Former MiraCosta College student Suzanna Moreno has truly come full circle.
Years ago, the Guadalajara native came to MiraCosta to take noncredit English as a second language classes. She progressed to the G.E.D. program, made the transition to the college’s credit program, then transferred to UCSD where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Now Moreno is completing her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from SDSU and interning as a counselor at MiraCosta’s Community Learning Center, working with students who are in the same place Moreno was all those years ago.
“I wanted somehow to give back what I gained from here, encourage, share with students what I experienced here,” Moreno says. “Every single place I went at MiraCosta, I found helpful people who encouraged me like a family, telling me I could do it.”
Moreno’s educational journey began with a jolt, when as a young girl she and her family moved from Guadalajara to North San Diego County. With no English language skills and feeling “culture clash,” she quickly dropped out of high school and started working in Encinitas greenhouses packing flowers. But working didn’t provide an escape from school. She realized she simply had to learn English.
“I need to speak at work,” Moreno says. “But mostly, it was personal. I need to speak English, no matter what.”
So Moreno signed up for MiraCosta’s noncredit English as a second language classes, then held at the college’s Adult Learning Center on Horne Street. She worked, took classes, worked, took classes. And then she got sick; heart problems and kidney problems were finally diagnosed as lupus. Gangrene set in on one leg, which had to be amputated below the hip. She spent eight months in the hospital, and then three years in and out of the hospital before her health turned the bend.
“I had plenty of time in the hospital to realize my life was not focused, says Moreno. “I needed to learn English even better, take it more seriously.”
So when she was well enough, she returned to MiraCosta Adult Learning Center for more English as a second language classes. One of her teachers asked Moreno to help tutor kids at Palmquist Elementary School, which piqued Moreno’s interest in education. She also encouraged Moreno to go to MiraCosta for her G.E.D.
“It was not easy. I didn’t know anyone, my self-esteem was low,” Moreno says, “but I knew education was the only key, the only solution to be able to compete.”
After she earned her G.E.D., she started taking credit classes, beginning with reading and math. She needed remedial courses. She often needed to spend considerable time working on a single subject. But she persisted. It took her 13 years, but in 1995 Moreno earned her associate degree in sociology from MiraCosta.
And then she left home for the first time, to live in the dorm and study at UCSD. A new set of challenges to conquer. And then on to SDSU where she is now completing work on her master’s degree. She chose to serve part of her internship at MiraCosta’s Community Learning Center on Mission Avenue, where in addition to one-on-one counseling, she has also served as classroom guest speaker for Chris Smith, who for nearly 30 years has taught noncredit English as a second language at MiraCosta and remembers Moreno from way back when.
“She’s a great success story. I often wondered what happened to her, and now she’s in a master’s program. It’s like, whoa! Suzanna!” Smith says with a happy laugh. “It’s incredibly wonderful to see one of our students do something like that.”
Moreno hopes to find work helping others with disabilities and helping people who need or want to change careers. Ideally, she says, she’d like to work with community college students.
“I’m capable to work in any area, but I had my start here. I still take classes every summer at MiraCosta. MiraCosta is my house,” says Moreno. “My message to students is, take advantage of MiraCosta and of your teachers at MiraCosta. Take the most you can. You’ll need it later on.”