La Verne Magazine
Reaching Goals While Life is in Session
by Terry Birdsall
photography by Lauren Wooding
Spending quality time together is a challenge for the Aragon family. Rick
and Liz must juggle their busy schedules between full-time employment, school
as students at ULV, and their daughters Jenny and Jaime. Rick, a lieutenant
in the La Verne Police Department, is the night shift watch commander; he
is majoring in organizational management. Liz, an RN, is working on her
master's degree. Both are in ULV's CAPA program.
It is 10 o'clock at night on Oct. 17. It is quiet at the La Verne police
station; no one is in the lobby, and only one inmate is in jail. This is
unusual. Since the terrorist attacks on the trade centers, the station has
been extremely busy with different kinds of calls caused by fear and panic.
Most of the calls have to do with concerns about the deadly "Anthrax"
powder. Some are valid, others are not.
Lieutenant Rick Aragon, a tall authoritative figure in his late 40s,
with a mustache and brown eyes, appears in the lobby wearing a bulletproof
vest and dressed in a police uniform. His office has security monitors and
a master CB radio that allow him, as shift watch commander, to keep an eye
on the cells and to listen to a radio for calls dispatched by officers in
the field. Aragon points to the calendar on the wall as he explains the
two shifts; the night shift hours are 12 hours for three consecutive days
and an extra day every three weeks, rotated every three months. When Aragon
works the night shift, he doesn't see his family much, because he's sleeping
while they are in school. "When I get home on Sunday morning at 4:30
a.m., I wake up at 10 a.m. so I can spend time with my family," he
Finding balance between work, home and school can be an overwhelming
challenge for students who are parents. Patti Noreen, executive director
of the College Accelerated Program for Adults (CAPA) professional center
says that many people return to college to attain a job promotion, make
a career change, finish a degree or simply for personal enhancement. The
flexible schedules available through CAPA are accommodating for students
like Rick Aragon with rigid work schedules. "We have a variety of options
available for firefighters and law enforcement officers, and there are a
lot of them in our program," says Noreen.
CAPA support services help students select courses that won't conflict
with their jobs and get them into classes that are full or find other classes
to fit their schedule. Once they are registered students, they can take
up to seven years to complete their degree, but most finish sooner.
Started as a pilot program with two people in the early 1970s, CAPA
has since grown considerably. According to Noreen, 815 students enrolled
in CAPA this fall, and 215 students graduated in the spring of 2001, making
it one of the largest graduating classes ever.
Rick and wife Liz, a registered nurse, have been married for more than
20 years, with two teenage daughters, Jenny, 18, and Jaime, 14. Three of
the family members are in college. Rick and his wife both attend the University
of La Verne, and daughter Jenny is a freshman at Cal State San Bernardino.
Their youngest daughter Jamie is a cheerleader in high school. "It's
tough, because we both have jobs that demand time," he says. Liz is
working on her master's degree, and is continually encouraging and supporting
her husband to finish. "We have lots of ties to the school; we were
married in the chapel at La Verne before we ever attended school at ULV,"
Family time is precious and few, given the extensive hours on the job
and in school. Teamwork is required to get all the household chores done.
Aragon is majoring in organizational management, taking his third online
course at ULV this semester. He admits he gets stuck on the computer and
sometimes needs help from his 14 year-old daughter Jamie.
He says his daughter Jenny's enthusiasm motivates him. Jenny has known
what she wanted to be since she was a little girl-a high school English
teacher. "I know it sounds kind of corny," says Aragon. "My
goal is to be a substitute teacher for my daughter's classes." He's
been on the police force for 25 years, nearing retirement in four years.
He says he's ready for a new career. "I've enjoyed being a police officer;
now I'm ready for a new challenge." Over the years, Aragon continued
taking classes toward his degree in organizational management. He decided
to get more serious about attaining his degree when he saw promotions around
the corner. He says he was lucky to be promoted to lieutenant because the
position required a bachelor's degree. Another reason for finishing is that
"I'm bound and determined to get my bachelor's degree before my daughter;
she's not going to beat me," he says with a parent's smile spreading
across his face.
Of course, everyone knows the best way to get an education would be
to start fresh out of high school before taking a full-time job or starting
a family. Many struggle through life trying to make it work with skills
learned on the job and a high school education. Others take the extra step
to attain their dreams by returning to college.
CAPA student Wendy Uzarski, 41, starts her day at 8 a.m., when she drops
off her 9-year-old son Nick at school. He "is the center of my universe,"
she says. Uzarski attends ULV four days a week and works as a Color Guard
Instructor for Upland and Rancho Cucamonga High School two days a week.
Rehearsal lasts four hours, then a staff meeting goes for one hour before
she returns home at 10:30 p.m., when she undertakes homework and finally
goes to bed about 2 a.m. "I wanted to ride the bus with my kids to
competition," says Uzarski. "You have to have teacher credentials
to ride the bus." First, she'll finish her bachelor's degree in art,
and then work on her teaching credentials and finally a master's degree
in education. Her goal is to be a credentialed teacher so she can be closer
to the children and be home with her son. "I can have my cake and eat
it too," she laughs.
Although her husband John of 13 years works for Boeing and travels frequently,
he is supportive and manages their home life. "When he's out-of-town,
it makes it difficult," she says. There is no family close by to help
with child care. Uzarski sees the sacrifices she makes to go to to school
as setting an example for her son. "I hope my son will see this as
something you should do sooner in life."
