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Students Learn the True Meaning of “Music Appreciation” on Trip to San Francisco Symphony

16 November 2018

music photo copyThough students aren’t known for taking pleasure in getting up early, 30 of them from Monica Ambalal’s music class gladly boarded a bus before 8 a.m. on October 18 headed to the SF Symphony (Davies Symphony Hall) to attend a 2-1/2 hour early-morning rehearsal of music by Ravel, Debussy, and Bartok. For many of them, like Alex, it was the first time they had been to the performance of a large orchestr

 “It was a great experience and opportunity to go to a symphony for the first time,” he says. “The mixture of sounds from every instrument came together so smoothly, and I really enjoyed it.”

Monica has been taking her students to live performances for as long as she has been teaching music. “Nothing compares to a live orchestra for both aural and visual experiences,” she says. “The students have so many questions when they return about the percussion section, the layout of the violins, the lighting in the hall. Those are things we could never think to talk about just by simply watching a YouTube video.”

She also believes it’s important to show her students that opportunities exist in their own communities and that this music is not just geared for the wealthy or elite anymore. “I show our students that young people and people of color are out there singing opera, playing cello at Carnegie Hall, and thriving in conservatories. Classical music is accessible today, and I’m here to guide students in finding opportunities to hear it.”

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Enjoy the Artwork of Your Colleagues at the “The Art We Make”; See Schedule

8 November 2018

Chris Grampp draws artistic “Meeting Doodles,” Jennifer Briffa designs Dia de los Muertos altars, Tara Marrero does “Coloring for Comfort from Anxiety.” They are among the 14 faculty and staff members who answered Sheila Metcalf-Tobin’s call to display their work in an Enjoy the artworkexhibition, “The Art We Make,” currently being shown in the S-352 Gallery.

Though some of the exhibitors may not consider themselves “artists,” Sheila says that is precisely the reason she wanted them to show their work, as she eloquently explains: “The purpose of this exhibition is not just for those who create work that we think of as art, it is to gather us together in celebration around the human experience of creativity and making,” she says. Some of us have been lucky to have the opportunities to develop our creativity. Others may have been discouraged and stopped trying. This exhibition is meant to celebrate all that we make that may have brought us joy or perhaps a moment of peace. It is to celebrate however we individually define our art.”

Come and appreciate your colleagues’ work during the following schedule through November 27: Tuesdays, Noon-2 p.m.; Wednesdays 9:30-11:30 a.m.; Thursdays  (1st and 3rd) 12-1 p.m. & 3-4 p.m.; or by appointment by contacting Sheila at

Merritt artists, left to right: Pablo Villicana, Chris Grampp, Noel Fagerhaugh, Dan Lawson, Jennifer Briffa, Sheila Metcalf-Tobin, Maril Bull, LaShaune Fitch, Dianne Jones, Nghiem Thai. (Not pictured: Angela Khoo, Tara Marrero, Tomoko Nakazato, Sean Nash, and Saadi Shapiro.


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Guided Pathways Retreat Brings Together Merritt to Discuss Strengths and Challenges

7 November 2018

The Guided Pathways Team hosted an all-day retreat to convene the College Steering Committee and engage in Cross Functional Inquiry, one of the key elements the college said it attendedGuided Pathwayswould address in the first year of the grant. The Guided Pathways Retreat was well by a diverse body consisting of faculty, staff and even students across many sectors of the shared governance spectrum.

Core Team Leads Stefani de Vito and Samantha Kessler gave an overview of the Guided Pathways model as it related to Merritt. Through the four pillars of guided pathways—Clarifying the Path, Choosing a Path, Staying on the Path, and Ensuring that Learning is Happening—all areas of the college are beginning to engage in work to identify Merritt’s strengths and areas thought of as challenges with opportunities to be redesigned with the student perspective in mind.

Highlighted at the retreat was First-Year Experience (FYE), a model program led by Rosa Perez, whose hard work and coordination are key components in the success of the program, despite obstacles that often arise, to successfully complete degrees and certificates.

A spirited dialogue followed around challenges the college may face when trying to implement Guided Pathways. Pillar Team members participated in an online survey where they had to describe their feelings about Guided Pathways in one word. The results were compiled into a “Word Cloud” (above) in which larger words signify more popular responses. The results look surprisingly powerful and should serve as a reminder of why we are working toward improving our practices.


