Sunday, February 7, 2021

Finding a future at Cuyamaca College

Caitlyn Bullert

Caitlyn Bullert had hit bottom. Unemployed, formerly homeless and a recovering alcoholic, the 53-year-old Spring Valley resident found hope at Cuyamaca College.

“Invaluable,” Bullert said of the Rancho San Diego campus. “Just totally changed my life.”

Indeed, the one-time college dropout is on track to graduate in Fall 2021 with an associate degree in social work and is aiming to transfer to San Diego State University the following spring en route to a master’s degree and a career working with those who are struggling with the same demons she conquered.

“I want to help people because I know what it feels like to be there,” said the vice president of the Cuyamaca College Phi Theta Kappa honors society, who is holding down a 3.7 grade point average. Her academic achievements were recently recognized by the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges with a California Coast Credit Union Scholarship of $500.

The turnaround, Bullert said, often brings her to tears. And it has left admirers in its wake.

“Caitlyn was an absolute pleasure to have in class and was very dedicated to her studies,” said English Professor Marvelyn Bucky. “She prepared her work carefully, gave insightful feedback to her classmates, and even stayed after class for further assistance, showing her passion for learning and her dedication to transforming her life through education. I could not be more proud of all of the obstacles she has overcome in life. I know Caitlyn will make a significant difference in her field as a social worker and serve as an inspiration to others who are struggling to put their lives on a much more positive path.”

Born and raised in rural Minnesota, about 20 miles west of Minneapolis, Bullert enrolled at the University of Minnesota after graduating high school. But it was all downhill from there.

“I did not do well once I figured out what alcohol was,” she said. “From the ages of 18 until three days before I turned 37, I spent my life drinking and I pretty much screwed up everything I touched.”

She dropped out of college in her first year, joined the Army and continued drinking. Two years later, she was back in Minnesota, where the downward spiral continued with bouts of depression and homelessness. She moved to California when she was 31, first to San Jose, then to San Diego, picking up odd jobs here and there, struggling to find a place to stay.

Bullert enrolled at Cuyamaca College in the summer of 2019. She hasn’t looked back since.

“Cuyamaca College has helped me turn my life around,” she said. “It just makes sense for anyone to consider. You can get your first two years of tuition essentially covered for free, which means you’d be saving $20,000 or more on your bachelor’s degree while still getting the same quality of education, if not better, that you’d be getting at a university.”

As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, she also feels at home on the Rancho San Diego campus. “I’ve not had a single problem with my sexual identity.”

Said Professor of Counseling and Phi Theta Kappa Advisor Cindy Morrin: “Cait shares openly her life experiences with recovery and sexual identity, which reminds all of us that we are human and how important sharing is. Cait’s leadership and success always reminds me that even our most high achieving students have faced trauma, obstacles and barriers – and they can find the tools to overcome these with the support our college and faculty give them.”

The California Coast Credit Union Scholarship was greatly appreciated.

“This scholarship will help me make sure that I can go to school in the fall semester and as long as I keep up the grades I got, I will graduate in the fall semester with the associate degree in social work,” Bullert said. “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to help me believe in myself.”