More than 2,500 students will be graduating from Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges in June 2018. Here's the story of one remarkable graduate.
As an honors student in high school who had racked up more than her share of AP courses, Dalia Valencia was all set to enroll at one of the many universities she had been accepted to – until her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Once not even an afterthought, Cuyamaca College, close to her family’s home in Jamul, was suddenly her only option.
Enrolling at the Rancho San Diego campus turned out to be one of the best moves Valencia has made in her 19 years. The honors student is earning her associate degree in psychology with a GPA just shy of 4.0, and now she’s leaving for San Diego State University to continue her studies with a goal of becoming a clinical psychologist.
“When I first decided to come here, a lot of the people at my high school didn’t hold Cuyamaca in high esteem, and I kind of felt a little bit let down,” Valencia said. “But this college helped me find my way. I love how small it is. I love how everyone is so connected. And I love how everyone is here to help you out.”
The impression she has made has had a lasting impact at the Cuyamaca campus.
“Dalia is a positive and hard-working student who has overcome personal barriers and possesses a great deal of resiliency,” said counselor Mary Garcia. “I am honored to know this extraordinary young woman who serves as an inspiration to me and to those students who she guides as a peer mentor alike. I am confident that she will carry warmth, support, insight, and persistence wherever her path may lead her.”For Valencia, the road to Cuyamaca came with more than a few turns.
Born in San Diego but raised in Mexico for the first several years of her life, Valencia was placed in ESL classes in elementary and middle school until she could become more fluent in English. As a result, she often found herself behind her peers when it came to her studies. “When I first started high school, I didn’t even know what college was,” she said.
Others at Steele Canyon High School, however, saw promise when they looked at Valencia, and they encouraged her to enroll in the AVID program – an acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination – that provides the academic instruction and support to prepare students for admission to a University of California or California State University campus. Before long, an AVID instructor was encouraging Valencia to challenge herself by enrolling in AP courses. In the spring of 2016, Valencia graduated from Steele Canyon with honors.
About the same time, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. With treatment draining the family’s modest earnings, and with Valencia taking responsibility for nurturing a younger brother and sister, going to any of the universities to which she was accepted was out of the question.
It didn’t take long, however, for Valencia to find her comfort level at Cuyamaca. She entered a program now known as the Pathway Academy that helps new college students become acclimated to campus and navigate their course requirements. She was later hired as a Pathway Academy specialist, and has a second job at Cuyamaca as a psychology assistant to Professor Steve Weinert. She is not bashful about telling high school students with whom she visits how Cuyamaca College is imbued with academic excellence.
“I tell them that the faculty and staff who work here are just like them,” Valencia said. “A lot of them started off at a community college themselves and went on to earn master’s degrees and doctorates. The resources and the tools are here to get you where you want to go.”