Photos top to bottom: Deborah Bauer; John Hanecak; Steve Storer, Patrick Moe and Deborah BauerDeborah Bauer

Deborah Bauer was a mother of two teenagers and working part time when she decided to return to school to pursue a longtime goal of teaching and writing.

It was a daunting decision, as it meant starting over. She “was looking for quality instruction that was cost effective, a place that recognizes and understands the non-traditional student, and an atmosphere of continuous learning,” she said—so she chose Diablo Valley College.

“With a background in business, change was a fearful idea,” she said. “I was unclear just how to go about this metamorphosis.” The answer came in the form of a DVC public speaking class in 2006.

“Professor Steve Storer was remarkable,” Bauer said. “Recognizing my uneasiness at being in a class with younger students, he encouraged me to speak up, to finish the class, and enter the speech competition.” She did, and was a finalist in DVC’s tournament—an epochal moment that inspired her new agenda.

“Right then it was resolved,” she said. “My goal was to teach speech.”

She liked that DVC is committed to lifelong learning. “I doubled up on classes, and worked as a teaching assistant at DVC to gain a foundation in communication while simultaneously working on another degree at CSU East Bay. I saw the quality of instruction in Laurie Lema’s Interpersonal Communication, Cheryl Stewart’s History of Women class, and of course there was Steve Storer’s spectacular speech class. The quality of instruction at DVC is as impressive as what one gets at a four-year institution and in some instances is better. Until I came to DVC, I had not found that all-inspiring instructor, the one who changes your life.”

Bauer earned her master’s degree in communication in 2009, which, she said, “was not so much a metamorphosis as it was finding a voice to complement my background. It has resulted in a proliferation of interdisciplinary opportunities that would not have happened had it not been for the support I received at DVC.” She achieved her goal, and has taught at Contra Costa College, Las Positas College, and Santa Clara University.

“But my most meaningful position,” she said, “came when John Hanecak asked me to teach at DVC in the same classroom as my first speech class with Steve Storer, in a class with several non-traditional students enrolled. It is fabulous to realize a goal; it is amazing to use that goal to give back to others, to encourage them as I had been encouraged in that very classroom.” She encourages all students to attend or enter a speech tournament as one more step in their educational career.

As a non-traditional student herself, Bauer believes that the profile of the “traditional” non-traditional student has changed, and that community college is the ideal place for them.

“Today, non-traditional students are men and women who have children,” Bauer said. “They are women who have given up careers for family, or have taken on the primary breadwinning role due to the economy. Some have changed their marital status through divorce; some are single mothers; some are just beginning their education while—or after—raising a family. Some have degrees in business, engineering, or computer science, some are veterans, and some even have master’s degrees but have lost their jobs.

“These students enroll in the community college with hope, but feeling apprehensive, unsure and scared,” she continued. “It is difficult to describe this level of trepidation. I want these students to know that community college—like DVC—is a safe place to go forward, regardless of who they are.” Bauer has been invited to discuss this student cohort at a National Communication Association conference in a panel presentation titled Bridging: The Vital Role of the Community College for Non-traditional Students.

In conclusion, she said, “I feel that DVC’s strength lies in the integrity of strong, confident professors who promote learning regardless of a student’s age or background. Professor Hanecak also embodies DVC’s mission of lifelong learning by encouraging us to take classes and share ideas even as instructors.

“Patrick Moe choreographs a Critical Thinking class that encourages students to challenge ideas through interaction and spirited debate, coupled with his classic bristly wit. Lisa Orta is a tremendous facilitator for the Student Success Institute that helps to incorporate more reading into the curriculum, and Mario Tejada’s culinary arts efforts have been intellectually nourishing. Steve Storer is a true mentor with his wonderful ability to connect with students, alleviate fear, and create a safe place to speak out.

“These instructors promote continuous learning and academic growth,” she said. “I thank them all for the instruction, understanding, and lifelong learning environment. Going back to school could have been as daunting as raising teenagers. However, with the absolutely brilliant encouragement from these DVC instructors who offer a podium for success, starting over was not an obstacle.”