CSULB Class of: 2013
CSULB Degree: BA Human Development, Theater Arts minor
Hometown: Fountain Valley, CA
Current location: Long Beach, CA
Current job: Autism Services Assistant for Disabled Student Services (DSS) at CSULB
AA: Tell us a little about yourself:
Mike: I was born in Fountain Valley, CA and I was raised in all parts of Orange County – Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Westminster. I recently graduated last year, class of 2013, with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and a minor in Theatre Arts. Currently, I am working for CSULB. I am very fortunate and blessed to have been a former student and now to be a staff member.
AA: What are you doing professionally?
Mike: I am the Autism Services Assistant for Disabled Student Services (DSS) at CSULB. I mostly work with students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome, social anxiety, or other social-cognitive deficits. The job is challenging yet at the same rewarding since I am helping to change their lives.
AA: What steps did you take towards finding/securing this job?
Mike: During my last semester, spring 2013, I was enrolled in a course that required an internship. I found a flyer in the Human Development department office that was seeking an intern at Disabled Student Services, and decided to check it out. I went through the application process and was given the position. It was a difficult internship because I was new to this field and I had to go through extensive training. It was all worth it, however, because this internship made me want to explore the field of mental disabilities. After graduation, the director of DSS and my supervisor gave me the news that they wanted to hire me. I was speechless and of course I took the offer.
AA: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Mike: Helping students improve their lives, because many of them have had a rough past and it is difficult for me being that I have not been in their shoes. So, for them to trust me with improving on their social skills and being their support among other things is very rewarding. Also, the fact that I work with my students throughout the year so I get to witness their improvements. It is such a great feeling to see my students graduate.
AA: Did you envision doing this kind of work while an undergrad?
Mike: Originally, I was on track to becoming a pharmacist and following in my parents’ footsteps. This field is a family tradition, as my father’s side of the family are all physicians, pharmacists, and registered nurses. I did not want to break the tradition and disappoint my parents, but, at the same time, it is important for me to be happy. The first three years at CSULB as a Biochemistry major student I did well in my courses, but I wasn’t truly happy with my path. A good friend of mine advised, “Mike, do not follow your parents’ footsteps, follow your own footsteps.” I took her advice and decided to change my major. I explained to my parents that I did not want to become a pharmacist and they were deeply disappointed. I wanted to be a counselor in higher education for low-income, first generation students. However, after I completed my internship, it changed my pathway.
AA: So you are at Graduation; you have your cap and gown on, and your name is called; you shake hands with the President and make your way across the stage. What does that feel like?
Mike: I went up the stage, saw Dr. F. King Alexander (former President of CSULB) and shook hands with him. The first thing I said to him was, “This is the first time I have seen you in person.” He laughed and said congratulations. A month later I received a phone call from his secretary and he wanted to meet me in person and discuss my accomplishments. I went to his office and he told me that many professors and counselors were talking about me. We had a wonderful conversation and I will never forget that moment.
AA: What was the biggest transition after receiving your diploma and graduating?
Mike: I was definitely afraid of not finding a job upon graduation, but fortunately I was offered the position at DSS right away, making my transition into the working world pretty seamless.
AA: What was the most useful skill or experience that you gathered from college?
Mike: First and foremost, leadership was the most useful skill. I was president of Sigma Alpha Lambda, a national leadership and honors organization, for two years which taught me a lot about myself. I never envisioned myself being a leader of a club, but I learned so much on how to communicate with my officers and members, organize and plan community service events, complete paperwork on time, and schedule and balance work and school. Secondly, having patience is essential. Working with students with ASD can really drain one’s energy. I had a particular student I worked with who was extremely difficult. But at the same time, the student taught me the true meaning of patience and how to control my emotions. I want to thank that student because he made me a better person.
AA: Why did you join the Alumni Association?
Mike: I was at the Grad Fair with my friends and we saw the Alumni Association booth. I decided to take a look, asked questions to the staff on the benefits and signed up. No regrets, one of the best decisions I made in my college career – joining the Alumni Association!
AA: Any advice for the class of 2014?
Mike: Only my close friends and counselors know about this, but I have had a really rough past. They were surprised on how I was able to move forward with my life. One of my favorite quotes is from the film “Rocky Balboa” – “It ain’t about how about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” I took that quote to heart because I received so many hits in my life and they brought me down to my knees. However, I was strong enough to take the hits, stand up, and learn from the mistakes to move go on with my life. Also, don’t let your pride take you over. I was stubborn and I thought I could do anything by myself. However, I learned along the way and told myself, “Wow, I didn’t expect this to be difficult, I need help.” I want to thank my friends, family, professors and counselors who supported me in my rough times.
AA: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Mike: I will have already completed my master’s degree in counseling in higher education, and I see myself having a wife and child. I am currently in the process of creating my own small business. Mental health is my passion right now and it is very distressing to see, hear, and read the news on this issue every single day. With the blessing of my supervisor, I decided to take on this issue and be part of the change. I will be working with adults with mental disabilities and doing everything in my power to help them find happiness and contentment in their lives.