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Alumni Testimonials

Dr. Daniel Ayer

I graduated from Redwood High School in 1999 with no real intention of going to school. I attended College of Marin to appease my parents but quickly dropped out to enter the workforce. I began an IT career in a law firm that lasted four years before I decided to return to school. When I came to College of Marin I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or become. Through interacting with the amazing teachers and staff I found a passion for Biology, Math and Science. After three years, I was accepted to UC Berkley, UC Davis, and UCLA. I graduated from UC Davis in 2009 with a degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. Currently I work at UCSF on the National Lupus Surveillance Project. While my work is interesting, I would like to get my Ph.D. in Biosystems Engineering and pursue a career in alternative energy.

I recommend College of Marin to everyone and anyone who wants to take Math or Science classes. I found that COM offers a much higher quality of education than other four-year universities that I have heard of. While COM does not offer the same level of courses, the quality of the commensurate courses is far superior.

I am not sure where I would be today if not for College of Marin and professors such as Dr. (Irina) Roderick, Dr. (Patrick) Kelly, Dr. (Erik) Dunmire, Laurie Ordin, Joe Mueller, and Noel Robertson. My success at UC Davis is due in no small part to the preparation these instructors gave me. Joe Mueller taught about the web of life. I had him for couple different courses. He told us about a story in Costa Rica and how logging was causing environmental and economic damage and the people had decided to shift to ecotourism. That story got me interested in Ecology and how the physics of life is kind of astounding. Life starts off small and has tools to make a tree or dog or you versus a bar of soap. It was really fascinating to me. I also had Becky Brown (Biology). To transer, I only had to take up to Trigonometry but I ended up taking all the way to Calculus. I now live in San Francisco a few blocks from City College, but I chose to commute to College of Marin for the extra class I needed to prepare for my Ph.D. I grew up here and it felt like home.

Rev. Faith Nitz Ballenger

I had two favorite teachers at College of Marin: Peter Besag, who taught Algebra—he was so good—and Janet Thorman, who taught English and Humanities. She was funny and kind and wrote one of the letters that got me into Columbia University in New York City. COM opened my eyes to a world that began to appear possible for me to enter. It inspired me to go on to get my bachelor’s degree. My major at Columbia was Finance and Math, but I fell in love with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and, for the first time, saw a woman be ordained. That changed the course of my life.

I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and took core classes at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and at several other seminaries, including rabbinical and Buddhist institutes in the Berkeley area. I have been a parish pastor since 1990. My church, for the last 10 years, has been in Harlem, NY and I have had the opportunity to see the neighborhood change. For a while, I took my dog to visit the elderly and homebound and even in nursing homes. Now, I have a church dog who sits in the back pew and sleeps during my sermons. BUT, she is the only one who does. I plan to retire (again) in a couple of years. We shall see. 

Michael Biere

I entered COM as a recently returned Vietnam vet in 1969. I’d moved north from Los Angeles and was floundering with setting any course for my life. I was primarily enrolled in music and arts courses and was a “hacker” guitarist—I still am to this day. I visited the Bolinas Marine Laboratory Facility on a whim. I was totally taken by the beauty and diversity of the oddities that dwelled beneath the waves. I immediately changed my major and moved to Bolinas. I earned a master’s degree in Biology and was funded for my Ph.D. when IBM made an offer that, once again, altered my career path.

My three favorite instructors were Dave Baver, Gordon Chan, and Al Molina—all biology professors at COM and all fantastic. They collectively sparked my interest in probing, digging deeper and developing investigative skills that served me so well for many years.

In my IBM career, I evolved into a worldwide authority in the field of Business Intelligence. I have written two books that still sell, as well as numerous journal articles on the subject and have been able to travel to most parts of the globe.

It is difficult to articulate all the aspects of my life that COM affected. Coming back from the war as a Marine, I didn’t fit in anywhere. Moving to Marin literally saved my life and COM helped me build a new one.

