As Woodland Community College enters its 32nd year, the efforts and cumulative benefits of its graduates are felt throughout Yolo County and beyond.
While the school has been offering classes since 1975, the current 120-acre campus wasn’t formed until 1990 and became fully accredited in 2008, meaning Woodland School graduates have done a lot different.
Some have used their education to advance their chosen careers or to explore new interests. Others have held positions in the civil service, local government or now run non-profit organizations.
Perhaps, nowhere could this be seen more clearly than at the May graduation ceremonies, attended by 411 students – many of whom returned to school because ceremonies were canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those graduates received a total of 514 degrees and 249 certificates, according to Woodland Community College president Art Pimentel. Some of the 2022 graduates, like Lysett Ruiz, will move on to a four-year college, where she hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Others, like Monica Jimenez, will continue their studies at Sacramento State in hopes of becoming a social worker.
The paths taken by people like Ruiz and Jimenez can be seen in others who have graduated from college over the years and still call Woodland Home.
Councilwoman Tania Garcia-Cadena, Woodland Police Officer Sergio Omar Jacobo and Community Services Officer Zulema Lopez all credit their current successes to things they learned in college.
Garcia-Cadena said she first attended middle school in the spring of 1985, during her senior year of high school.
“I knew I wanted to be a preschool teacher and my mom suggested I get my early childhood education credits as soon as possible,” Garcia-Cadena explained. “These six ECE units landed me a job as a Woodland Montessori assistant two months after graduating from Woodland High School.”
Garcia-Cadena said she continued to go to college part-time for about four years while working full-time as a preschool assistant at Woodland Montessori and later as director of Peace of Mind daycares. She returned to college in 2007 to pursue an Associate of Arts degree.
“I chose WCC because I wanted to work full time while still being able to go to school,” she continued. “Chéri Schroeder was my first ECE instructor and I wanted to be like her. Cheri has been a mentor to me over the years and I appreciate her friendship.
Garcia-Cadena now represents Woodland’s 3rd District on City Council, having been nominated in January 2021 to fill the unexpired term of Angel Barajas, who was elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors for the 5th District. .
Garcia-Cadena ran for the seat in 2018 but came second to Barajas and was nominated when she left because she has lived in the 3rd District for 25 years and served as manager of the Woodland Food Closet while doing work community service through organizations. like the Soroptimists.
In 2012 she received the city’s Community Service Award and in 2018 she was honored as Woman of the Year by Congressman John Garamendi.
Garcia-Cadena’s term ends this year and she plans to seek election to the board in November.
“As a council member, I see the value of having a community college in our city and the opportunities WCC provides for our residents,” she summarized. “After a difficult year and a half at Sierra College, my son returned home to attend WCC, where he was able to earn his AA in Psychology in 2016 before transferring to Sacramento State.”
Policeman Sergio Jacobo’s journey through Woodland College is similar to that of Garcia-Cadena.
He was born in Woodland and graduated from Esparto High School in 2011 which competed in football, soccer and baseball. He got his first job at age 12 after getting a work permit from the Esparto School District and worked summers at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley from 2006 to 2013 and the Nugget Market from 2013 to 2019.
He went to Woodland College “straight out of Esparto High School in 2011 and graduated in 2015” after studying administration of justice and social and behavioral sciences. He earned an Associate of Science degree in both fields. He went to college for some of the same reasons as everyone else: it was close to home and affordable.
Jacobo chose law enforcement because he wanted to “help prevent people from being victimized by others as well as help them in case they are victimized.” He noted that teacher Leslie Denise was an “incredible educator”.
Jacobo loves his job, saying he enjoys “the self-directed nature of the job. Don’t be micro-managed. To be able to genuinely help people in times of need and hopefully make a positive change in their lives.
He also credits the college for helping prepare him for his career.
“The WCC summer camp academy gave me a taste of life as a recruit/cadet at the academy,” he said. “Additionally, the Administration of Justice program prepared me to move on to the more challenging course of the Sacramento State Criminal Justice Program.”
He received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice in 2018, graduated from the Sacramento Police Academy in June 2020, and joined the Woodland Police Department the same month after approximately seven months of service as a rookie.
Community Services Officer Zulema Lopez joined the force in November 2021. She is also from Woodland and grew up herding sheep for Yolo County 4-H, was a member of the Woodland Youth Council and graduated from Pioneer High School.
She graduated from Woodland Community College in the spring of 2015 with an associate’s degree in law enforcement and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Sacramento State before later joining a police academy.
“I chose WCC because it was close to home and affordable to me, and also allowed me to choose my own schedule so I could keep a job,” Lopez said. “I went to WCC after graduating from Pioneer High School in 2011, but transitioned from a full-time student to a part-time student depending on what classes were available the following semester and without overloading myself.”
Lopez said her orientation at Woodland College helped provide a roadmap of available resources and establish a class schedule.
“My orientation day is where I decided I was going to pursue law enforcement,” she said. “I looked forward to working in the community where I was born and raised. I wanted to help and serve the community that helped me grow into a young adult. Being bilingual, I also knew that I would be able to better help our Spanish-speaking community and build relationships with that part of the community that would otherwise be too shy to reach out or ask for help when needed.
Lopez recalls Professor Leslie Deniz being a big influence on her decision to join the force.
“She was very enthusiastic about law enforcement and very open about her experiences in the field. I learned as much as I could from her and I still remember some of the stories she told (nine years later),” Lopez continued. “We all look up to certain teachers/professors who impact our lives through their dedication and enthusiasm. Professor Deniz was one of those instructors for me.
Today, what Lopez said she enjoys most about her job is “being part of a diverse agency that strives to build strong community partnerships, values transparency, continuous education, and provides a comprehensive service with compassion to members of the community.
“Growing up in Woodland, I had only good experiences with WPD officers before I was employed by the department,” she noted. “I strive to provide the best version of myself and the highest quality of service to community members who seek help from WPD.”