Few SJVC employees have the unique perspective Natalia Dominguez enjoys as Student Center/Learning Resource Coordinator, at Modesto campus graduation ceremonies. She sees graduates cross the stage to get their degrees and certificates, and then guides them down the stairs to rejoin fellow graduates. But, she also gets to see how far they have come from the time they first met many months earlier.
“I meet them before they even sign up for their program, then work with them while they are students, and now see their faces and witness their success at graduation,” says Ms. Dominguez. “To see that growth is so exciting for me – plus, I just get a ton of hugs as they leave the stage,” she laughs.
All of the students know Natalia Dominguez. She has been there for them every step of the way, conducting Student Success seminars, helping students answer interview and test questions, giving advice on appropriate Facebook content and LinkedIn profile improvements, and utilizing social media tools.
“The biggest thing I do here is support students academically,” says Dominguez. “But, in addition to tools, I give a lot of emotional support. Sometimes students just need to talk, and one of my greatest strengths is to just listen.”
Natalia also knows when to step in with appropriate and timely advice. It is not uncommon for a student – especially a female student – to become overwhelmed by a family that needs her at home. Maybe finances are thin or a job also pulls at her tenuous grip on completing education goals.
“I tell them ‘You’re almost done; you can’t stop now,’” says Natalia. “When I put it in terms of weeks, they see how close they are and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re right,’” she says.
Her approach to student support is widely recognized and appreciated. “Ms. Dominguez is so generous with her time to the students and how she tries to help them succeed,” says Michael Martinez who is about to graduate from the Therapeutic Massage program. She supports her students “from providing brunch on Fridays to hosting seminars for the students to gain knowledge in different, beneficial areas to succeed, not only in the classroom, but in the job market, as well, says Michael.”
Natalia came from a long line of educators. Her grandparents, Tom and Marguerite Lewis, were elementary school teachers, then principals during their esteemed careers. All the while, Natalia was sitting at their knees absorbing their excitement and love for touching the minds and lives of others.
“I would get all my stuffed animals and start a class,” she remembers. “I always knew I wanted to do something in education.”
Natalia feels that her position in the Student Center is a perfect fit, and that working with adults is the most rewarding.
“Kids go to school because that’s their job, but adults are in school because they are striving to accomplish something,” she says. “Being their support has always been my goal.”
That is not to say that it is all serious, all the time. Natalia engages her students on many levels. She was even game to learn a ‘secret handshake’ that Pharmacy Technology student, Lisandro Pacheco taught her. There is a nice balance of focus and fun when you are around her.
Although Natalia clearly inspires students in her charge, she is quick to admit their positive influence on her as well. In fact, because of the efforts and courage she witnesses every day from her students, she revitalized her own educational path by enrolling in a Masters Degree program in 2012.
“Why aren’t I in school,” she had to ask herself. “If they can do it, I have no excuse.” Natalia hopes to complete her Masters in Library and Information Science in June, 2015.
The culmination of this, her ‘first grown-up job’, comes full-circle with each SJVC graduation. And, if you watch closely you may catch a quick ‘secret handshake’ passing between her and one of her graduates, as he exits the stage.
Natalia is still a little surprised to find that she gets to touch so many lives. “I never thought I’d be part of helping people determine whether this (enrolling at SJVC) is right for them,” she says. “But, I make breakfast every Friday; why would you not want to come here!”
Food for mind, body and spirit are in abundant supply.