The value of a community college–based education
Duc Pham from Vietnam attended Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) for three years before transferring to an Ivy League school. Now, he is a professor at Santa Monica College where he teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology. Duc credits the community college system with his success and notes the strength of a community college is that it “welcomes people from all walks of life, including international students, rich or poor.”
The value of service
Sharing about his experience, Duc stated, “SRJC professors taught me the value of service to others. In truth, since I juggled three jobs while attending SRJC full-time, I did not have enough time to obtain research experience, which was critical to my future goals. Sympathetic towards my plight, Nick Anast, a physiology instructor, hired me as his research assistant, so I could afford to quit one of my jobs.”
Founding a fellowship
Duc goes on to say, “Working with Nick ignited my love for science and helped me earn an internship at the Mayo Clinic and a full-ride scholarship to Cornell. In 2015, I was heartbroken to learn Nick died in a kayaking accident. When I heard Nick paid my research stipend out of his pocket, I was lost for words. Touched and inspired by Nick’s passion for science and compassion for students, I founded the Nick Anast Research Fellowship with generous assistance from the SRJC president, biology faculty, and Foundation.
The Fellowship provided SRJC students from disadvantaged backgrounds internships at Cornell and allowed me to nurture their scientific curiosity through research mentorship. One of my fellows is now a physician, while two others secured research positions upon transferring to UC Davis and UC San Diego.”
Paying it forward
“I value a community college education not only because it is affordable, but because I know it is a ticket to the middle class for students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” states Duc. “Now that I have walked through that doorway of opportunity, I feel compelled to reach back and give other community college students the same chances that propelled my career forward. That's why I love teaching at the community college level so much!”
Duc’s four tips
Duc was the first in his family to study abroad, and told his sister and cousins who followed in his footsteps 4 pieces of advice:
First, learn to write clearly and concisely. Good writing skills help articulate good ideas and convince other people of the value of those ideas.
Second, take classes that are outside of your comfort zone. College is probably the only chance to explore different academic subjects and become a more interesting person. Once you start working, it will be very difficult to do so. I regret not taking more history and political science classes in college.
Third, make sure your career goals are rooted in improving your community. If your goals were based on the desire to improve your or your family's living conditions, you would eventually run out of motivation and inspiration because at some point, you will achieve those goals. Your community, on the other hand, is always in need of help on many fronts, so the source of inspiration for creative and meaningful work is almost endless. Therefore, if your career aspirations are in tune with your talents AND rooted in the desire to improve others’ lives, you will always find fulfillment and happiness in whatever you do.
Fourth, find friends who share your interests and provide you a sense of comfort. Having this safety net will give you more confidence to explore unfamiliar social territories and befriend people who are vastly different from you.
Duc Pham is a professor at Santa Monica College where he teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology.
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