Even when Maria Brown was ready to give up on herself, the faculty and staff at Cuyamaca College refused to give up on her. Brown, 26, will be transferring to San Diego State University this fall with an Associate in Arts for Transfer (AA-T) degree in sociology.
Brown grew up with no family support. She spent much of her childhood homeless or in juvenile hall, giving birth to her first child when she was 16 years old. Brown started at Cuyamaca in June 2008, where she met a dedicated group of people who worked to help her.
Her situation affected her grade point average and it was a visit to the counseling office in 2012 that changed her life for the better, she said. She was taking classes to become a paralegal but the bulk of the courses were held at night and with three young children that was no longer an option. The counselor told her about the new Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program that guarantees students a spot at a California State University in that discipline with junior standing. With many of the prerequisites already taken care of, it was explained to Brown that with a three-class sprint with sociology courses she could graduate with an AA-T in sociology and apply to San Diego State in time for the fall 2013 semester.
“They told me I had two options,” Brown recalled. “Go with the ADT program or continue to do it my way and bounce around. So I changed my major to sociology and soon learned that everything in sociology came so natural. It was almost like I didn’t need to read the book because I am that book. I lived that book."
As a former foster youth, Brown said she was filled with anger and self-doubt.
“Finally, I can stand here and say ‘I’m graduating,’ and I couldn’t have done it without the support of staff members at Cuyamaca,” she said. “It’s that kind of support that kept me going. It was the fact that someone believed in me and taught me that I was better than I thought I was.”
“It was a long journey,” she said. “The staff dedicated a lot of time and effort beyond what they had to do toward showing me how to be a student and overcome obstacles.”
Brown had two more children while she was attending Cuyamaca, and dropped out of school after their births. Even when she was no longer attending college, staff members at Cuyamaca still checked in on her.
“When I quit, they came after me,” Brown said. “They wanted me to know that they supported me and they never gave up. They told me, ‘Don’t give up. Come back. You’re worth it.’”
Brown attended Cuyamaca with the help of Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waivers and will receive a State University Grant that will cover her tuition at San Diego State. Money continues to be very tight, she said, but if luck and determination were measured in dollars, Brown would be rich.
Since that fateful meeting in the Cuyamaca counseling office, Brown has been telling everyone who will listen about the benefits of the new ADT program. She had an associate’s degree that can never be taken away. Brown said she’s writing a book about her experiences and her goal is to graduate from law school and become a family law attorney. Her sociology degrees will go a long way in supporting that goal.
“I want to help kids like me who need help,” she said. “I can stand up and be that voice that I never had. It’s a miracle I made it. But I’m determined to beat the odds.”