Announcing SEA’s new Executive Director, Laura DiZazzo!

After a thoughtful search, we are incredibly excited to announce that Laura DiZazzo has accepted the Executive Director position at Seattle Education Access to begin on July 8, 2019.

Laura has been an ardent supporter of SEA since 2008. In that time, Laura has acted as a program partner at two colleges and served as a member of our board of directors – and now we’re thrilled to have her as our leader!

Laura’s professional and personal achievements reveal a resilient, focused visionary with an unwavering commitment to the most diverse and historically marginalized students on our college campuses. As Laura stated, “We, as a society, are missing out on too many brilliant minds due to intergenerational cycles of poverty, systemic racism, and other structural bias. Without organizations like SEA working for social and racial justice, our post-secondary education system will continue to sell hope, but deliver inequity.”

Professionally, Laura’s dense resume includes many accomplishments as a non-profit and educational leader. Since 2012, Laura has worked in partnership with SEA as the Dean of Instruction for Basic and Transitional Studies at Seattle Central College.  Her work included collaboration with SEA to establish a high school reengagement program at Seattle Central College, Learning Center Seattle. During her tenure as Dean, Laura worked tirelessly to lead her department in serving 2,500 non-traditional students annually in the areas of adult basic education, English as a second language, GED completion, high school completion, and more. Between 2007 and 2012, Laura worked in partnership with SEA as the Dean of Instruction for Language, Academic Skills, and Wellness at Green River College.  While at Green River College, Laura expanded the community presence of basic skills programs across South King County and established the high school reengagement program and SEA partner site, iGrad.

Personally, her story reflects that of many SEA students. Due to the barriers she faced, Laura is acutely aware that statistically she should be in a very different place. Guidance from individuals outside of her family who helped her to explore college opportunities changed the trajectory of her life. As she explained, “I believe that the model of combining authentic relationships with funding and other post-secondary education supports changes lives – it did for me.”

Laura’s breadth of experience working with non-traditional students, expertise in organizational growth management, and deep institutional knowledge of SEA, paired with her personal experiences accessing higher education, makes her a spectacular fit as our next Executive Director. We are confident that Laura’s talents, leadership, and skills will shape SEA’s trajectory for years to come.

We are excited about how SEA will continue to grow, learn, and reflect with Laura’s leadership—and continuing SEA’s commitment to always centering the voices of those who are at the core of our mission.

 

 

 

Matthew Norman,

SEA Interim Board President

 

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“I had the chance to re-connect to my Samoan roots through UW Tacoma.”

My name is Joseph. I am a junior at the University ofWashington Tacoma pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Systems.

The academics aren’t easy, but the biggest roadblock I’ve encountered in college is money. I’m lucky to have a part-time job that worked with my school schedule and to have financial aid cover a majority of my tuition costs. However, it still wasn’t enough. Even with the income from my job and financial aid, I still wasn’t making enough to cover for books and help pay for living expenses. I didn’t want to ask my family for financial assistance either. Growing up, we always had to worry about whether we had just enough money to pay the bills and get through the month. I wanted to be as independent as possible for them; I didn’t want to give my family one more thing to worry about. I needed that extra push to get me through each quarter, and I didn’t want to have to sacrifice the already delicate balance I had between work and school in order to get there.

Thanks to my education advocate, Nicolette, I didn’t have too. Nicolette connected me to a variety of scholarship opportunities that I could take in order to help alleviate the financial strain of college. She’s also been an amazing advisor, and was always willing to step up and offer the advice and help I needed. Thanks to these opportunities, I was allowed to keep growing. I’ve been able to meet some extraordinary people throughout my college career, many of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends. Nowhere else would I have got the chance to reconnect with my Samoan roots through UW Tacoma’s Asian Pacific Islander Student Union. I couldn’t have done any of that without Nicolette. SEA provided the support I needed, and if there’s one thing I know, they’ll do their best to provide it for those in need too.

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“SEA was the window of opportunity and hope I needed.”


Family is everything to me. With all of the ups and downs I have experienced in my life, I consider myself lucky because I know my family is always with me. My life plans have been accomplished because of the values I have learned from my family, culture, and community.  

My name is Jazmine Stephanie Hernandez, I am a 17-year-old Mexican American young lady who truly understands that to achieve your goals you must show respect, work hard, be responsible and express gratitude. My mother taught me to dream big and value education, and that is exactly what I have been doing since I was a young child.

My mother is from Mexico and my father from Honduras. Our home was full of harmony and love with my siblings. All of that changed when my grandmother passed away. My father sunk into a depression and began being more and more aggressive towards my mother. Our happy family began to slip away as bills started to stack up and we couldn’t afford all of our needs. My mother decided to separate from my father and though it was hard for us, I knew it was the best decision for our family. She got a job at U.P.S. and I saw firsthand what hard work was, watching my mother work nights and be up in the morning making us breakfast and getting us ready for school. With all of the changes happening around me, my grades began to suffer and I became depressed.  