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Years of Advocating for Students Leads Counselor to Finding New Solutions for Their Success

7 November 2018

Years of AdvocatingStefani de Vito was one of those English majors with no idea what she wanted to do with her life. But through years of soul-searching, informational interviews, advanced degrees, and experience working with disadvantaged youth, she not only found what she was looking for at Merritt College but has become a leader in a new state initiative tohelp students achieve their educational goals more quickly and efficiently.

A native of the Chicago area, Stefani went to Carleton College in Minnesota where her liberal leanings led her to become a student activist. “I was out there with my politics,” she says, “campaigning, marching, demonstrating, getting arrested. It was 1992, the first ‘Year of the Woman,’ and Dianne Feinstein was running for Senate for the first time.” But when Stefani graduated, she still had to find a way to pay the bills.

Disillusioned with her first post-college job as a fundraiser for left-wing political groups, she spontaneously answered an ad asking for volunteers to counsel women who had experienced sexual violence. With the training and experience she gained there, Stefani was soon managing a nonprofit organization, Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota. After three years and a promotion to Acting Executive Director, “I realized that I wanted my volunteer job to be my ‘real’ job.” Her true calling had surfaced: she set out to become a mental health counselor.

“I realized how much I loved helping youth and families, so I started looking for a place to earn my Master’s Degree in Social Work,” says Stefani. “Since I had always lived in the Midwest, I decided to start a new life somewhere I’d never been. So I got out a map to find a place that was liberal enough for me, and that’s how I ended up in California going to UC Berkeley.”

Between internships and first jobs out of grad school, Stefani gained experience that would challenge the toughest in the field: she interned at a therapeutic pre-kindergarten (“for 4-year-olds who’d been kicked out of school”), a continuation high school for emotionally disturbed students, an agency where she provided 24/7 ‘wraparound’ services in homes with children with behavior disorders, and at school-based programs in Richmond and Oakland, where she worked with teenage boys who had committed serious crimes. Armed with this experience, she went on to earn her LCSW license.

“With my license, I could have opened my own private practice, but helping privileged people was never my goal,” she says. “I wanted to help people who didn’t have a lot of options. And after a lot of research, I decided that community college was my ideal place to work. Instead of working with kids who were at the mercy of the adults in their lives, I’d be working with adults: voluntary clients who had already taken this incredible step toward improving their lives by enrolling in college.”

Stefani set her sights on Merritt College and sought out Steve Pantell for an informational interview. While he was warm and welcoming, he told her that she wasn’t eligible for community college counseling positions because of her lack of experience in a college setting. However, he invited her to apply for a temporary position filling in for the CARE Program Coordinator, who was going on maternity leave. “I was thrilled and jumped at the chance to get the experience,” she says. “It was there that I really fell in love with Merritt’s students and its mission.”

The two-year stint in that position led to her next job as mental health counselor and de facto manager of the Merritt Health Center, a 20-hour-a-week adjunct position which combined all of her past experience to serve students struggling with every challenge imaginable. “I always wanted to provide mental health counseling in a college setting, so I had found my dream job,” she says. “It’s crucial for colleges to have a place to send troubled students, not just for academic needs, but for personal and emotional issues like stress, financial hardship, homelessness, abusive relationships, and addiction.”

Although her position ended after nearly four years, Stefani’s allegiance to Merritt did not. After a year helping her parents back home with medical issues, she applied for several Peralta counseling jobs and was hired for her
 current full-time position as an academic counselor working with veterans, two topics she knew little about. “My learning curve was 100% vertical,” she says. “But my overall goal is to give students hope, whether it’s new students in college for the first time, reentry students looking for a second chance, or veterans readjusting to civilian life.”

Last summer, Stefani played a lead role in writing a successful grant for $100,000 from the State Chancellor’s Office to create a Veterans Connection Center at Merritt. “The funding will go toward providing a one-stop shop for veterans services for our 219 vets and military families enrolled at Merritt,” she says.

Given all of Stefani’s experience, it seemed that Guided Pathways, the new statewide initiative to make student success more attainable, had her name written all over it. So she was excited to be invited to serve as Merritt’s Guided Pathways Faculty Lead, one of a 5-person core team, along with Samantha Kessler, Margie Rubio, Jason Holloway, and Doris Hankins. She hopes the entire college will participate.

