My Free Community College Story

My Free Community College Story

This December, I will graduate from UC Davis with my Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology/Biology in preparation for teaching high school chemistry.  I come from an immigrant family and my parents don’t have a high school education.  As a first generation college student, this is the culmination of my family’s efforts to achieve the American Dream. I am grateful for all of the support I’ve had along the way. But I’m especially grateful to the San José Promise, a pilot program at San José City College (SJCC) that covered my tuition and fees and gave me the academic tools to succeed. This is my story – I was proud to share it at an event with Dr. Jill Biden last week.

I found out about the San José Promise program when I graduated from Lincoln High School in 2010. I was excited to enroll in college, but I was unprepared. My assessment test showed that I was 2 levels below college math and one level below in English. But where I started didn’t matter. That is because community  college gave me the guidance I needed in each step of the way. It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish.

Over the summer of 2010, I was able to complete an accelerated math class to get me ready for the fall semester. I eventually completed a rigorous sequence of calculus courses, getting an A in each of them. Later, with guidance from my mentor, Rosalie Ledesma, I went on to earn an associate’s degree in chemistry from SJCC before transferring to UC Davis as a neurobiology major, where I receive full financial aid.

My time at San José City College played a huge role in my success today.  I know this because at City College:

  • My classes were small, less than 25 Students, so I could get instruction and feedback from my professors

  • I received help from counselors and access to instructors, which helped me succeed

  • I could get help with my education plan any time I needed it

  • I was able to live at home and be close to my family, an invaluable source of strength

  • I was prepared to succeed academically and for the rigors of a University of California education

I am grateful for the support I received on my journey from everyone at San José Promise and now I want my younger sister and others to have the same opportunity. I hope that the Promise program expands so more students can fulfill their own college dreams. I truly believe this program will reinvigorate our community and the local economy.

I am proud that  — although the road was tough at times — I persevered. Today, I am stronger for it. Without the San José Promise, I would not be graduating from UC Davis this December.

Klayre Guzman Ortega

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