In January 2012, our house caught on fire and we barely escaped out of the back door. We were fortunate enough to have the Red Cross put us up in a hotel for a week, but my mother and I were crushed about losing all of our possessions and memories in the fire. We later moved in with a family friend and months after that we were able to find a two bedroom apartment we could afford so we could start our new life.

My mom started to feel ill and had difficulty breathing. I saw her get worse and worse every day which worried me a lot because she ate less, couldn`t walk much, and her feet began to swell. On December 23, 2014, my mother in the emergency room, was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease and was told that dialysis was her only way to save her life. I was dying inside knowing that the person I love so much was suffering emotionally, physically, and mentally. She has no choice but to receive those treatments for the rest of her life or until she successfully has a kidney transplant. That day I noticed how lonely my mom was, but I felt how strong her love was for all of us. We were always by her side giving her comfort when she was at in the hospital, and she continues to get treatment three times a week.

When I was 14 years old I met my first partner and he was really special to me. I knew he was a nice person because he always treated people with good manners and respect. His parents offered my family help because they were aware of my mother`s health and financial situation. My dad knew I had a boyfriend and he told me he was not willing to support me if I became pregnant.  Later that year I discovered my pregnancy but I felt safe because I knew my partner was going to be there for support. My mom was not quite happy because I was really young and we were barely able to pay rent. 

I was so happy to become a mother and excited to share the news with my boyfriend. My excitement faded when he told me he was not interested in being a father an unwilling to take responsibility for our child. I later discovered he was part of a street gang and I didn’t want to raise my child near that environment. My mom and I decided we needed to move to be closer to her family in Seattle. My mother, siblings and I moved here to Washington when I was 4 months pregnant. I felt awful because my family was suffering the consequence of my actions. My mother told me this was not a mistake, but just a lesson I should learn from life. Because of my dad’s aggressive behavior, he currently is not aware of my baby`s existence and still pays my child support as a minor.

I gave birth to Julian Hernandez on January 7, 2016, and that day I was marked as a mother with pride, motivation and happiness. I was determined to complete my educational goals of finishing high school and attending college. With continued family backing, I work hard on being the best student I can for my son and for my little siblings to look up to.

I decided to work for high school and college credits since I detained my education during my pregnancy. When I felt everything was against me and dreams just couldn’t come true due to my low-income status, Seattle Education Access came in as the window of opportunity and hope I needed so desperately.  I want to demonstrate my ability as a Latina student and my role of mother as being a motivation never an obstacle.

SEA was and still is present to every important step I take and fortunately they will witness the results of their unconditional support during my graduation in this upcoming summer. The moment I submitted my first college application they assisted me with lots of resources and paid for all the fees (admin. & registration) which served as one more of my desires to achieve remarkable grades once being accepted into Bellevue College (the institute I currently attend). Purchase of books, transportation assistance, and several other needed assets was provided by SEA since my first college course. I have the commitment to make SEA proud of the faith, effort, and advocacy they’ve always instilled in my educational and personal life; SEA is simply the best in serving the community of low-income students.  SEA understands that at some point, we all think about just surrendering and giving up because of the lack of financial means to become a college student.

I will be graduating this summer (June 2019) with honors. My life has been pretty tough at times and I want to tear down all of the obstacles stopping me from achieving my goals. I want to raise my son to value his education and be able to provide him with all the tools he needs to have a bright future. I want to complete my career to help support my family financially and raise them out of poverty while guiding my siblings to go through the same path. All the experiences I have had in my life so far made me who I am, and I will prove to everyone in my family that even though I have my son I can graduate from university as with a law major. I will be the first graduate in my family to be successful young mother, student, and daughter and make my mother proud of the child she raised from her own.  

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Diamonique’s Big and Bold Dreams

I got pregnant when I was in my sophomore year of high school and never went back for my junior year. When I had my daughter in September of 2009, I did not have any support in figuring out how to navigate an educational path that suited my needs. I tried a high school completion program at a local college and I failed. I didn’t realize it then, but I didn’t have a support system or the resources I needed to be successful. I dropped out again. My family was unstable for years. My mom had been on and off abusing drugs and was not able to take care of me and my siblings properly.

No one really blinked in my direction when I dropped out of high school or failed at the high school completion program.
I was kicked out of my family home and experienced homelessness for a short period of time which was a great source of stress for me that caused my educational endeavors to suffer more.

