By Deborah Manning
You gain a clear understanding of the heart and soul of what a community college is all about and the positive impact it can have on students when you speak with former Los Angeles Mission College student Dana Yarbrough.
Known for her serene and friendly manner, she lets you know emphatically how important her experience at Los Angeles Mission College was for her maturity, personal growth, and achievement. She especially lets you know the importance of the support she received from counselors and how they inspired her to academic and career success.
From her personal history, Ms. Yarbrough, who received her Associate in Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Mission College, stresses the value of preparing high school students academically for higher education. During her first semester at Mission, Ms. Yarbrough faced the challenge that her high school had underprepared her for college level work.
Like many students in similar situations, she felt discouraged and thought she could not achieve the degree she desired. Little did she know in her moments of despair and uncertainty that her intelligence, abilities and determination would prevail and encouragement for her hopes and dreams would come from counselors.
Counselor Joanne Kalter-Flink gave Ms. Yarbrough validation. Ms. Yarbrough remembered how her counselor greeted her on campus one day and that Ms. Kalter-Flink specifically called her by her first name.
“She knew who I was and made me feel like I mattered,” Ms. Yarbrough enthusiastically said.
Her counselor began to play a major role in empowering Ms. Yarbrough, giving her guidance and affirmation that she could succeed in college. Ms. Kalter-Flink, who has since retired from Mission College, would be pleased to know that her former student, Dana Yarbrough, earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications from CSUN and a master’s in College Counseling and Student Development from Azusa Pacific University.
Another counselor who was a source of inspiration and a springboard for shaping Ms. Yarbrough’s career choice was Sherrie Loper, Assistant Professor of Counseling at Mission College. After Ms. Yarbrough graduated from CSUN, she worked with Ms. Loper in a program at Mission that collaborated with Vaughn International Studies Academy in Pacoima. The program offered high school students, who were interested in allied health and general education courses that could give them a head start with college pre-requisites.
“I was impressed by Dana and that she had an instant rapport with the high school students,” Ms. Loper said. “She was likable, reliable, and helpful.”
Likewise, Ms. Yarbrough observed Ms. Loper’s interaction with the Vaughn high school students and liked what she saw. Working with Ms. Loper proved to be a defining time for Ms. Yarbrough as she decided that she wanted to be a college counselor.
Last spring, Ms. Yarbrough competed with hundreds of applicants for an internship with the award winning Project Match program that is sponsored by the Los Angeles Community College District. Project Match, which promotes quality instruction and diversity, matches interns with faculty mentors based on the intern’s particular subject area.
Ms. Yarbrough received a Project Match internship and matched with Diana Bonilla, Professor of Counseling at Mission College. Project Match is highly beneficial to the interns as it includes job shadowing. Ms. Yarbrough observes, learns, and participates as Ms. Bonilla conducts counseling sessions with students.
Ms. Bonilla, who is in her second year of mentoring Project Match interns, said “Ms. Yarbrough is very articulate. Her calm way of speaking helps students feel at ease. She is clear with her words and is able to present her ideas with compassion and professionalism.”
Ms. Yarbrough said she enjoys Ms. Bonilla’s teaching style and appreciates the patience and respect she shows her as well as making her feel comfortable about asking as many questions as she likes during the counseling sessions. Ms. Yarbrough is learning about counseling techniques, Student Educational Plans, IGETC, CSU forms, and the many other responsibilities that counselors handle.
During the summer, Ms. Yarbrough completed a key component of Project match: an intensive training program where she learned foremost about teaching methodology. This fall, she had an opportunity to put her training into action when she prepared a lesson plan that she presented in Ms. Bonilla’s Counseling 17 class, College Survival Skills.
“Ms. Yarbrough is a natural at teaching. She is a former student at Mission and relates well with our students,” Ms. Bonilla passionately said.
As part of the mentoring process, Ms. Bonilla encouraged Ms. Yarbrough to apply for an adjunct teaching position. Ms. Yarbrough applied and was offered a position to teach Counseling 17 at Mission. She is excited about the opportunity and looks forward to teaching this coming spring.
Currently, Ms. Yarbrough works as a classified staff member in the college Financial Aid Office. She welcomes students with her warm and supportive demeanor and helps them maneuver through the financial aid process. She collaborates with faculty, staff, administration, the LAMC Foundation, and community leaders to coordinate the scholarship application process. One of her goals is to streamline the application by making it super easy for students to enter their contact information, essay, and other requirements online to compete for scholarships.
Ms. Yarbrough also finds time to volunteer as a summer camp counselor for Angel Tree, an organization that sponsors children of parents who are incarcerated. There is resounding compassion in her voice as she reveals how the camp experience, which is held on a ranch with activities such as horseback riding, is life changing for the children. You quickly get the message that Ms. Yarbrough makes the children feel like they matter and that she will influence their futures in a positive way.
Ms. Yarbrough readily gives back to her community as she realizes the contributions of many people in her life including her mother who helped her become the person she is today.
As a role model for our current and future students, Ms. Yarbrough personifies success that stems from the community college experience that she acknowledges and appreciates. She is prepared to be a top counselor with her quality education, vital work experience, excellent internship, and enduring empathy. In essence, her wide-ranging accomplishments express our hopes for all of our students. One day soon, she will be the counselor and teacher who inspires and guides her students on their journeys to success.