whole new me.

It’s been almost two years since I left ballet, and I have created a completely new life. I decided to go to college, and now study Communications at College of Marin. I have taken up bartending in the San Francisco at the bar KT’s, which has allowed me the opportunity to meet vast amounts of interesting people. Most importantly, I have learned that I am not defined by my job. What you do should be an extension of who you are, but should not confine you.

May 13, 2013

German student adjusts to life as a Tiburon au pair
By Lea Steinmann

 Lea Steinmann had her work cut out for her while being the au pair of Sonya, 9, and Anya, 5.

Lea Steinmann had her work cut out for her while being the au pair of Sonya, 9, and Anya, 5.

November 9th. Here I am, finally. Landed at San Francisco Airport, overwhelmed and excited and in the United States, “The land of unlimited possibilities.”

I am Lea Steinmann, an 18 year-old au pair living and working in Tiburon for the past six months. After graduating from a German High School last summer, I was ready for something new, something completely life-changing. Travelling, improving my English, getting to know a totally new culture and becoming more independent. Led by those aims, I was ready to spend a year abroad.

My journey started with leaving my hometown Babenhausen. It’s a small city near Frankfurt, situated right in the heart of Germany. Saying goodbye to my friends and family was a lot harder than I thought it would be. However, receiving a warm and hearty welcome from my host family in the States made it much easier to let go.

My new family consists of my single-host dad David, who works as an attorney and his two little sweetie-pies Sonya, 9, and Anya, 5. I feel they’re more like a couple of princesses than little girls. Both are already accustomed to a privileged lifestyle, one that is totally at odds with my own childhood.

Settling down as an au pair in Tiburon is certainly not something to complain about. Some of its many perks include an iPhone, an American Express credit card, a 2770 square foot dream house with an amazing view of the bay area to go with it. Not to mention driving a BMW X6 and first class flights to Mexico and to Dave‘s second house in Hawaii during spring break and in summer.

It seems like a perfect life, right? Some days it certainly is, however it is a real job and definitely no bowl of cherries.

For most Americans, the international expression “au pair” is not immediately recognizable. Most people refer to us as just nannies, but it is much more than that. They’re a live-in childcare provider and a full-time part of the family. Regulations by the US-government mandate that au pairs are required to be between 18-26 years old and have childcare experience totalling over 200 hours. There is a maximum of 45 hours work per week for a salary of about 200 dollars. Usual duties include getting the kids ready for school, preparing breakfast and lunch, picking them up from school, doing after-school activities, helping with homework, eating dinner together and bringing them to bed.

Au pairs come from a number of various countries: France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Australia just to name a few! The 17.000 au pairs  who currently work in the U.S. aren’t only just female. According to the Wall Street Journal “10% of au pairs are male”.

Besides their work duties, every au pair has to earn 6 credits at a college to fulfill their visa requirements. A lot of Marin County au pairs go to College of Marin, because it provides the most affordable solution for them. Unfortunately, the host family’s financial support of $500 for education is not enough to cover the costs of most normal credit classes at COM. Luckily, there is still the option of attending community education. But the variety of classes is much less, which is an issue that should be discussed and improved.

Karin Nordqvist , 20, has lived in Marin County for the past nine months. “Finding out about myself and my aims for the future was my main intention in spending a year as a Swedish au pair in the US.“, she says. “On the other hand, I learned hot to think critically about different lifestyles and cultural traditions. My host family is very conservative in their behavior which is completely opposite to my democratic views.” Another Swedish au pair, Lana Hassan, 21, took surfing classes at COM last fall, “I came to and love Marin County, because the Bay Area is a great place to go surfing. Doing this as a College course was awesome,” she said. “People always think that being an au pair means relaxing and having a lot of free time. They have no idea at all, how hard this job can be and that you need a lot of patience and energy for that.”

When au pairs actually have free hours or days, most of them save their money to travel through the country. On a single free day, they visit cultural sights, go to the movies or to restaurants. Typical American young adult activities. The main gathering point for a lot of Marin County au pairs is undoubtedly the cheesecake factory. Look out the next time you go to any of these kinds of spots, more than likely you will find a table full of au pairs!

I know that when I return to Germany I won’t be living in the wealthy world I am in right now. This makes me want to enjoy this experience even more. Though living here in America with a host family might just be for one or two years, it creates a bond and relationship to those people that will surely endure for many years to come.

Looking back on the past six months I’ve spent here already, the life of an au pair definitely includes a lot of ups and downs. In the beginning I found myself in something of a honey-moon phase, very excited about this new lifestyle. But that excitement was quickly tempered by a profound homesickness. Struggling with two car accidents within two weeks was by far the most nerve-wracking moment here.

But the strong bond to my new friends and host family keeps me from buying a plane ticket back home. It’s those moments when I hear the girls say, “Please don’t leave us,” or my first dream in English or a little girl asking me, “Are you her mum?” after walking hand in hand out of the gym with Anya, that has made my quality time in the States unforgettable so far.

