Two new student trustees were officially seated this week on the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Governing Board.
The student trustees, who are elected by their peers as non-voting board members, are Grossmont College student Peg Marcus, 62, and Cuyamaca College student Elsa Michelle Hernandez, 19.
Marcus and Hernandez took their oaths of office for their one-year terms at the start of Tuesday night’s board meeting at Grossmont College. They join the board at a time of rebuilding as the colleges begin to add classes, staffing and other resources lost to the budget ax in recent years, along with a renewed focus on student success to help students reach their educational goals.
“As students are faced with the reality that they will have to become more focused and use the time they spend obtaining their education more efficiently, the role of student trustees to be informed and to communicate with fellow students about these changes has never been more crucial,” Governing Board President Bill Garrett said. “The Governing Board members also value the input that the student representatives provide as we consider policy changes and new initiatives to guide the direction of the college district.”
Marcus said during Tuesday’s board meeting that she and Hernandez have talked about working jointly on community projects as student trustees to promote a message of unity between the two colleges and to reflect the district’s commitment to serving East County.
Long break between classes
Marcus returned to school in 2008, 42 years after getting married at age 16 and dropping out of high school in Toledo, Ohio. The Santee resident is pursuing a general studies degree with an eye toward “finding a niche to advocate for education” after receiving an associate degree from Grossmont College in 2012 in social and behavioral science.
Her studies are a departure from her previous 20-year career as a professional clown performing at Balboa Park and other public venues, and at children’s parties. She identifies the rising cost of education and the challenge of getting needed classes – somewhat ameliorated by voters’ approval of a statewide tax to fund education last November – as the biggest concerns of community college students today.
“I’ve loved learning from the time I was a child and excelled in school, but as the oldest girl of eight siblings, I was the one who had to stay home and help take care of the children,” said Marcus, describing a hardscrabble upbringing with an alcoholic father who routinely took her with him to neighborhood watering holes and left her in the care of the barkeep or cocktail waitress.
When her parents refused to let her accept a scholarship to attend the University of Toledo, she saw marriage as her only escape. Two marriages later, and following bouts of depression, drinking and health problems, along with the loss of her own children in a custody battle, Marcus found her way to San Diego and met her third husband, a magician and hypnotist who was convinced she was a natural as a children’s clown.
Her introduction to Grossmont College was the result of a deathbed promise to her oldest brother, who kept telling his younger sister who had helped him with his homework growing up that she was college material.
“He did not live long enough to see me get my associate degree, but I have no doubt that he would be very proud of me,” she said. “My college experience has totally changed my life, as well as many members of my family. My fears of not being accepted because of my age were totally unfounded. Classmates, administrators, staff and instructors alike have guided, supported and championed my every effort.”
Marcus, who was Grossmont College student body president in 2012, first got involved in student government after a stint as president of the college chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the community college honor society.
A grandmother whose cropped red hair and penchant for youthful styles belie her age, Marcus will be sharing the governing board dais with fellow student trustee Hernandez, whose excitement over her new post is infectious. She will be succeeding Cuyamaca College student trustee Mohammed “Mo” Alyasini, who served along with Grossmont College trustee Samantha Elliot.
“I was initially a little intimidated by the idea of filling Mo’s shoes,” said Hernandez, a sophomore majoring in international business. “But when Mo introduced me to the Governing Board last month, saying he’s never seen anyone with so much initiative, it really gave me a boost. I know I’ll make him proud.”
|Elsa Michelle Hernandez|
Hernandez was born and raised in Oceanside, but moved to El Centro while in high school when her mother took a job as manager of a Macy’s department store there. After graduating from Southwest High School in El Centro, Hernandez moved back to San Diego County in 2012 to attend college and lives with her uncle in Rancho San Diego. She plans to move back with her mother, who just got a job transfer to San Diego.
“She’s my best friend – we’re very close,” she said.
Active in student government from her high school days, Hernandez became involved in the Associated Student Government of Cuyamaca College from the start. Like Marcus, she said the major concern of students is getting the classes needed for graduation and finishing at community college in time so as not to jeopardize financial aid and university transfer.
“I want to be a real voice for students,” she said. “Being student trustee is an opportunity to listen to students and to speak my mind on matters that concern them.”
With its bucolic surroundings, Cuyamaca’s ambience is well suited for Hernandez.
“Cuyamaca is so relaxing and peaceful,” she said, adding that her younger sister will be joining her at the campus in the fall. “It’s not too small, but not so big that you become just another faceless student. You get to know your professors, who strive to make you learn.”
With dreams of transferring to the University of Southern California, where her mother had briefly studied before dropping out to start a family, Hernandez envisions a career that would take her to Western Europe and eventually, Australia.