A Second Chance Not Wasted

Cuyamaca College outreach ambassador and alumna, Monica Namo, has been awarded the prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship for Undergraduate Women in Aerospace. Monica is one of 51 students chosen out of a pool of over one-thousand national applicants for their “talent, their experience to date, their commitment to service, and their creativity,” as described by the organization.


The Brooke Owens Fellowship is a 12-week summer program. Monica will be matched with internships and mentors designed to help her build the skills needed to succeed in the Aerospace Industry.


Aerospace is not the path Monica initially pursued. Her academic journey includes trial and error with different interests and degree paths. In high school, Monica describes herself as a “bad student” often met with discouragement by teachers. Monica recalls a moment in high school when she felt confident enough to enroll in an AP class. When she expressed her interest to her counselor, she was brushed off and told that she wasn’t a candidate for AP classes.


With that mindset, Monica didn’t even bother applying for college as she didn’t think she would be accepted anywhere.


“I just knew it (college) wasn’t a possibility,” said Monica.


A Second Chance

Monica decided her academic journey wasn’t over and applied to attend Cuyamaca and Grossmont College.


“Community college gave me a second chance. I made an academic pivot there,” said Monica.


At Cuyamaca, Monica was able to slowly gain confidence in her academics as well as independence. Little things such as driving to school on her own for the first time, taking breaks on the beach, and trying out different majors gave her the feeling of autonomy she needed to prepare for her future. Most of all, at Cuyamaca, Monica didn’t have anyone telling her she couldn’t do it.


After two years at Cuyamaca, Monica transferred to UC Berkeley where she graduated with a degree in Political Science and Government while also completing many lower division math classes as a second area of interest. Shortly after graduating, Monica landed an internship with NASA in the Capacity Building Program which focuses on providing tools and resources to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters and climate change on low-income neighborhoods. These types of experiences are why Monica says she is grateful for the second chance she was afforded at Cuyamaca.


Support and Representation

As a first-generation college student of an immigrant household, Monica found it hard to navigate the educational system that neither her, nor her parents understood. Enrolling in college, filling out FAFSA forms, finding jobs/internships are just a few of the many processes that children of immigrants, like Monica, must figure out with very little parental guidance.


For that reason, Monica says networking and diversity is extremely important. She says meeting other Middle Eastern women along her academic journey was “comforting and nostalgic.” The sense of comfort from meeting someone with a similar experience to you makes you more likely to ask for help. “I hope I’m never the only person that’s “me” in a room,” said Monica.


Giving Back

Her experiences as a first-generation college student are also a big part of the reason why Monica says she loves her work at the Cuyamaca Outreach Department.


“I would even do that work for free,” Monica laughed. “I want students to share information with others. Whatever benefited you, pass it on to someone else,” said Monica.


Currently, Monica is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in mathematics at CSU Long Beach. The decision to pursue a second bachelor’s degree rather than go to graduate school came from Monica’s desire to feel more prepared with undergraduate courses. Monica is also still working at Cuyamaca Outreach part-time where she says she would love to have more students reach out to her, so she can help them succeed on their academic journey as well.