The Power of My Citrus Story: How Student Narratives Have Personalized Citrus College’s Mission, Vision and Values

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Geraldine M. Perri, Ph.D. has been superintendent/president of Citrus College since 2008. She has 30 years of experience in community college education including 20 years as an administrator. Her past administrative positions include president of Cuyamaca College in San Diego County; vice president of instruction at San Diego Mesa College; dean of instruction/career education at Mt. San Jacinto College in Riverside County; and associate dean of academic affairs at Hostos Community College, City University of New York (CUNY). Dr. Perri has an associate degree in dental hygiene from Hostos Community College (CUNY); a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Arts degree in health education from New York University; and a master’s degree in organizational development and a doctorate in human and organizational development from the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara. Dr. Perri has completed Harvard University’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education (MLE) and Cornell University’s Community College Administrative Leadership Institute.

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Geraldine M. Perri, Ph.D., Superintendent/President of Citrus College
Abstract: 

Stories are powerful! Storytelling has long been used to offer guidance for those dealing with life’s transitions. People everywhere can relate in some way to others’ stories.  Stories offer lessons and signposts for maneuvering through life’s journey.  They can be inspiring motivators to empower a person to persevere even during one’s weakest moments as well as demonstrate and reassure us that we are not alone and that others have travelled the same path before. 

The effectiveness of academic and student services programs, while typically demonstrated through outcomes such as degree completion, transfer, and career preparation, is also evidenced by the transformation of students’ lives.  This article describes how My Citrus Story, an initiative of Citrus College, which provides an account of individual student experiences at the college, demonstrates the power of community colleges in changing the destiny of individuals. 

Article: 

An engaging story has the power to inspire change, adjust attitudes and alter perceptions— especially when these stories communicate hope, achievement, and triumph over setbacks and obstacles. Effective storytelling, cited often as a best practice in education, information, or persuasion can become, according to educator and creative writing expert Robert McKee, “the currency of human contact.” A Citrus College committee understood this when they began a two-year effort to compile the collegiate experiences of students, alumni, faculty and staff. The result, My Citrus Story, is a compelling series of anecdotes and personal recollections.
My Citrus Story is a result of a collaborative effort led by Dr. Samuel Lee, dean of Language Arts and Enrollment Management. A team of students, faculty, staff, and a trustee, were asked to recommend artwork for one of the college’s new buildings. The idea of creating posters featuring student success stories was presented at a brainstorming session and the project was then launched.
According to Lee, “Students see themselves in the faces of others when they stop, read, and reflect on their peers’ experiences. Some are inspired to be purposeful about discovering and creating their own story. By documenting and showcasing examples of changed lives, the college gives fresh and relevant answers to questions such as, “Why am I working on this research paper again?” or “Why is it important to show up on time for class?” or “Do I really belong in college?” The answers to these and many other questions are tucked inside each account of unexpected accomplishment.”
As the participants shared their experiences, the Citrus College community quickly realized My Citrus Story was more than an enhancement to a building—it was documentation of student success. The narratives are now accessible online at www.citruscollege.edu/mycitrusstory and posters appear throughout the Citrus College campus. A video, book and a promotional campaign are also being produced.
My Citrus Story includes:
• UCLA student Christian Ramirez, a former student with a documented learning disability, who shared the frustration he felt as he tried to succeed in his college basic skills classes. Mentoring from faculty empowered Ramirez to improve his study skills, grades and confidence. He graduated from Citrus College with honors and received several recognitions, including the 2010 All-California Academic First Team, 2010 Coca-Cola Bronze Scholar award, and Citrus College’s 2010 Man of the Year.

• Dr. Adah Almutairi, a University of California San Diego assistant professor and medical researcher recalled entering Citrus College with an interest in science, but was undecided about a major. She credits athletics and academics as means of helping her focus on her goals. A member of the Citrus College track team, Dr. Almutairi, earned both an academic and athletic scholarship to Occidental College. In her story, Dr. Almutairi notes, “I am a huge fan of the community college system and I believe my time at Citrus College laid the foundation for my achievement and success.”

• Mohamad Trad, Citrus College alumnus and mathematics instructor, remembered immigrating to the United States during the civil unrest in Lebanon and working “a series of odd jobs to earn enough money to attend Citrus College.” His persistence and determination enabled him to complete his basic skills classes, acquire better study habits, utilize Citrus College’s tutoring and counseling services, and communicate more effectively with his instructors. Trad transferred to California State University, San Bernardino, where he received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in mathematics and graduated with a 3.96 GPA.

• Lorry Williams, a library technician at Citrus College shared how she dropped out of high school, supported her son on restaurant tips, and enrolled in Citrus College after a 25-year break in her education. At Citrus, she rediscovered her passion for learning, earned a library technology certificate, and was hired as a library employee. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach and is currently studying for her master’s degree in library science. “I will always remember Citrus College as the place that gave me a second chance in life,” she wrote.

Other My Citrus Stories also recount the trials and triumphs of Citrus College students who received the support they needed through the college’s academic and student services programs. These students include single parents who aspired for better lives for their children; a future scientist who overcame health challenges; returning veterans transitioning from military to civilian life; international students adjusting to a new language and culture; and young adults who blossomed during their time at Citrus College.

My Citrus Story provides powerful and compelling evidence of institutional effectiveness and reinforces Citrus College’s institutional mission, vision and values. The narrators overcame their challenges and obstacles to attain academic excellence, economic opportunity and personal achievement. Most important, these individuals continue to grow and prosper as they pursue their dreams.

My Citrus Story demonstrates that, now more than ever, community colleges are a viable pathway to personal achievement and professional opportunities through associate degree completion, preparation for transfer to four-year colleges and universities, and career training. Community colleges offer many students flexible access to higher education. These students, as My Citrus Story illustrates, attend community college because of family and work obligations, out of economic necessity, or because of their need for the opportunity to grow academically and socially in a welcoming environment.
Since 1915, Citrus College has been a leader among the nation’s community colleges. The institution consistently appears as one of the nation’s top degree and certificate producing two-year institutions by Community College Week and the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. The college’s Veterans Program received national recognition as the first community college in the country to establish, “Boots to Books,” a course designed to meet the needs of returning veterans and the program was recently featured in a video presented at the White House Summit on Community Colleges. These achievements and My Citrus Story reflect the college’s mission to deliver high quality instruction that empowers students to compete globally and to contribute to the economic growth of today’s society.