No matter what happens during this year, regardless of stress or exhaustion, it will have been a pleasure and a whole lot of fun. Whether trying to do well in College courses or even just navigating our way through the United States and everyday life, Karin, Lana and I totally agree on one point: “This is the most exciting year of our lives!”

May 13, 2013

Former student killed four years ago in Iraq
By Echo Times Staff

Jake Velloza, a former COM student, was killed four years ago this month in Iraq.

Jake Velloza, a former COM student, was killed four years ago this month in Iraq.

The 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq came and went in March, without much attention. Neither the media nor politicians appeared very interested in revisiting what has been described as one of the biggest intelligence blunders and most expensive wars  in U.S. military history.

Although the Iraq War may not be on many people’s minds these days, its impact continues to be felt by thousands of families throughout the U.S. and Iraq.

Ask Susan and Robert Velloza of Inverness, who lost their only child, Jake, four years ago this month. They visit the Olema Cemetery every May 2, the date their son was killed. Jake is buried there with other members of his family who led full lives.

On an early Sunday morning in May 2009, a woman in a military uniform knocked at their door.  She was accompanied by a minister from their local church. Bob and Susan said they knew right then that something was very wrong.

They had been watching TV before the visit, and had seen on the news that Jake’s friend and fellow soldier Jeremiah McCleery had been killed. Jake’s fiancée Danielle called and said she hadn’t heard from Jake yet.

The casualty officer informed them that their son, Jake, 22, and McCleery had both been shot and killed by two Iraqi gunmen while on patrol in Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad.

“They opened the door a crack and started shooting,” Jake’s grandfather, Richard Velloza, told ABC News.  “[The gunmen] shot two dead, three were wounded, and one of them was our grandson.”

The attackers were apprehended and later discovered to be members of the Iraqi police.  Jake was the second person from Marin to be killed in the war.

Susan Velloza, who declined to be interviewed because of the emotional toll this time of year brings, indicated that the family was still struggling with Jake’s loss.

Operation Iraqi Freedom started on March 20, 2003. It was supposed to be a quick and bloodless campaign, but six years later Americans were still dying in Iraq. Jake was one of them.

His family is one of almost 4,500 American families who lost a husband, wife, son or daughter in the war. The young men and women who lost their lives are only part of the story.  For many, the war continues at home. For the dozens of vets committing suicide every day. For the bereaved. For the 100,000 injured.  The 300,000 with PTSD. And for their families, friends and caregivers.

Jake, a former College of Marin student, was a gifted athlete who pitched for the Mariners and studied photography here. Born in June 1986, in Santa Rosa, he grew up in Inverness and attended West Marin Elementary School in Point Reyes Station. Even as a youngster, Jake stood out as an athlete. At Tomales High School, he excelled in football, baseball and track, following in his father Robert’s footsteps.

As a defensive back, wingback, kick returner and kicker in football, Jake made friends with everyone on the team. This included his close friend Sean Pipkin.

“Jake and I played opposite-side defensive ends. I can still remember looking over at him, he looked at me and we just smiled at each other and we knew what to do on the next play. We were just hammering the other team and ended up making Tomales High School history shattering the school’s quarterback sack record that particular game,” said Pipkin about the match against a San Francisco high school team. The Tomales Braves later won the 2002 North Coast Section Class B championship with an 8-4 record.

“That was a great moment that we as team all shared equally with Jake, and none of us will ever forget it,” Pipkin said. While on the varsity baseball team, Jake, a left-hander, pitched and played center fielder. He was not only known for his outstanding speed, but his team spirit and passion for the game.

“He was very fast and athletic. He was a great teammate and a great friend,” Pipkin said. “He had known since before graduating high school that he was going to join the Army to fight for me, you, and our country. He was a natural-born leader.”

Pipkin was both proud and supportive  of his friend’s decision to go to war.

“Of course I was worried, but I also knew Jake and how strong and fast he was. I knew there was a great possibility of him getting hurt or killed in action, but I always put that in the back of my mind.” Pipkin said, “I thought no way. Not Jake. He can dodge any weapon the enemy uses against him.”

Pipkin’s younger brother informed him of Jake’s death.

“I was completely devastated and still thought it wasn’t true until the day of his service when I saw his lifeless body in that casket.”

COM’s baseball coach Steve Berringer met Jake during the Fall 2005 practice season. He remembers Jake’s gift as an outfielder and a first baseman. Berringer didn’t get to know him as well as he would have liked to, and the last time they met was when Jake came to his neighborhood  while doing work with the Marin County Water District. He remembered that Jake always seemed cheery.

Coach Berringer found out about Jake’s death by reading the newspaper.

“He was a happy young man,” Berringer recalled. “Always a pleasure to be around.”

Jay Borodic, a University of Puget Sound graduate with a degree in International Political Economy, grew up in West Marin with Jake and played on the same teams throughout school.

Borodic described Jake as a “gear head.” While in high school, Jake had built a motorbike which he rode all over West Marin.

Being a long-time friend, Borodic knew that Jake would eventually join the Army. Jake told him he wanted to be the first among their friends to have a career, and to start a family.

Borodic recieved news of Jake’s death from a friend during his last week of college finals. He was caught totally off-guard.