Uzarski says returning to school is something she always wanted to do;
the first time she saw ULV, she loved it. "I said this is where I'm
going to go; this is where I'll be successful." She attributes most
of her success to CAPA. "They're part of the reason I'm going to graduate
in May." After having a bad experience at a larger university, she
appreciates the personal service and attention CAPA provides. There has
never been a time when she was uninformed, and she raves about her counselor
"Ingrid." There is always someone to help. "CAPA is a one-stop-shop;
students can take care of everything here with the exception of financial
aid," says Noreen, "we really guide the student from beginning
to end."Uzarski also likes the small community environment where the
professors know you by name and understand the student's life better. She
says "larger schools tend to be less personal with so many students;
you're just a number." Her life is definitely full of activities and
responsibilities, and at times she can get overwhelmed until she remembers
what a high school teacher once told her: "Concentrate on what you're
doing now -- you know . . . focus," she says.
Traditional students may have been in school or started school before
life was in session. Some allow life to decide their destiny. Others do
not allow life to get in the way of their goals. They simply prod on no
matter what obstacles come their way, steering the course with determination,
dedication and a whole lot of family support to reach their goals.
Jeanette Sanchez, 20, was in her third year of college at ULV when she
found out she was pregnant. "My first reaction as soon as the doctor
told me: I started crying," she explains. "I knew my parents would
think I wouldn't graduate." Sanchez has worked long and hard to be
the first in her family to graduate from college. "I don't see my baby
as a burden or being in the way of accomplishing my goal," she says.
Sanchez plans to take January off after the baby is born, and her mom will
help her take care of the baby until she graduates in May.
Finishing college was never a question for her. "It's different
for everybody; a lot of girls are doing it," says Sanchez, about getting
pregnant and finishing school. Although she admits her biggest concern about
starting the fall semester is what people would think when she returned.
Some people stare and wonder who the father is. "I've been lucky,"
she says with a smile on her face, as she explains that her family, friends
and boyfriend Joaquin, 25, are all supportive. She says even her professor
Sharon Davis, Ph.D., professor of sociology, was encouraging when she realized
that Sanchez was pregnant.
She is currently taking 14 units, majoring in sociology with a minor
in criminology. Her plans are to work with child protective services when
she graduates in May. The classes she takes have inspired her to "want
to make a difference in someone's life," says Sanchez. She has witnessed
the effects of abuse on children first hand with her aunt who has adopted
four children from a mother who was on drugs.
Sanchez works 11 hours a week with the Corona/Norco Unified School District
administering state mandated English testing for elementary, junior high
and high school students where she tests the English level to see how students
and the schools are doing. She says, "People see that I work, go to
school, and I'm pregnant; I kind of see it as an opportunity to inspire
In addition to her job, she performs work-study 11 hours a week for
the International Student Center. Sanchez helps students with the difficult
task of finding housing when they are new to the country. Her job is to
make people to feel at home as well as take care of office duties. She has
met many people and even made friends with some of the international students.
Although Sanchez has a full schedule, she didn't want to give up anything.
She was vice president of the Latino Student Forum when she found out she
was pregnant. Her dedication and commitment shows through in her desire
to succeed. "I wasn't going to let my club down," she says. "It's
a lot of work, but I love it."
Sanchez currently lives on campus and commutes from Corona . "I'm
going to graduate with my baby in one arm and my degree in the other,"
she says with a big smile on her face. She sees Joaquin on weekends and
sometimes on Wednesdays as well as talking to him every day on the phone.
They used to have a roller-coaster relationship, but now they have a baby
to look forward to with plans to marry on their six-year anniversary, Oct.
The turn in her life only seems to inspire her to do better. "I
used to be a procrastinator, but when I heard the baby can learn from within,
I read out loud so both of us are taking advantage of the education,"
says Sanchez. Her positive attitude and friendly smile makes a person want
to strive for more. "If I can do it, a lot of people can do it,"
she says. "I would hope people wouldn't use pregnancy as an excuse
to give up."
Many couples are willing to make sacrifices to realize their dreams
in life. Arica and Jeremy T. Hinthorne (J.T.), both 22, were married on
July 14, 2001, and are high school sweethearts with a 2 1/2 year-old son
Jeremy. Having a child early did not stop them from achieving their education.
"We're not the typical couple; nothing gets in our way," says
Arica. "We get a lot of help from our parents." They own their
own home and were given a housekeeper as a wedding present.
Arica attends ULV full-time, working toward her bachelor's degree in
liberal arts to become a teacher. The rest of her day is spent with her
son and running errands. She believes she was born to be a mother. However,
"education is everything to her parents" so they encouraged her
to go to college. She wanted to be an educated person to set a good example
for her son.
On the other hand, J.T. has his bachelor's degree in business administration
and is working toward his law degree to become a corporate lawyer. He works
at Circuit City 20 hours a week and studies from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Arica
will take a teaching job when she graduates in May so he can concentrate
on his studies. "I always wanted to be a lawyer," says J.T. "I'm
pushing myself because I want to give more to my son." He says just
seeing his son Jeremy when the going gets tough inspires him.
J.T. is used to the finer things in life. Coming from educated parents,
he remembers what it was like growing up when his dad was going to school
and working full-time. His mother returned to school later. The example
set by his parents makes him willing to sacrifice now to be a good provider
for his family.
Communication is the key to their relationship. They are both easygoing
and say they live a good life. "I've learned that five minutes talking
about your day is better than a lot of time together," says J.T. They
talk every night even if it's only for a five minutes generally to share
what they did or learned that day. Sometimes they go over their homework
together. J.T. says their lifestyle is similar to two professionals working
The road to success is not easy for anyone. It takes determination,
dedication and a willingness to make sacrifices. Overcoming obstacles and
persevering to accomplish goals can help people realize their dreams no
matter what circumstances occur in life. Family support and communication
seem to be helpful elements to attaining life goals.