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Carissa Baker (2000-2002)

Supporting Dreams: My Fullerton College Experience

My growing up was such that many might have expected me to never attend college. Yet despite growing up in a low-income region of Los Angeles with a single, constantly working mother, I believed that I would succeed. My mother instilled motivation and a love of learning at a young age; she insisted that I would be the first in my family to graduate. My success at a performing arts magnet and drive to go to college at the end of high school indicated this would be the case. I applied to only one school; four year university, prestigious, strong in the performing arts.

Many of my friends and neighbors dropped out of high school, and some quit the first year of college. I was going to be different as I felt that I had both intelligence and talent. Unfortunately, I was not different. I was idealistic about what college would hold and did not find that ideal. I was put off by the social atmosphere of college and disappointed by the lack of similarity to Plato’s Academy. My major was far from the creative and free outlet I had expected; it was instead competitive and rigorous. I lost interest and motivation, changed majors a few times and then dropped out. To me, this was failure. Instead of college, I decided to gain employment. In 2000, I moved to Orange County to work at Disneyland and was told about Fullerton College. In high school, I had a negative view of community college as being for high school drop-outs, older people desiring career changes or lifelong learning and lost people. It didn’t occur to me that I could be classed with that latter group. I decided to sit in on a few classes at Fullerton College and was surprised by the caliber of conversation, the freedom of class choice and the caring instructors. Undoubtedly, enrolling at a community college would embarrass me, but martyr though I felt, I matriculated. My “failure” ended with one of best decisions I have made.

Attending Fullerton College changed not only my perception of community colleges but my career path and life. It instantly became an institution of higher learning, a place for open communication between diverse students and faculty and a place of discovery. The university atmosphere and expense was gone and in its place was a patient mentor and unflinching mirror. When I look back on my experience, I hardly remember buildings or campus events; my memories consist of daily learning and self-exploration. I chose a major on a whim and hated it. Personal situations led to multiple withdrawals, and yet somehow the institution kept taking chances on me. When I felt lost again, I didn’t try to flee; I simply persisted searching. My “calling” crept up slowly, but it came. I have a lifelong love of reading and writing. Even in high school, I asked for reading lists of classic literature. A high school opportunity to teach beginning band gave me a spark to want to teach. But was it practical? Could I do it? Was it meant for me? How was I to know?

Counseling 151, Career and Life Planning, with Professor Rolando Sanabria, was the answer. In that course, my inkling became a path. My nonlinear quest for self-knowledge became a career goal with a finish line. With his dynamic presence, Mr. Sanabria talked about “dreams.” In his mouth, they didn’t seem fancies but possibilities with clear steps. After activities, essays and personality tests all coincided with my new goals, I was on fire. It was an enlightened feeling; how had I not realized this was me, always had been me? An interview project with the chair of English (Dr. Joseph Carrithers) only cemented my desire to continue and made me realize that I wanted to teach in the community college.

Of course, theory is optimistic, but is practice as positive? If Counseling 151 was the pilot light, English 102, Introduction to Literature, was the fire starter. This Honors section, taught by Professor Connie Eggers, ignited every latent passion for literature and writing. We talked about stories and ideas and world issues. I imagined teaching the same class. I would teach the same class one day; envisioning myself in that future and having such a supportive teacher made all the difference. Professor Eggers encouraged creativity and reminded me just how exhilarating the world of literature is. She also recommended me for a peer tutor position at the Writing Center. I had never heard of a writing center before, but I took the Tutoring for the Language Arts course with Professors Nadine Arndt and Sharon Portman and found it absorbing. Tutoring was a form of teaching and very fulfilling. After these experiences “in the field,” there was no doubt whatsoever that I knew what I wanted to do.

After Fullerton College, I transferred to Chapman University. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Literature. I went on to attain a Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and am currently enrolled in a doctoral program at the same institution. So many things I would later do have their impetus at Fullerton College. At UCF, I gained a graduate writing tutor position because of my previous experience. I later went on to help coordinate a writing center, still drawing on the theoretical and practical training I first received at Fullerton College. The career goal initiated at Fullerton College was also achieved. When I took a course preparing me to teach writing, I remembered an excellent Survey of Children’s Literature class with Professor Phillip Serrato. That course had been exciting because it revealed so many challenging and rewarding aspects of teaching; it was Professor Serrato who taught me about transgressive pedagogy, a concept I wrote about in graduate school. I have since taught at both the university and community college level and now have a full-time teaching position at a two-year college in Florida. Happily, I teach the same Introduction to Literature course that I took with Professor Eggers!

Every day I am in class, I cherish the learning experience. Impacting my campus in positive ways is a rewarding addition to my work in the classroom. Yet the importance of this position is greater than personal satisfaction or even helping individual students. A fascinating travel course I took at Fullerton College, the “Sacramento Seminar” with Professors Jodi Jenkin and Sergio Banda, really stirred me and reacquainted me with my desire to work for change. The class reminded me how closely linked education is with government and politics and likewise illustrated how important the “community” aspect of community college is. I strongly believe that an open-enrollment college is an equalizer and preserver of democracy, and I will persist in supporting this essential mission. Statistics, and my own failure, indicate that I should not have succeeded. Institutions like Fullerton College move past statistics and circumstances to work on breathing students with dormant dreams. Not only were the ideas that I had as a twenty-year-old about community colleges wrong, but it would be valuable for many more students to begin their educations in that setting.

When I embarrassedly shuffled in to Fullerton College’s registrar, I could not have imagined what an impact the school would have on me. I am now proud to say I attended a community college. On my desk at work, there is a plaque reminding students to dream. I also ask students to complete a class assignment wherein they tell me their dreams, and it is some of the most inspiring work I read during the semester. Professor Sanabria gave us an assignment to communicate our dreams, and he even mailed a letter to our homes reminding us of our goals. I am happy to tell him that I achieved even more than was written on that card! I will certainly continue to believe in my students the same way my professors, and Fullerton College, believed in me.

Alumni Strories: Carissa Baker

"Fullerton College, I wish you another century of accomplishments and supporting dreams."