The 2013 motorcycle accident that nearly severed Christine Sestak’s right arm sent the lifelong outdoorswoman into a physical and emotional tailspin. Grossmont College proved to be the perfect elixir.
“They wanted to amputate my arm. I was in surgery for five hours and I was in the hospital for nine days,” Sestak said. “From then on, I was just in and out of multiple surgeries and going through rehab. There wasn’t much for me to do when I got home except sit on the couch and watch TV. Finally my mom said, ‘You gotta go to school, take some classes, do something with your life.’”
It was great advice. Sestak, now 32, would not only earn associate degrees in geology and mathematics, she also worked as a tutor and teacher’s assistant in the Earth Sciences Department. She graduated from Grossmont College in June and transferred this past fall to San Diego State University, where she is majoring in geology.
“I love Grossmont College,” Sestak said. “It literally changed my life.”
“She helped a lot of people as a tutor, she had a great attitude while she was here, and she brought a lot of joy not only to the students she was helping, but also everyone in the department,” said Geology/Oceanography Professor Gary Jacobson. “I’d have to say she was my favorite tutor/T.A. in the more than 30 years I’ve been here, and we’ve had some pretty good tutors during that time.”
Chris Hill, who now serves as dean of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, agrees. She was among Sestak’s mentors when Hill was at Grossmont College.
“In her time at Grossmont College, it was my great pleasure to watch Christine discover her passion for the earth sciences, gain confidence in herself as a student, and then give back by supporting other students as a tutor for the department,” Hill said. “She brought enthusiasm and a love of learning to each class and I know she will continue to do so as she pursues her studies at San Diego State.”
Born in La Mesa and living in Lakeside, Sestak spent her youth camping in the mountains and off-roading in the desert. “I was always in a tent,” she said. After graduating from Granite Hills High School in 2005, she worked a variety of jobs while still spending as much time as she could outdoors. It was during a trip to the desert that Sestak’s life would forever change. She was 26 years old when her friend lost control of the motorcycle he was riding on Tramway Road in Palm Springs with Sestak, a passenger, hanging on for dear life. When the motorcycle leaned sharply to the right, Sestak’s arm was nearly torn from her elbow.
The next several months were hell until she registered for an oceanography class at Grossmont College in fall 2013. That would lead to another class, then another. “I was just taking classes I was interested in,” she said. “I didn’t have any kind of educational plan or anything. I was still going through two and a half years of surgeries and I didn’t think I was smart enough to realize what I was capable of doing.”
A geography field course helped her find her passion. “We’d go on a camping trip with a different professor every month in San Diego County and learn about the geography, the rock formations, geology, native plants,” Sestak said. “It was fascinating.”
Said Jacobson: “She had a good, hard work ethic and was really excited about learning about the natural world.”
Sestak, who has almost a “how did I get here” attitude about being at SDSU, said Grossmont College will always be special.
“I miss it. I miss the personal touch that Grossmont had,” she said. “I’ve made wonderful relationships, lifetime friendships with professors and staff and fellow students while I was there. I’m in a 400-person physics course over here now, and I never had anything like that at Grossmont. I would tell anyone they should go to a community college first before they even think about a big university.”