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From DVC to PhD, Kortney Stern is Following Her Dreams

Aug 14, 2023

As a struggling high school student Kortney Stern had a hard time picturing herself ever attending college let alone someday earning a PhD. But that's exactly what unfolded for this first-generation college graduate who attributes DVC with her rewarding career direction, her confidence to earn advanced degrees and her success as a college instructor.

"No one in my family has graduated from college, so I was preparing to follow in my family's footsteps and enter the workforce.”

But by the end of her senior year in high school she began to have a change of heart and wondered if she should give college a try. “As it was too late to apply to a four-year institute, my mother recommended that I take one class at DVC. She had taken classes at DVC 15 years ago (but didn’t graduate because she raised me as a single parent and worked full-time as a BART train operator).”

That recommendation was the start of something big for Kortney. Little did she know it would shape not only her college experience, but her career trajectory as well. “She recommended I see if Professor Julie Roemer was still offering classes in the English program.” As it turned out, Professor Roemer was offering an English class in the fall of 2010. “So, I decided I would take the class to see if I liked college.”

Taking this one English class ended up being a pivotal point in Kortney’s life. “By the end of my first class with her I knew I wanted to be an English Professor. She made me fall back in-love with reading, writing and critical thinking, skills that used to inspire me, and I knew right then and there that I wanted to have the opportunity to help students fall in-love with new and exciting skills, books and ideas.”

Although there were barriers and obstacles to overcome as a first-time college student, Kortney is grateful for the support she received at DVC as well as the guidance from her instructors. “From my very first semester at DVC, I felt welcomed, supported and accepted. I truly thrived at DVC, and it was because of that gentle entry into college that I believe I went on to complete my BA, MA, and now, my PhD.”

While at DVC, Kortney gained valuable professional skills and found the direction she needed from mentors such as Heather Lee, Senior Lab Coordinator in the Arts, Communication, and Language Student (ACL) Center.

Heather trained Kortney to become a tutor in the ACL Center which helped launch her teaching abilities. “I was an English tutor at DVC from 2011 to 2017, and I loved every minute of it. Being a tutor gave me hands-on experience working with a diverse range of students on a diverse range of classes.”

Knowing her long-term goal, she was encouraged by Heather to become a Supplemental Instructional Leader (SIL) at DVC's ACL Center. This meant Kortney would be trained to work as a Teaching Assistant in English Language Learner classes at DVC.

“I had the honor of getting to work as a SIL for Julie Roemer and Anrisa Fannin, among other supportive and incredible faculty. I will always attribute my success as an instructor to these formative years in which I learned by example and had brilliant professors take me under their wings to ensure I was successful in the classroom.”

Kortney is now working on her doctoral program in English at Indiana University and still reflects on the impact DVC has had in her life. “I have never met another doctoral student or professor that started their academic career at a community college. Rather than trying to hide my humble roots, my trials and tribulations, my moments of self-doubt, I try to share these stories. And, so, I dedicate my doctoral dissertation to all community college learners out there.”

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