As Woodland Community College heads into its 32nd year, its graduates’ cumulative endeavors and benefits are being felt throughout Yolo County and beyond.
While the school has been offering classes since 1975, the present 120-acre campus wasn’t formed until 1990 and became fully accredited in 2008, meaning graduates of the Woodland school have gone on to many different things.
Some have used their education to advance their chosen careers or explore new interests. Others have entered public service positions, local government, or now head up nonprofit agencies.
Perhaps, nowhere could this be seen more clearly than at the May graduation ceremonies, attended by 411 students – many of whom returned to the school because ceremonies were canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those graduates received a combined 514 degrees and 249 certificates, according to Woodland Community College President Art Pimentel. Some of the 2022 graduates, like Lysett Ruiz, will be moving on to a four-year university, where she hopes to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Others, like Monica Jimenez, will be continuing their education at Sacramento State in hopes of becoming a social worker.
The paths being taken by people like Ruiz and Jimenez can be seen in others who graduated from the college over the years and continue to call Woodland Home.
City Councilwoman Tania Garcia-Cadena, Woodland Police Officer Sergio Omar Jacobo, and Community Service Officer Zulema Lopez all credit their current successes to the things they learned at college.
Garcia-Cadena said she first attended the college in the spring of 1985, during her senior year of high school.
“I knew that 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. “Those six ECE units allowed me to land a job as an assistant at the Woodland Montessori two months after graduating from Woodland High School.”
Garcia-Cadena said she continued to go to college part-time off and on for about four years while working full-time as a preschool assistant at Woodland Montessori and then as the director of Peace of Mind childcare centers. She returned to the college in 2007 to get an associate of arts degree.
“I chose WCC because I wanted to work full-time and still be able to attend school,” she continued. “Cheri Schroeder was my first ECE instructor and I wanted to be just like her. Cheri has been a mentor to me over the years and I value her friendship.”
Garcia-Cadena today represents Woodland’s 3rd District on the City Council, having been appointed in January 2021 to fill out 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 in second to Barajas and was appointed when he left because she has lived in the 3rd District for 25 years and has served as the director of the Woodland Food Closet while doing community service work through organizations like the Soroptimists.
In 2012 she received the city’s Community Service Award, and in 2018, she was honored as a Woman of the Year by Congressman John Garamendi.
Garcia-Cadena’s term of office ends this year, and she plans to seek election to the council in November.
“As a member of the council, I see the value of having a community college in our city and the opportunities that WCC provides to our residents,” she summarized. “After a difficult year and a half at Sierra College my son moved back home to attend WCC, where he was able to get his AA in Psychology in 2016 before transferring to Sacramento State.”
Police Officer Sergio Jacobo’s path through Woodland College is similar to that of Garcia-Cadena.
He was born in Woodland and is a 2011 Esparto High School graduate who participated in football, soccer, and baseball. He had his first job at age 12 after obtaining a work permit from the Esparto School District and worked summers at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley from 2006 to 2013 and at Nugget Market from 2013 to 2019.
He went to Woodland College “straight out of Esparto High in 2011 and graduated in 2015” after studying the administration of justice and social and behavioral sciences. He obtained an associate of science degree in both fields. He went to college for some of the same reasons as others: 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 the event they’re victimized.” He noted that teacher Leslie Denise was an “amazing educator.”
Jacobo enjoys his work, saying he likes the “autonomous nature of the work. Not being micro-managed. Genuinely being able to help people in a time of need and hopefully make a positive change in their lives.”
He also credits the college with helping prepare him for his career.
“The WCC Summer Camp Academy helped me gain a glimpse into life as an academy recruit/cadet,” he said. “Also, the administration of justice program prepared me to move into the more challenging course in the criminal justice program at Sacramento State.”
He earned a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice in 2018, graduated from the Sacramento Police Academy in June 2020, and joined the Woodland Police Department the same month after about seven months of serving as a recruit.
Community Services Officer Zulema Lopez joined the force in November 2021. She is also a native of Woodland and grew up raising sheep for Yolo County 4-H, was a member of the Woodland Youth Council, and is a Pioneer High School graduate.
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 selected WCC because it was conveniently close to my home and was affordable for me, and also allowed me to choose my own schedule so I could maintain a job,” Lopez reported. “I proceeded to WCC after graduating from Pioneer High School in 2011 but went from a full-time to part-time student depending on the courses available the following semester and not overburden myself.”
Lopez said her orientation at Woodland College helped provide a roadmap of available resources and set up a class schedule.
“My orientation day is where I decided that I was going to pursue law enforcement,” she said. “I had an eager drive to work in the community where I was born and raised in. I wanted to provide assistance and serve the community that helped shape me into a young adult. Being bilingual, I also knew that I would be able to better assist our Spanish-speaking community and build relationships with that portion of the community who would otherwise be too timid to reach out or ask for help when they needed.”
Lopez remembers that Professor Leslie Deniz strongly influenced her decision to go into policing.
“She was very enthusiastic about law enforcement and very open about her experiences in the field. I took in as much as I could from her and still remember some of the stories she had told (nine years later),” Lopez continued. “We all admire some teachers/professors who impact our lives by their dedication and enthusiasm. Professor Deniz was one of those instructors for me.”
Today, what Lopez said she enjoys most about her work is “being part of a diverse agency which strives to create strong community partnerships, values transparency, continuous education and provides overall compassionate service to members of the community.
“Growing up in Woodland, I have only had good experiences with WPD officers prior to being employed with the department,” she noted. “I strive to provide the best version of myself and the best quality of service to members of the community who seek assistance from WPD.”