Connie Cruz’s belief in students surpasses everything else

by Christina Arias 0

It is 5 p.m. and the day before deadline.

The small room in the transfer center is filled with students with worried looks on their faces and time is running out.

You can tell they had been there for quite some time, intensely staring at their screens. Each one pausing frequently to look up and ask Connie Cruz a question.

The deadline is for college applications and it is approaching quickly. Cruz has been in the office since 9 a.m. helping students with any last minute questions they have.

She walks out of the tiny office for a quick moment to check on students who were waiting outside of the office doors. They didn’t get here in time and seats were limited. However, Cruz was doing her best spreading herself thin among all the students and their questions.

Cruz’s office can be found in the corner of the counseling center; however, she is not an academic counselor.

Cruz works specifically as the transfer center coordinator, helping students transition their education from College of the Canyons on to a new four-year university.

The day before a big college deadline is hard on students, but is especially hectic for the transfer center. It is the busiest time of the year for the office. Cruz works underneath the director of the transfer center. However, Cruz is the person who works closest with students one on one.

Since Cruz is usually the core of the transfer center she has students who often volunteer their time in helping wherever they can. You can see that Cruz and her team were tired the day the deadline approached, but they were more than willing to stay until the last minute for everyone.

“You kids are cutting it close, but that’s okay, what matters is that you’re making it happen,” Cruz said.

The office was getting ready to close and there were about five students left working on applications. The automatic lights in the main office dimmed, but the students continued in the tiny room. Everyone was feeling more at ease and Cruz could finally take some time to grab a bite to eat.

She began to talk to the students and find out who they really were. As she looked over their grades she could tell what kind of student they were, but not who they are. So, she begins to ask questions and tell her own stories of being a student.

“You know, I wasn’t always that studious in high school, but when I finally got to college, mija, that’s when I really got focused,” said Cruz. “So, don’t worry about who you were in high school, worry about what you got going on now.”

The word mija translates to daughter in Spanish. It is a term of endearment used in the Hispanic culture, usually by someone older than you, to let you know they care for you. It suits Cruz to use the term with her students.

Cruz is Hispanic, and her office looks like something from the movie Coco. She is proud of her culture and is very aware of her students who share a similar background.

She shares that when Cinco de Mayo comes around she likes to leave her decorations up all month to show off some diversity in the office.

Growing up in Watts, Los Angeles, to a single mother, Cruz was never expected to go to college. In fact, all the odds were stacked against her when it came to education.

“My elementary school foundation wasn’t strong. As I got older, I felt like that held me back a lot,” said Cruz. “Even when I got to college, I didn’t feel completely prepared.”

Her upbringing did not deter Cruz from pursuing an education, it motivated her to pursue the most education she could get. She is currently working on her master’s degree in higher education. She hopes to finish the program to pursue her doctorate.

When I asked why she wanted to pursue her doctorate this far into her career she said, “Why not? I am this girl from Watts and now I could have a doctorate. I’m doing it for personal reasons, but also to show people it can be done.”

The satisfaction of her job comes from students being able to accomplish their own educational goals and move forward in their lives. Being the core of the transfer center, Cruz works closely with her students building an open line of communication. He door is always open for anyone that needs her.

However, Cruz is only one person and during peak times of the year she struggles to keep up with the flow of students being referred to her. The transfer center is an extremely small resource at COC. Considering students are usually at a community college with the intent to transfer to a four-year university COC’s transfer center falls short of expectations in regard to size and availability.

Cruz hopes that in the future COC will value the transfer center much more than it does right now. Allowing more staff to come in and be available to students in their transfer process in addition to their academic counseling.

“I think the transfer center needs to be taken more seriously. It is not equally valued the way the counseling center is,” said Cruz. “It’s not a priority on anyone’s list and it should be.”

Cruz’s title is coordinator. However, she does it all from counseling students on what they specifically need in order to transfer to their chosen school, to coordinating transfer workshops around campus, and helping students with personal statements during application season.

There are no specific transfer counselors, but academic counselors will refer students to the transfer center frequently.

Cruz says she would love to see the transfer center have its own building like the veteran’s center or the EOPS center. It would be student run like other offices on campus to allow students more opportunities to work while going to school.

Although the center is small, Cruz’s impact is large. Her tough love demeanor towards her students and natural leadership are what keeps her students in contact with Cruz over the years.

“I have a student who I helped transfer years ago and he just brought me his little brother the other day. It’s crazy to see those generations of students,” said Cruz. “And he said, ‘you got to help this guy [his brother] move on too.’”

That open line of communication Cruz speaks so highly about is the most important element to students on campus.

COC’s Chancellor, Dr. Diane G. Van Hook, was giving a speech to students at a scholarship award dinner when she mentioned that COC conducted a survey with exiting students about their experience with the college. The survey asked students what they felt was the most important element that helped them succeed in their time at COC. Some of the choices included were lower tuition costs and class availability.

“However, the number one choice students picked was that someone believed in them,” said Dr. Van Hook. “That came above anything else.”

At the end of the day, Cruz may not have all the resources she needs, but she will make sure to do her best for her students the first time they ask for help. And above all, she will continue to believe in her students.

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