After stabilizing my living situation, I got connected with Seattle Education Access when I was 19. My Education Advocate, Anthon, helped me through determining school options that worked out best for me and my lifestyle. I decided to pursue a GED and finished all the tests within a month. Next, I got help getting enrolled at North Seattle College and began working on my Associate’s degree. I’ve been in school since then. SEA helped me start my educational path. I got support with tutoring to prepare for my GED, practice books, and really individualized help that focused on my needs. SEA helped me to actualize my educational goals.

I have experienced feeling like I do not belong in institutions of higher learning throughout this entire journey. I have had to learn to make space for myself and people who identify similarly to me (black, woman, first-generation college student, low-income, and parent). I have felt insignificant and not as smart compared to my peers at times.

I really don’t think I would have made it this far with my education if I wasn’t given the tools to advocate for myself, make important connections, and get the support I needed to become successful in my education by my own definition. SEA helped me gain confidence and realize that pursuing education takes more than just being smart or intelligent. It’s difficult to get through higher education alone and no one who needs extra support should have to. Almost 7 years later, I have an A.A., a B.A. in psychology, and I am now in my second year of a PhD program in Quantitative Methods in Education through the Educational Psychology department at University of Minnesota.

My daughter is a perpetual source of inspiration to me. I think my interest in education and learning has sparked something beautiful in her. I am seriously always surprised by her and motivated to keep learning so that she can see someone who has taken a path less traveled (corny, I know). She talks about going to grad school, being a mathematician or an engineer.  I think it’s showing her that she can have dreams that are big, bold, and  difficult, and still reach them. 

-Diamonique

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“I will one day see my name on the silver screen.”

My name is Jojo Ardon. My pronouns are they/them, I am 18 years old, and I live in Federal Way, Washington. I live with my mother, father, and younger brother; who is 7 years old. I love him with my whole heart. My motivation to work hard comes from giving him a good role model.

School has always been a word that made me fall into despair; the place that made me break down in tears when I would step into the shower at night after 4+ hours of homework. It wasn’t always like this. September 2005 you would have seen a happy small child, shyly hiding beside their mother as they stood in line with other small colorful children, tugging on the straps of their pink Barbie backpack that was much too big. Kindergarten was the glimpse into what was to come in my school life; within the first month I began getting bullied by a much older student, 4th or 5th grade, constantly being shoved and screamed at by this person made me quickly hate waking up in the morning, they also made me hate my favourite denim Minnie Mouse bucket hat, which I had worn everyday it was possible. And although I would later get pushed off the monkey bars and have my eyebrow split, and I would get in trouble for biting a student that had me in a choke hold. Kindergarten was the ‘easy’ part.

When elementary school time was up I went to Highline CHOICE Academy, a school I was so looking forward to going to; I had a few close acquaintances from elementary attending as well, it looked to be as if everything would be okay.

CHOICE Academy is known for preparing you for your future education and career, it’s also known for the good socialization between all it’s students. When I started going to CHOICE in 2012, my 7th grade class had a little under 25 students, everyone kind of knew each other. Also since the school as a whole was fairly cramped you would often see the 7th graders chatting with the 11th graders. I will admit, middle school at CHOICE wasn’t that bad, I remember a few moments being genuinely fun, and I am thankful for those. I was always a good student, I enjoyed learning, no matter how much I would complain to my mother about it, I loved, and still love, writing essays, reading, learning about history, and so much more; so it was easy to throw myself into my school work when I realized I didn’t have any friends, not really, I had people I would hang out with and joke around with, but that was it. When I came to the realization of this it kick-started my anxiety, but I wasn’t desperate to find someone, I was alright, or at least I tried to be; I thought I couldn’t do any better than the people I knew.

You often hear students saying, “This place is hell” or “I’d rather die than be here” and most of the time they are told as jokes; not for me. During my sophomore year we had to decide what we wanted to do the following year, either attend Puget Sound Skills Center (PSSC) or Running Start; I had chosen the multimedia course at PSSC. The first month at PSSC was pretty good; a new environment with new people who all had a common interest; this was also the time I came to the realization that I want to be a screenwriter. I wouldn’t even last 2 months at PSSC, because a student choked me one day to the point where I had to kick him away; I feared everyday after, but I didn’t dare say a word; I took it out on myself, I self-harmed more regularly to the point I wanted to take my own life. October 2015, I was sent to Fairfax Behavioral Health Hospital for a week and a day; I remember crying on my last day because I felt I wasn’t ready to leave, I had also made friends while I was in there. I didn’t go to school for 3 months, trying to figure out what came next, and in January 2016 I was sent to the Woodside Alternative Campus, and online learning center. I fell into my old routine there, threw myself into my work extra hard to try and distract my bad brain. I completed all my necessary credit requirements at the end of November 2017, I could have gotten my diploma then, but my mother had always dreamed of seeing me in every my cap and gown walking across a stage, so I didn’t take it, not yet. I spent the next 7 months interning at NAVOS Mental Health and Wellness Center, I would give presentations in the Highline School District and as well as students at the UW where I am able to share my experiences to teach others.