“This is exactly what needs to be happening as the State Chancellor’s Office insists that we raise the number of graduates and transfers, reduce the achievement gap, and make sure our students are getting jobs,” says Stefani. “It’s all about reinventing the college from within, revamping the jungle gym of application and enrollment, communicating to students about what we have to offer—and making it super-easy to understand.”

For Stefani, working with students at Merritt fulfills her career goal, and now she has an opportunity to accomplish even more in a place that feels like home. “I admire these students so much for overcoming every roadblock to be here,” she says. “They are my heroes, and it’s an honor for me to help them find solutions toward their success.”

—Susan May

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Grocery Outlet Touches Lives of Street Scholars with Generous Contribution

18 October 2018

When Eric Lindberg was hired as a cashier at Grocery Outlet in 1997, he became part of an organization that believed so strongly in giving back to the community that its official mission was “Touching Lives for the Better.” Throughout the years, as he’s moved up the job ladder to Co-CEO, Lindberg has kept the philosophy strong and instilled it in all the employees in 310 stores in five states, including an annual “Independence from Hunger” employee campaign which raises more than $1 million a year.

Today, Merritt is thankful to be a recipient of the company’s generosity with a $200 a month gift card to Merritt’s Street Scholars to meet their needs. “We are so grateful for this gift which means so much to our students,” says Ron Moss, Executive Director of Street Scholars, which offers peer mentoring and academic and support services for the success of formerly incarcerated students. “Our students are trying to better their lives with education, but some have to make decisions of whether to buy food or books,” he says. “To have their stomachs full as they spend their days in classes means everything to them.”

Merritt and Grocery Outlet became connected thanks to another proponent of Street Scholars: former student Brandon Hargrave, whose family has been friends with Mr. Lindberg’s for many years. Brandon became affiliated with the Street Scholars after helping Ron Moss in a statistics class when they were classmates. Ron was so impressed, he hired Brandon to tutor the Street Scholars which became so successful that this year four of the scholars Brandon tutored transferred to UC Berkeley and have recently started fall classes.

“I got to know about the organization while tutoring the scholars and became very interested in helping them,” says Brandon, who is now studying for his master’s degree in sports management at the University of Oregon. “I grew up playing sports with Mr. Lindberg’s kids, and our families have kept in touch over the years. I thought he might be interested in helping out in this worthy cause for the Street Scholars.”

And in keeping with Grocery Outlet’s mission, Lindberg immediately offered to do what he could to help. “Being good community members is ingrained in every one of our employees in all of our stores. So when Brandon told me what was needed, we were happy to help,” he says. “There have been lots of studies about food insecurity and education and how giving students food for just one or two meals a day can change their lives. We believe that helping this happen pays back more than what we give.”

Darcey Clark is one of the many Street Scholars who is appreciative of Grocery Outlet’s contribution. “There are so many barriers we have to deal with in our lives,” says Darcey, who has a 7-year-old son. “We often get to a point where we don’t believe in ourselves and need others to show us we can make it. Getting this help from Grocery Outlet makes us feel really supported by the community.”

Merritt College is also doing its part to help with food insecurity issues on campus and is grateful for Lindberg’s generous contribution to help the students stay in school and be successful, which is Merritt’s ultimate goal, says Dr. Marie-Elaine Burns, President of the college. “We started a food bank here on campus last year which has been very popular and shows the need in the community to eat healthy foods regularly,” she says. “Having this partnership with Grocery Outlet, who are helping some of our most vulnerable students with their greatest needs, is a blessing to the students and helping the college with its overall student success.”

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New Business Director’s Background as “Efficiency Expert” is Welcomed at Merritt

18 October 2018

With 25 years of experience in business and fiscal operations and a stellar reputation that led her to become Merritt’s new Director of Business Services, it’s hard to believe that Vikki Menzie’s high school counselor steered her toward becoming a secretary. But in those days, clerical work was one of just a handful of careers paths that women went into.

But it didn’t take long before Vikki’s abilities to go beyond secretarial skills became apparent. As a secretary for the defense contractor Gould, Inc., she was given the best advice of her life: get an education. “I was doing secretarial work, and I was also becoming familiar with programming and helping my bosses,” she says. “I was tired of taking notes and getting coffee. So when one of my bosses suggested I start taking college classes, I immediately enrolled at Mt. San Antonio College to study business.”

