Already busy with full-time jobs and family obligations, seven co-workers with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) enrolled together in California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) program in fall 2017, adding a full schedule of college courses to their hectic lives. Yet, they finished early, and graduated this spring with their bachelor’s degrees in IDS. On May 18, they celebrated together at CSUDH’s 2019 Commencement Ceremony.
Rosie Desales, Gisela Bedolla, Heather Mitchell, Cynthia Uballe, Gina Plascencia, Grace Estrada, and Celina Morales were conferred IDS degrees with an emphasis in comparative cultures. Grace Estrada graduated with an IDS degree in American studies.
“It was so hectic. We had our moments when we’d cry, and then brushed ourselves off and pushed each other again,” said Desales, a Pomona resident. “We took both evening classes and Weekend College. To study, we would get together at lunch or after work.”
CSUDH’s IDS program, which is taught in conjunction with the Program for Adult College Education (PACE), is a broad-based liberal arts and sciences major that focuses on developing exemplary skills in written and oral communication, textual analysis, critical thinking, and problem solving. The major prepares students for both the workplace and for entry into graduate or professional schools.
Several of the CSUDH graduates finished the two-year IDS program in just one year, taking up to 18 units per semester to save money on tuition and re-engage with their families sooner. “I’m a single mother, so it was hard on my 11-year-old daughter. Sometimes she had to be in daycare late during the week, and watched by others on weekends,” said Bedolla. “We wanted to finish early for our children.”
Before enrolling in CSUDH’s IDS program, which offers affordable state-subsidized fees, several of the graduates were enrolled in the PACE program at Pierce College where they earned their Associate of Arts degrees.
“At first we had no college experience at all. I started working right after high school and have close to 12 years with DPSS,” said Desales, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in speech pathology and work with children. “I learned a lot about communicating with people, and how to do other tasks more professionally, such as writing letters and emails. Most importantly, we all have a much better grasp of what professional communication is supposed to be.”
The graduates work in the District 40 DPSS office in Norwalk, where they are responsible for determining clients’ eligibility for such Los Angeles County services as the CalFresh, Medi-Cal, and the CalWorks programs.
In IDS, Bedolla gained a better understanding of the diverse cultures of Los Angeles. “In some cultures the role of the man is dominant, and some only want to work with other men when they come to DPSS. I remember one gentleman who requested to be helped by another man, but we didn’t have anyone else. I talked to him about it and was respectful of his culture. He became more at ease and let me assist him.”
All the graduates intend to advance their education and pursue master’s degrees. Mitchell, a Norwalk resident, is considering a master’s in public administration. She is also excited about the opportunities that may present themselves in the immediate future.
“I would see job openings posted at work, but I didn’t have my bachelor’s degree and couldn’t apply. Now I see more doors opening up, like in the Mental Health Department, and in our department,” she said. “I have also been thinking about social work or counseling when I get my master’s. My degree is a big upgrade in my life.”