I am now employed as a consultant. I am about to end my career. For many years, I reported to IBM San Jose and still work with them quite a bit and get back to the places I love and dearly miss. I always make a trip to Bolinas and quite often to Kentfield just to stroll around and reminisce. In January I came back for what may be my final visit to go back to Bolinas and played open mic night at Smiley’s (Schooner Saloon-Hotel).

One last thing, through family circumstances, I wound up back in the Midwest and decided to expand my range of biological sciences credentials so I earned a master’s degree in Terrestrial Ecology focusing on spider ecology.

My advice to any COM student is to please think. Don’t be led around by a herd mentality. Dare to dream and dare to take at least one huge step outside your comfort zone because you never know…You never know. 

Nancy Burgess

My story is short but important for me. I had been accepted into a graduate program at Mills College in 1969 but I had to pass an upper division language exam in a foreign language to receive a master’s degree. I had taken French in high school for three years but didn't feel very certain that I knew enough to pass the exam. I took a French class at College of Marin. It's the only class I ever took there. I enjoyed the teacher immensely—a real Frenchman—though I don't remember his name after all these years. After taking that refresher class I was able to pass my test. I received a master’s degree in Dance from Mills College. I later went back to school at Notre Dame de Namur University and got a Montessori certificate and a teaching credential. I spent 30 years teaching elementary school and preschool in the East Bay cities of Albany, Lafayette and Walnut Creek. I am still teaching. I am glad College of Marin was there to help me when I needed help.

Emerson (Tex) Byrd

Without a doubt, College of Marin was the start of a lifelong journey for me that would not have been as productive without the unique experience of having attended such a quality institution. My high school years were spectacularly mediocre. It was only after attending COM that I experienced the true meaning of education for learning sake.

It was at COM that I met football coach and Athletic Director Harry Pieper. He was definitely the most inspirational and influential person on the COM staff as far as I am concerned. There were others who were equally important and should be mentioned—Arleigh Williams, (dean of Men and coach at the College of Marin and dean of Students at UC Berkeley); and (Irwin P.) “Red” Diamond, athletic director and college president—were super people. Both were personable and approachable and took a great deal of interest in me personally. However, as a football player, Harry Pieper was the person with whom I had the most interpersonal contact. He was a Cal grad and introduced me to then-Cal Coach Pappy Waldorf. I made the team and played on a championship team. I participated in the 1959 Rose Bowl. By the way, Cal has not played in the Rose Bowl since! I graduated that year with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and a minor in Political Science. I went on to earn a master’s degree from San Francisco State in Recreation Administration.

After college, I worked in public recreation until Coach Pieper recruited me for a teaching position at COM and assisted in my acquisition of a California Lifetime Teaching Credential at the junior college level. While teaching at COM, I was able, with the guidance of Coach Pieper, to establish a limited recreation outreach program with several local elementary schools. He was also influential in my attaining an Officer’s Commission in the U.S. Air Force after nine years of enlisted service in the reserves. After a short stint with the Oakland Economic Development Program, a project of President Lyndon Johnson’s Poverty Program, I was called to active duty. I served until 1992 when I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with the position of Chief of Air Force Pararescue Operations. At present, I am a Certified Flight Instructor at Hillside Aviation in Redding and have been teaching folks how to fly since 1992.

In the interim, I married, had five very successful children, divorced and remarried 30 years ago. Together we have eight great kids, sixteen grandchildren and five great grandkids.

In summary, I don’t believe that any of my limited accomplishments would have been possible if not for my memorable and productive years at College of Marin COM inspired and challenged me to strive for greater achievements—UC Berkeley being one. Certainly, the education, lifelong relationships, and maturing experiences that I received at COM were the basis for any successes I may have enjoyed in life later.

Gary Coronado

I have three passions in life. One is piano. The others are golf and gardening and that’s how I spend most of my time now, enjoying my retirement.

I got my AA degree at Solano Community College in 1959. Then, I went to Fresno State College on an athletic scholarship. I majored in Physical Education with a minor in Biology and eventually got the equivalent of a major in Biology. I taught Biology and PE and coached at Sir Frances Drake High School and then, for the last 10 years of my career, I worked as a guidance counselor at Redwood High School.