It was at her next job in the Human Resources Department for the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County where Vikki began her work with PeopleSoft. She was part of the implementation team that transferred policies into system codes and conducted testing with payroll. Eventually she became an expert user in the PeopleSoft system. Later she was promoted to another area that managed all of the properties in unincorporated LA County and was put in charge of budgets and grants.

Vikki continued taking classes on the “extremely long route” to graduation, even after landing a job as Associate Budget Analyst at Cal Poly, Pomona, based on her knowledge of PeopleSoft. Her ambition to learn new skills in previous jobs had led her to a job that would start the steps to her future career.

After she completed two years at Mt. Sac, she entered the University of LaVerne’s accelerated weekend program for adults and earned her BA in Business Administration with concentration in finance and began moving up in her career. At Pomona, she was promoted from Associate Analyst to Administrative Analyst and eventually to Business Manager for Facilities Planning & Management while earning her Master’s in Public Administration at Pomona.

“After 16 years at Pomona, I had done everything there was to do in terms of finance and budget,” says Vikki. “My boss knew I was getting a master’s degree, and he recommended that I go to the women’s leadership conference for NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers.)

It was at that conference where Vikki met someone who offered her a job at San Francisco State University. “I never thought I would leave Pomona,” she says, “but then I started thinking I’m not married, my kids are grown, I can move anywhere I want. They offered me the job and I was there in a month, leaving behind my furniture and my house.”

Vikki initially worked in physical plant and planning and later accepted the position of Director of Finance and Operations for the College of Liberal & Creative Arts at SF State for over a year before realizing it wasn’t exactly the job for her. But she has no regrets about moving to northern California.

“I’m excited to be at Merritt and look forward to the opportunities that it may offer,” says Vikki. “My hope is that my background in academic budgeting, facilities management, and fiscal operation can be utilized here at Merritt and the Peralta District. I am aware of the challenges that exist and will be looking forward to making progress in helping students achieve their educational goals,” she adds. “Although I am a behind-the-scenes administrator, the work that we accomplish is important to students and their success. I consider myself an efficiency expert and can see the need to improve processes that will allow the college to run more smoothly, from ordering equipment to paying vendors in a timely manner. I’m looking forward to working with faculty, staff, and students to make important changes that will be beneficial to the campus and district.

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Real Estate Students Learn New Skills While Helping Industry Shortage

18 October 2018

Relocating from Sacramento to Berkeley as part of his career-changing plan, Kelvin Warren left behind his Volkswagen import/export business and began researching colleges to study real estate. When Merritt’s name kept popping up, he realized there was a strong program right nearby where he could pursue his dream.

After two semesters, his dream has just grown exponentially. He was fortunate to be among the 25 students in Merritt’s real estate program to be chosen to participate in the Commercial Real Estate Fellows Program sponsored by CREATE, a partnership of commercial real estate associations in the Bay Area. The program has been specifically designed by industry experts to help solve the shortage of commercial real estate employees in the Bay Area. They accomplish this by offering a selected group of students a 16-week program that combines job preparedness skills with industry-specific information on careers such as property management, asset management, leasing and development, construction management, and facilities management taught by experts.

“We wanted to enable college students to consider commercial real estate as a career option,” says Kathy Mattes, a real estate consultant, who helped design the program as a member of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of San Francisco Foundation Board of Directors. “We started the Fellows Program at San Francisco State University last year, then decided to take it to the East Bay and address the needs of the East Bay markets. We chose Merritt because its strong real estate program is primarily geared toward residential real estate, and we were offered the opportunity to give students more options. This program allows them to be better prepared to get a job, and we have industry members who want to hire them.”

Longtime Merritt real estate instructor Guy Forkner agrees wholeheartedly. Between the knowledge they are getting in Merritt’s program to prepare for the real estate licensing exam and the training opportunities offered by the Commercial Real Estate Fellows Program, he says students will be prepared to compete for the many job opportunities in Commercial Real Estate.

“With an outlook of employee turnover of nearly 50 percent in the next five years, there will be no problem finding work,” says Forkner, who also founded the program’s popular Real Estate Forum which addresses current industry issues. “The students in this program are pretty much guaranteed a job to meet the hiring needs of building owners, investors, operators, and service firms.”