The learning center was one of my greatest support systems when I needed it most, I saw the teachers as real people, interested in every word they had to say. With the learning center I was able to connect with SEA, and have the privilege of meeting Taylor Wells. Wells is the type of woman you greatly benefit from just by standing in a room with her; with her I have mainly been working on scholarship applications and was able to get the “No Time To Sleep” scholarship from Alaska Airlines. With this I am hoping to attend the Seattle Film Institute after a year of community college.

School; the word that once threw me into despair has shaped me into the person I am today, and although my mental health is still exceptionally bad, I am able to say that I will attend Highline College in September, then (hopefully) Seattle Film Institute, to one day see my name up on the silver screen, with screenwriter/director beside it.

-Jojo Ardon

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“I am very passionate, and never give up. No matter what!”

My name is Anitta Mejia and I am a full-time student at South Seattle College working to get my AAS degree in Culinary.

I also work full-time at a seafood restaurant and own my own catering business. I am a passionate and dedicated hard worker that is not only into cooking, but is also passionate about striving for more in my life. I graduated Student of the Year, from Career Link High School in 2015 and made it into college.

I was married at a young age, but recently divorced this year. Going through my separation, only made me stronger and wiser as a person and a student, and helped me become the dedicated passionate cook that I am. I did not give up or stop going to school through my separation, I simply just pushed myself to do better and keep getting through school with the support and motivation of all my college professors on campus. Going through the process of divorce, my family unfortunately was not very supportive, but I had others to help get me through.

My family always said I will not make it in life, but being the young independent woman I’ve grown up to be, have learned to leave all the hate in the past and welcome them with open arms when they are ready to do so. I am proud of how far I’ve gotten in life today without them, and I stand proud before the eyes of my professors and SEA Education Advocate, who have stood by my side in the long run and have seen all the hard work and dedication I put into my career and person life goals.

South Seattle College has been life changing for me. I am the first to have graduated high school on time and also the first in my family to have attended college. I have been very active in multiple events on campus and off campus as well. I own my own catering business outside of work and school. I am very passionate about what I do and never give up, no matter what. My big life goal is to hopefully own my own Mexican restaurant soon after I graduate from college. Life has been a struggle for me, but everyday I must push myself to do better for me because in the end, it will all have been worth it. My daily quote I tell myself everyday is “make today so great, that tomorrow gets jealous!”

I hope my story inspires others. It takes self-motivation and to want to do better for yourself. If I’ve learned anything, is with struggles, come huge success! And also positive thoughts bring positive outcomes!

-Anitta Mejia

 

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“They were like a second family to my daughter and me.”


Ursula (right) and her daughter, Alyson (left) are both SEA students.

Throughout my educational career I have overcome many personal challenges to get to where I am now. Growing up in Peru, I was raised with the understanding that my role as a woman was to become a wife and mother. I was never introduced to educational or career opportunities. This carried over into my life in the United States. For over 10 years, I embraced this role and raised my family. I would work odd jobs as a house cleaner, at fast-food restaurants, as a dish washer, and other menial labor jobs. As an immigrant without an American education, these were the only jobs available to me. In these positions, I faced harassment and was forced to deal with any treatment that I received, regardless of how inappropriate it was. I had no power and simply needed the jobs to pay my bills. As I moved from job to job, I always knew I wanted something more for myself, but I did not know where to begin.

Today, six years from the day I made the decision to enroll in school, I have completed the English for Speakers of Other Languages (EOSL) program, earned my general education degree (GED), graduated from Green River College with an Associate’s Degree in Business, and will graduate in a year from UW Tacoma with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business.

Seattle Education Access has been a big support for me throughout this journey. I met Jeff through the Master Achiever’s Center at Green River in 2013, and we have been working together ever since. SEA paid for my GED tests; supported me with financial aid applications; helped me decide on my major; connected me to tutoring support; provided scholarships to help me pay for classes, books, and supplies; and served as a sounding board when I needed to vent my frustrations.

Then, in 2015, I was able to enroll my daughter with SEA when she started at Green River. Alyson saw me struggling, but somehow finding a way to succeed, and this inspired her to pursue a degree. She also worked closely with Jeff at Seattle Education Access and was able to earn an Associate’s Degree and transfer to UW Tacoma this fall.

SEA has always been there whenever we needed support. Whether it was filling out paperwork, editing scholarship applications, or discussing personal struggles, we knew we had someone to turn to. They were like a second family to my daughter and me and provided guidance through a lot of difficult times.  I think I would have given up without the support provided through SEA, and I am so proud of where we are now and where we are headed.

-Ursula 

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