When I retired, I focused on music. I had played piano as a kid and I wanted to refresh my memory for music. I enrolled in Professor Paul Smith’s class in 2003—what a wonderful teacher! I was with him for some time, for eight or nine years. He’s a superb teacher and a consummate pianist. He’s got a great sense of humor and was able to balance the regular students and the retired folks. I made a lot of friends there. We attended recitals of the other classes at higher levels and went to symphonies together. Paul exposed me to classical music. His class is like a music appreciation class. He often profiles the composer and adds some insight into his or her life. I used to tell Paul how much I enjoyed, as a teacher, being able to observe another teacher. He teaches all levels and brings the same enthusiasm and humor to each level. I remember when he gave us all the opportunity to play an old harpsichord in the auditorium as a class recital without an audience. There were a lot of experiences like that that motivated me to play more.

Since retirement, I play everyday. I moved up to Lincoln in 2011 to be nearer to my son Jason Coronado, who also attended College of Marin and is now a middle school PE teacher. I’ve improved quite a lot and I’m still taking piano lessons.

Carol Krone Coursey

I enjoyed my year and a half at COM. It was a campus with great natural beauty and excellent transfer teachers. I still remember “flood days” when school was closed because the nearby streets were flooded so we couldn't get to the campus. My favorite teacher at COM was my English 1A teacher from my first semester at the college. I had done well in high school so I was shocked when my first essay was returned to me with a grade of D and a comment, “You show promise.” I had never gotten a D in my life. He was a strict teacher who told us he would hold us to the standards of University of California. And, he did. I really learned to write well in his class. I have used what I learned from him all my life.

COM allowed me to attend college without leaving home and gave me the self confidence to transfer to a four-year college. I met my husband while attending COM and we married in the summer of 1966. I transferred to San Francisco State (University) and graduated in 1968. While there, I worked for the National Park Service and became interested in the new computer system there. I got a job as a systems analyst at Southern Pacific Railroad and worked for three years with their computer systems. Later I worked for Fireman's Fund Insurance in a similar job developing business systems.

I took 10 years off to raise my children and I worked as a school volunteer. That motivated me to get a teaching credential. I had always wanted to teach math, but my mother was a teacher and advised me to do something else. I went on to teach junior high school pre-algebra, algebra and geometry for nine years. While teaching, I obtained a master’s degree and moved into school administration as an assistant principal and then principal. I loved my years with junior high school students. They are energetic and inspiring. I retired in June 2010, and am taking care of my husband and tutoring my grandchildren in mathematics.

David De Tar

I took a statistics from a woman at College of Marin who was my favorite teacher I’ve ever had in math. She made it so much easier. I had struggled with the subject before and with her, I just saw the light. I was able to complete general ed. classes at College of Marin and got accepted to UC San Francisco where I finished a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Lab Science. I took the California Clinical Laboratory Scientist exam and obtained my CLS license. I followed up with a master’s degree in Biology. I worked as a clinic lab scientist in the Marin area for 15 years and later in Fresno as a night lab supervisor. I retired in 2012 and get to travel a lot now.

Ellen Gilbert

I enrolled as a student at College of Marin in 1979 at the age of 37. I had worked for years as a glorified secretary and as a single mother with two sons in high school; I wanted more out of life. I needed to finish the dribs and drabs of my undergraduate education. COM was so welcoming and encouraging. I learned how to write term papers, study and was stimulated and inspired to continue. An old dream returned to become a speech and language pathologist and work with stroke patients. I discovered through COM that Easter Seals of Marin (now Easter Seals Bay Area) had a program to learn language stimulation for stroke patients and I volunteered. I completed my undergrad requirements in two semesters and they encouraged me to apply to the Communicative Disorders program at San Francisco State University. It was hard to get in but I was accepted. I went on to complete the four-year graduate course Communicative Disorders SFSU and began what turned into a successful career. I just retired after more than 30 years in private practice. I feel I owe the College a huge debt of gratitude for all the support they gave this “re-entry.”