And that’s music to Kelvin Warren’s ears, as he has worked hard in his classes and wasn’t expecting this added bonus to his career outlook.  “I had no idea there were so many opportunities in the real estate field,” says Kelvin. “It was a blessing I was chosen for this program to enhance my knowledge from people working in the field. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.”

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Merritt Tennis Courts Benefit from Final Eagle Scout Project

18 October 2018

When Brandon Khuu of Castro Valley was 7 years old and just starting in scouting, his dream was to someday be an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in the organization, which culminates in a major project to demonstrate leadership and give back to the communit

This summer, Brandon, now 16 and a straight-A student on the Bishop O’Dowd tennis team, not only achieved his goal but made Merritt College a beneficiary as he planned his community project to improve Merritt’s tennis courts which now boasts of a 36-foot x12-foot tennis backboard. “I had seen backboards on other tennis courts and thought that Merritt’s courts could be improved by providing a place for team members to practice while others were playing on the courts,” says Brandon.

He had met with Bishop O’Dowd tennis coach Tom DeTurk to help him come up with an idea for the project. “Since we practice on Merritt’s courts, I wanted to do something to help the college,” he says. “I thought that Merritt’s
courts would be improved by providing a place for team members to practice while others are playing.”

After getting approval from the Troop 708 leader and the Boy Scout Council, the next step was to check with Kevin Bertelsen, Merritt’s Director of Facilitie. “I gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up,” says Kevin. “I thought it was a great project idea and would truly be a wonderful donation to the college to provide additional tennis capacity for practice and for recreation as well.”

So for the next two months, with the help and support of his parents, Coach DeTurk, scout volunteers, and a successful GoFundMe campaign of more than $2,000, the backboard became a reality. “It’s a perfect win-win,” said Merritt President Marie-Elaine Burns at an informal ceremony where Brandon handed her a check for the remaining $250 of the project funds. “Brandon met his goal of Eagle Scout, and Merritt has a beautiful new backboard for all who come to train and practice here for years to come.”

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East Bay College Fund Partners with FYE Program and Provides $1,000 Scholarships

18 October 2018

When East Bay College Fund Executive Director Diane Dodge was looking to partner with a community college in Oakland, she searched to find those with First-Year Experience programs that had the potential to advance the EBCF’s mission of getting minority and underprivileged high school students to complete college.

When she got to Merritt, she knew she had found the right one. “We wanted to see who was already out there doing great work, and Rosa Perez and Lilia Chavez and their team had already shown that they knew how to help students progress through college,” says Diane, whose goal is to eventually partner with every Peralta college. “We wanted to replicate their work and amplify it.”

The partnership, which started as a pilot program at Merritt over the summer, will provide huge benefits to the FYE Program including $1,000 scholarships for 100 Oakland students who are in the FYE program and meet specific requirements.

“We’re excited about our partnership with EBCF,” says Rosa. “This is an extra layer of support for us to help our fast-growing program. Along with the 100 scholarships, EBCF also provides us with dedicated counseling support, a mentorship program, and successful minority guest speakers who students can identify with.

The FYE Program, which provides a cohort program of English and counseling classes geared to largely first-generation Merritt students, also offers the Adelante Summer Bridge Program, a group of specially recruited high school students who spend four weeks learning about what it’s like to be a college student.

“Our goal is to convince the Adelante students that they can be anything they want by teaching them things like success skills, time management, and career exploration, and preparing them to enroll at Merritt and move right into the FYE Program,” says Rosa.  Because of EBCF’s generous partnership, we can help even more students in Adelante and in the FYE Program to meet their goals.”

(Pictured: Above EBCF’s Executive Director Diana Dodge; Rosa Perez; English instructor Daniel Guerrero, and FYE students. Below: Summer Adelante Students celebrate their transition to the Merritt FYE Program.)

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Enroll NOW in Late-Start Classes in October: More Than 50 Subjects to Choose From!

23 September 2018

You can still add a class or even become a full-time student for the Fall at Merritt by enrolling in any of the nearly 50 classes below in a wide variety of topics. Classes begin in September and October. For more details about the classes, click HERE and find out how to enroll by clicking HERE.

(Click on list below to enlarge.)

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