Lauren “Cookie” Sambrano was bouncing around from one community college to another unsure of her future or what she wanted out of life.
Grossmont College put her on track. Surrounded by support and enveloped by caring faculty and staff, Sambrano flourished in her studies, transferred to San Francisco State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. Today, Sambrano is living a block from the beach, working as a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley and giving back to Grossmont College with monthly payroll donations to the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges to support others in reaching their educational and career goals
“I’m always going to donate to the Foundation,” Sambrano said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for Grossmont College.”
“I was not a good student,” Sambrano said. “I barely graduated from high school.”
That was in 1999 and Sambrano, who been working since she was 14 at jobs ranging from a strawberry stand clerk to an assistant manager at Hot Dog on a Stick to help pay for tennis lessons, decided start taking classes at a local community college without knowing much about what classes she needed to take or what kind of career she wanted to pursue. After dabbling at three Orange County campuses, she moved to Northern California when her brother relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, signing up for classes at what is now Berkeley City College.
The turning point in her life came after she moved to La Mesa to room with a close friend who had been accepted at San Diego State University. “Her father was pretty strict and told me the only way he would let me room with his daughter was if I was going to college, too,” Sambrano said. “Grossmont College was the nearest campus, so I signed up for some classes.”
A competitive tennis player, Sambrano knew she could snag an easy “A” by enrolling in a tennis course. The rest of her classes? She hadn’t given it much thought.
Her tennis coach, Megan Haber, was having none of it. Neither was her EOPS counselor, Michael Perez.
“It was a different experience than what I was used to,” Sambrano said. “I was allowed to flounder at these other colleges. But not at Grossmont. Both Coach Haber and Mr. Perez sat me down and made me to reflect on what I wanted to do. The whole dynamic changed. They made me create a four-year plan and develop a pathway for me to navigate. They held me accountable.”
Said Haber: “When she first got here, she was a little confused about the whole college system and how it worked. I have had more than a few students like Cookie who just needed somebody positive in their life who could help them move forward. She never really had anybody in the past at the college level who really took her under their wing and encouraged her to be what she wanted to be, whether it was athletics, college or career. We’re all so pleased with where she is now.”
Sambrano would graduate two years later with an associate degree after playing on championship tennis squads in 2001 and 2002. Being a part of a team, Haber said, meant she had a strong support network that wouldn’t let her fail.
Awarded a partial tennis scholarship, she transferred to San Francisco State, where she also competed on the women’s tennis team.
Inspired by her experience at Grossmont, Sambrano was considering a career as a community college counselor after earning her bachelor’s degree, but a fluke interview at Smith Barney – now Morgan Stanley – led to a job first as a wire operator trading stock, then as a client services associate before moving to her current post as a financial advisor. She lives in the coastal Orange County hamlet of Sunset Beach.
“I can’t say enough good things about Grossmont College,” Sambrano said. “I absolutely cannot overstate the impact it has had on my life.”