Judith K. Masterfield

Going to College of Marin was like opening my whole life up to something new. I got married at 16 and saw even people who didn’t have an education knew more than I did, so I came back to school as an adult with three children. It was really a magical time in my life. I expanded every area of my life. I took my general education and I took all the art classes I could. It feeds your soul somehow. I even took “Sexuality & Masturbation.” It was an odd time back then. I got a teaching credential from Sonoma State (University). We moved to Northern California and I really stayed a mom. I worked as a substitute teacher for a few years. When my mother died, I received an inheritance and decided to travel the world to see all the art I could. And I did! I went to Russia to see the French impressionist painting that the Russians has stolen out of Germany and went to France and saw all the French impressionist painters. I went to Spain and saw a lot of Goya.

I am now 76 and look back on the College of Marin as a journey that continues today. I’m really proud of myself that, while I was still having babies, I was going to college. My daughters are all graduates of college and doing very well. I hope College of Marin continues to encourage re-entry adults and follows their growth as you did for me in the ’60s.

Doug Sayer

It has been nearly 50 years since I studied law enforcement at College of Marin. It was the time of the draft and I ended up going to work for Uncle Sam during Vietnam in the U.S. Coast Guard. The first job I got after that was in industrial security, primarily internal investigations in the San Francisco Bay area. The degree was helpful. It ultimately led me to get rapid promotions. I got a better position with Management Security Systems in Santa Clara and they sent me to a bunch of schools. I ended up being a polygraph examiner and working with psychological stress evaluations, which rely on voice modulations to determine if someone is lying. I was probably one of first people to analyze live bomb threats in the Silicon Valley area and had contact with leading chipmakers in the area. The company, which was owned by California Plant Protection Inc., one of the largest private security businesses in the U.S., bought Pinkertons Inc. and became the largest investigative and security system in the world. I was the chief examiner and chief investigator, which was an honor. I worked in the corporate office in Van Nuys until 1990. My wife and kids and I moved to Arkansas a while back to take care of my parents and I’m retired.

I still remember the inspiration of a College of Marin teacher who lived on Mt. Tamalpais and taught law. I guess he saw some possibilities in me that I didn’t realize I had. Not too long after that, I took the exam for the San Rafael Police Department and was accepted but the waiting list was a couple of years and I was already moving up the ranks in the private sector. It was challenging and I got to travel. My territory was the U.S. and Canada. I got involved in all kinds of internal issues, which was interesting and I had a team. I learned quite a bit from them and every once in a while they learned something from me. Now I get involved in volunteer research projects for nonprofit organizations when we want to make sure the stewardship of monies is properly handled. What I enjoyed about my professional career was that it fit my personality perfectly. I’m not a public speaker. I always did most of my work behind the scenes. I helped a lot of people and I helped my employer save a lot of money. If I hadn’t taken the law courses there at College of Marin I probably would’ve never ended up doing what I ended up doing. The college was a big help to me. It kind of straightened me out.

Tenney Singer

I don't remember the name of my favorite teacher but he directed the Community Chorus in 1978. I took the class and sang Handel’s “Messiah” for the first time, all the way through. I was pregnant with my fourth child, who was born on a Sunday. I took him to class with me the following Thursday and for the next two weeks, until he was big enough to leave at home with his older sister.

This class made a huge difference in my life. I learned to read musical timing, which I'd never understood before. The class was delightful and the performance was amazing. I was inspired.

I know that my seasons with the COM Community Chorus were formative in my life and the activities of the following years. When that newborn boy was about six years old, I began a children’s choir several years later. We did many performances, including one in Golden Gate Park with a finalists for the Statue of Liberty centennial songwriting contest in 1986 and a Christmas concert in the (Louise M.) Davies Symphony Hall in the late eighties.

