Thursday, July 17, 2014

Grossmont College alum transforms his life through education

Jerry Flores
Jerry Flores is living proof that the transformative power of education permeates Grossmont College.

Flores, who turns 29 in August, says he was hardly interested getting good grades as a kid. A solid educational grounding?  Not even an afterthought. “I failed almost every class in high school,” Flores said.

But after enrolling in a continuation school with smaller classrooms and dedicated teachers, the idea of securing a degree suddenly interested him. Flores eventually moved to La Mesa to be with his future wife and opted to attend Grossmont College.

It was among the best moves Flores has made. “Everybody was so nice, everybody was so professional. It was a perfect fit.”

After excelling at Grossmont College and earning an associate degree, Flores transferred to San Diego State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology before getting a Ph.D. in the subject at UC Santa Barbara. The University of Washington, Tacoma, just hired him as an assistant professor, and he will be teaching courses there this fall in the school’s Department of Social Work. He also will spend much of the coming year furthering his research on incarcerated youth via the University of California Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

Grossmont College, Flores said, played a critical role in his turnaround. He was a student at the El Cajon campus from 2004-06.

“Grossmont just had the most caring, compassionate instructors,” Flores said. “Professors like Dr. Carlos Contreras in the history department were always willing to sit down and talk with me. His mentorship and the mentorship of other professors was key when I was transforming my life. My success has come through a combination of hard work and opportunity, and Grossmont really gave me an opportunity.”

It was an opportunity that just a few years earlier had never crossed his mind.

“I grew up in a predominantly working class Mexican enclave in Pasadena, California. Schooling was not seen as a viable source of opportunity or empowerment,” Flores said in a recent speech to a group of education officials. “We had few academic role models in my neighborhood and little social capital. I always expected myself to join the ranks of automotive repair workers like my father, and no adult ever challenged my conception.”

Carlos Contreras, an associate professor of history at Grossmont College who remains close to Flores, said his former student serves as an inspiration.

“He is a testament to the power of education,” Contreras said. “He is showing us that through education, whether it is in the secondary system, whether it is in the community college system, whether it is in the university system, or whether it is in the jail system, that it is through education that we can begin to chip away at social and economic injustice.”

Flores’ background has inspired him in his research. He wrote his master’s thesis on the teaching practices of instructors at juvenile detention centers in San Diego County. His doctoral dissertation analyzed the experiences of incarcerated Latinas in a juvenile detention facility and community school in California. He has already secured a book contract from University of California press to turn this research into a book.

“I’m interested in the transformative effect of education because of the effect that education had on me. I would not be where I am today without Grossmont College and the second at success they awarded me,” said Flores, a Ford Foundation Fellow.

He hopes his experiences can continue to inspire other students from all backgrounds to pursue a higher education.