There are endless stories to be told in the world of public education, and each one has a resonant center that reveals a truth.
In the case of Rebeca Morales Calderon, a 2016 graduate of Napa Valley College, that truth is the collaborative power of people. Of teachers, of employers, of students, of family, all working toward a common goal.
Rebeca is now 25 years old, a first-generation college graduate, and as she tells it, growing up, she didn’t have much support from the people in her life. She says she used that lack of support as “fuel” to help her tackle Napa Valley College in 2013.
Once at NVC, however, that changed quickly. When shy Rebeca, who hadn’t come from an academically focused family, needed to meet people and focus on her studies, she was able to get an on-campus, part-time job at the Office of Student Affairs. Throughout her three years at NVC, she also worked at the office of the Associated Students of Napa Valley College (ASVNC) and the Student Support Services TRIO program. She was also a client at TRIO, which supports first-generation college students, allowing her to expand her support network and offered academic counseling, especially as graduation neared.
“Working on campus while I was a student helped me see the value in building relationships with staff and taking full advantage of all the opportunities that came my way,” Rebeca says.
“I became more involved and the people I worked with all became family. I know I can count on all of them for anything. They have helped me with letters of recommendations, scholarships, and even a job while I was searching for my dream job in my field.”
Buoyed by her relationships, Rebeca says, she felt empowered to explore her academic options at NVC without pressure.
“I started as a psychology/business major, but decided to major in sociology,” she says. “Some of my favorite classes at NVC, aside from my sociology courses, were my child development classes. I enjoyed being able to discuss and learn more about everyday social issues in my sociology classes and also learn about how we develop as human beings in my child development classes.”
She graduated from NVC in 2016 with an associate degree and a certificate, and used the UC Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program to transfer to UC Davis, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology, with an emphasis in social services and a minor in human development.
Those Davis years were tumultuous, commuting from her parents’ home in Napa, helping to care for her sister’s toddler boys, and marrying her high school sweetheart, while contending with the larger class sizes and more difficult class requirements of the UC school.
“When I transferred to UC Davis, my ultimate goal was just to complete my bachelor’s degree and begin working,” she says now. “As graduation approached [in summer 2018] and I started my job search, I realized that getting my foot in the door was going to be challenging, because many of the jobs available wanted extensive years of experience and at least a master’s degree, neither of which I possessed.”
She re-evaluated her plans.
“While going to grad school wasn’t in my original plans, I did not want to limit myself, especially if I had already come this far. I also was really curious to see how far I could get with my education,” she says.
Rebeca was accepted to online Master’s in Social Work program at Tulane University, interning at Collabria Care, a hospice and palliative care facility in Napa, at the same time. There she gained hands-on experience working with older adults suffering from a variety of cognitive illnesses, including mental illness, Alzheimer’s, dementia and traumatic brain injuries.
Sixteen months after starting the program, she earned her master’s degree and began her job search in earnest. Once again, her relationships at NVC came through for her and she worked at her old job at SSS Trio for three months until, in March 2020, she began her dream career with a position at the Napa County Community Corrections Service Center, a probation program for jailed offenders aimed at decreasing the number of people who reoffend after being released from jail; increasing community safety; and reintegrating inmates successfully into the community.
She began there as a behavior and change manager and after three months, was promoted to education and employment coordinator, where she helps participants who are getting out of jail find jobs, return to school, and take advantage of community resources. She also manages a caseload of 15 participants and facilitates groups classes to help with life skills, moral reconation therapy and domestic violence treatment.
“When I decided I wanted to be a social worker, never had I imagined that I would be working in the criminal justice system or even with older adults,” Rebeca says. “I always thought I would work with younger children. But that is the beauty of social work, you really never know where it will take you.”
As she continues now in her chosen career, Rebeca looks back with pride at her educational accomplishments. In fall 2020, she was scheduled to be a presenter at an NVC Career Mentor Monday, offering advice and guidance to current students who are on their own journeys. Unfortunately, that session was canceled due to COVID.
“One of my achievements that I am most proud of after leaving Napa Valley College is that I continued to push myself and continued going to school,” she says. “That said, I have always said that I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for all the amazing people I have met at NVC and all their support.”