While politically against the war in Iraq, Borodic doesn’t blame the military for what happened. On the contrary, he says he has great respect for the armed forces.

Susan Velloza said she planned to visit her son’s grave on May 2nd, the fourth anniversary of Jake’s death.

Jake’s family and friends know the impact of war. It’s not something they’re likely to forget.

May 13, 2013

Analysis: Five years of campus construction
By Dale Robertson

Both the new Science, Math and Nursing building and the new Performing Arts building were in process during January 2012.

Both the new Science, Math and Nursing building and the new Performing Arts building were in process during January 2012.

In January 2012, the new Fine Arts Building was in process of being built while the old one was being torn down and raised.

In January 2012, the new Fine Arts Building was in process of being built while the old one was being torn down and raised.

These photos of the new College of Marin Kentfield campus buildings are the result of the Measure C that passed with a 60% vote in 2004, and a five year long photo journalism project by a disabled sophomore student. As the spring 2013 semester ends, people are familiarizing themselves with the large brand-new Math Science Medical building.

Why would anyone in their right mind, spend five years with no pay, wheelchair-bound and challenged with numerous medical conditions, yet photographically documenting the College of Marin measure C construction project. A very serious person reveled with the relentless passion of any amateur shutterbug! Taking photographs and video footage before, in between and after classes, in every possible spare second of his time capturing the moments of this ongoing renovation project at the College of Marin Kentfield campus.

I ask myself that question all the time. Why do I do this? My name is Dale Robertson, and this is my story.

In 2004 the news came to Marin County communities the College of Marin had received a $249.5 million dollar fund through Measure C to undergo construction of several new buildings at the Kentfield and Indian Valley campus. At the time, I was well into finishing almost all of my architecture classes at the Kentfield campus. Being very fascinated about the process of ‘out with the old and in with the new’, I started taking pictures of this process.

Ironically, at the time, professor Georgie Goldberg, a state licensed architect, asked all of the advanced design students, myself being one of them “to design and build a model of what we think the new fine arts building should look like.”

Her direction to us suggested a strong emphasis not to “worry about how much it cost because, the sky is the limit.”

The first thing I did to start my design process, as any architectural design person would do, was some  serious ground research. I interviewed students, professors, maintenance personnel and faculty to see just what they would really like to see incorporated into new architecture proposed for the College of Marin Kentfield campus. The responses were overwhelming. Art professor Tron Bykle teaches printmaking and life drawing classes, and said, “I want to see a bigger workspace for all of the printers and my students in my printing class.”

In my design, I gave the professors an extra 20 feet in both directions, increasing the size of the existing classroom they had worked in for so many decades. Sadly, the new fine arts building had very little to offer  for Tron and some of the other professors and instructors who were hopeful in gaining the extra space they were all rooting for.

Fine arts office manager Olga Borissova said, “I want to see more office space for the professors in our new Fine Arts Building.”

The office count went from 10 rooms in the original building to six very small rooms shared by as many as six people, in what looks like a walk-in closet space office hardly big enough to hold a desk  with one chair, let alone students with parents and one professor.

Former college of Marin student David Quinnly said he would like to have seen “a larger art gallery in order for all the students to show their pottery work at once during a complete semester.”

To understand the process of how architecture takes place from print to the actual construction of the building, you have to be there to see it. So I chose not only to be there, but to also learn the process of demolition, excavation and handling of materials to affect the building of a new structure.

But as the economy went over the cliff in 2008, I saw my architectural future going over with it. Architectural engineer and personal friend, the late Mario Compi, who had inspired me to take courses in architecture back in early 2000, the late Mario Compi, said to me: “Dale! You should find another profession fast. The architectural business is going to take a hard hit, in its architectural hiring jobs market in the coming years.”

And he was right. Armed with this sad information bestowed upon me by a mentor of great architectural talent, I immediately switch to film-making as a major in communications. Film is something I’ve always loved to do my whole life. I remembered a story from my drafting professor at the College of Marin, the late Mark Gorrell, who made a film about the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California as it was being built. He described to his experience of the joy to be able to photo-document and film the event of such a great architectural accomplishment by none other than one famous architect, known as Lewis Louis Kahn.

Mark explained to me, ”being an architect and engineer is a great thing, however to be able to photo-document the final results of one’s work in itself is the most rewarding endeavor. Because, you will find yourself paying more detailed attention to the actual structure, its beauty and its form in its entirety, admiring the completed work.”

It is been seven years since Mark told me that story about the film the made of the Salk Institute. I remember in 2009, the event in front college of Marin Kentfield campus. When everybody showed up to celebrate the breaking of the ground to signify the new fine arts building would be underway. I was there with my cameras. I have literally thousands of pictures and untold hours of video footage. All of the work I’ve done will be donated to the College of Marin archive, once I’ve finished making my pseudo-random time lapse documentary of the construction of the newer buildings for the college of Marin.

The summer of 2013 is upon us. I have already started filming the demise of Harlem center’s beautiful trees that once stood there. I also have to wonder where COM will hold its next student Film Festival without our Olney Hall. The Emeritus Center, perhaps?


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