Kit Sodergren

I already had a four-year degree in Chemistry from Saint Louis University in Missouri and was playing guitar in a rock band named “Jack Frost” when I decided to take some classes at College of Marin in 1971. I would be surprised if anyone knew the band. We played in local bars, up and down the Northern California coast. I think we played mostly for beers. Sometimes they would pay for gas. I took a creative writing course at the college. When you play in bands, you have a lot of time on your hands. I also saw that they offered this Private Pilot Ground School course. I’d always been interested in flying airplanes. I didn’t have any money, but I thought, “What would it cost me much to go there and find out what it was really like?”

This was the course I responded to. It was, without overstatement, a life-changing event. This was a class about everything you needed to know when flying an airplane—except actually flying. The instructor, a former U.S. Air Force man, made it so exciting. It was like going to the movies. I really looked forward to going to class. We were taught to navigate from one place to another without running out of gas and they’d show you pictures in the books. I thought, “This is the same as flying!” The teacher had a million stories about flying. He obviously loved it.

When the band started making money, we went on the road and played everywhere. I would take my pilot’s logbook with me and I flew with lots of different instructors and got my license. We lived on the road for seven years before we quit.

I decided to build an airplane and I kept going over to the local aircraft mechanics school with parts to have them look them over and make sure they were OK. Eventually the guys from the Aeronautics Department at Sacramento City College came over to look at the plane. They asked me to teach so I’ve taught Electricity for 25 years. It’s all due to College of Marin. I have always tried to incorporate that love of topic and interest in talking with students that my first ground school instructor had. That was my goal, to make it as exciting for students as he did for me.

I retired in December, but I still teach part-time at Sacramento City College. I still fly. I’ve got some cylinders on the floor now of a WWII Mustang Fighter, a half size P-51 in the experimental category. It’s a fast little plane. And, I still play guitar.

Donna Wenstrom

At College of Marin in the mid-seventies I got into the arts. I already had a bachelor’s degree in Nursing. I had been in Vietnam in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and was going back to school on the GI Bill. I was in my late 20s or early 30s and I took two full years of French with Professor Genevieve Blaise-Sullivan. It was one of the most exciting things. There were several women my age and older in the class and we liked her so much that we established a summer session of our own. She would teach us at different people’s houses. She would have practical lessons for us and we’d have wine and baguettes and cheese. Six of us went to France one summer and studied French at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris. I had also taken several art history classes at COM and that teacher was amazing too. I got to see lot of the art I had studied with her that summer.

I also took all the photography classes I could with Tom Johnson, a great teacher. I printed some of his color portfolio. We started a personal photography club and would exchange prints we made. It helped open my eyes to viewing the world differently and better. I made photography an avocation.

I ended up getting an AA in Communications. All of that combined in a way that really changed my life by far for the better. Those are my most exciting times.

After COM, I continued my career as an RN, retiring in 1997 at age 54. I was a Big Sister in Marin for 20 years before moving to Reno, NV. I still use my French on occasion and do photography. I downhill ski and got a pilot’s license in 1989 for a little Cessna. Lately I’ve enjoyed being part of a nonprofit woodworking group that teaches you to use all the different equipment. We make toys for kids at Christmas time. I also volunteer with the Charmanta Auxiliary of the Assistance League of Reno-Sparks. I’m 70-years-old and I still have wonderful memories of COM.

Mission Statement: College of Marin’s commitment to educational excellence is rooted in our mission to provide excellent educational opportunities for all members of our diverse community by offering: preparation for transfer to four-year schools and universities; workforce education; basic skills improvement/English as a Second Language; intellectual and physical development and lifelong learning; and cultural enrichment. The College of Marin is committed to responding to community needs by offering student-centered programs and services in a supportive, innovative learning environment with a strong foundation of sustainability, which will instill environmental sensitivity in our students. (Approved at the April 20, 2010 Board Meeting)

College of Marin is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is one of 112 public community colleges in California. Approximately 11,000 credit and noncredit students enroll annually.

College of Marin students seeking instruction related disability accommodations should contact the DSPS Office, (415) 485-9406. Individuals seeking special assistance to accommodate a disability may call the Student Affairs Office, (415) 485-9376.

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