Retired staff and faculty return to reflect on change during Women’s History Monthby Jan Janes on Apr 9, 2021
Four long-time Gavilan employees, now retired – Susan Dodd, Diane Kormondy Stone, Sandra Talavera, Karen Warren – discussed their time at Gavilan College in Unsung Heroes.
The event, moderated by Ryan Shook, Student Life Coordinator, was a Zoom conference sponsored by Associated Students of Gavilan College.
What drew you to Gavilan? Once you were here, why did you decide to stay?
Sandra Talavera, 24 years, Financial Aid, Senior Financial Aid Specialist
I went to get a job at Walmart, and they didn’t want me! So I decided to take classes at Gav. As a work study student, I worked in Financial Aid. I finished in two years and earned my AA, and I stayed in the Financial Aid department. I loved the college and the people. They all loved students. My coworkers were awesome, great people to work with, and I enjoyed it so much.
Karen Warren, 30 years, English Instructor
I remember my very first semester at Gavilan, teaching a book, Spiderwoman’s Granddaughters. I was so impressed with the students who related to these stories. They soaked up the material, applied it to themselves and got so much out of it. Every semester was like that. At Gavilan, we had an idea we could collaborate between the Writing Center and the library. We could create the Learning Commons and bring students together in the Peer Mentor program. Providing opportunities for people to reach a higher potential, that excited me most.
Diane Kormondy Stone, 13 years, Kinesiology & Athletics, Division Assistant
I was working part time making gift baskets and saw a random ad in the Gilroy Dispatch. I was hired by Rachel Perez to work at the First Five program at a middle school, and after that a series of temp positions. All the really wonderful people I met, especially Ron Hannon, made me want to stay. When I was hired in the permanent position in Athletics, I felt I found my place. My BA was in physical and health education, and I landed in the right spot for me. Students and the faculty in that area were the best. Every day it was a joy to come to work, because I knew I would do something good for a student. I had the best time working at Gav.
Susan Dodd, 37 years, Director of Athletics
I was hired in 1976 to start and coach the three women’s sports teams at the college: volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, softball in the spring. I became Athletic Director in 1979 and later the Kinesiology department chair.
After earning my masters, I looked at opportunities in the community college system and applied to some of the smaller ones. After the interview at Gavilan, such beautiful scenery, I told my folks, ‘whoever gets that job is going to be really lucky.’ I loved the environment and didn’t know it was going to be me. In the mid-80s I applied to Hartnell, interviewed, then thought to myself ‘Why would I want to leave Gavilan?’
Can you describe a student who had an impact on you, or that you made an impact on them?
My first class of female student athletes was really big, and they were all on my first sports teams. They are all kind of special to me. Another individual, Mark Dover, was a pitcher for the baseball team. A great pitcher, not a great infielder or hitter. We were in a playoff game, he was pitching a great game, and we had a chance to win it. But it was his turn at bat, and I saw the coaches debating, do we let him hit? Because they didn’t want to take him out yet. And he walked, so he did his job.
What comes to mind are two students raised in Vietnam during the war. They had immigrated to Gilroy. One told me she didn’t think she could write. I found her, sitting by the gym, crying. I told her, 'You are capable, and you are doing great in the class, you can do this.' She went on to get As, just like her classmate, and they supported one another. From that moment of seeming like she was at the bottom, with her tears and fears, I saw her go right on, take independent studies with me. She wrote poetry and stories about her time in Vietnam she could share with her family. Later she went on to work at the library in Gilroy.
People who come to mind are the ones working there right now. Back then a young gal, Blanca, came in for financial aid and I was able to help her. She had a drive, she wanted to go beyond. You knew she was not going to stop at her associate or bachelor degree. Before she started her career as a counselor, I saw the passion and really admired her for it.
Also Rocio, when she came in, a real little lady, quiet. Blanca, her best friend, was the talker. When Rocio started working in Financial Aid, she had a passion for students.
These young women, who came in as teenagers, had that drive. Now they’re both doing what they love.
I also remember a veteran in the nursing program. After he graduated, He came back to thank everybody for helping him with his VA benefits. He earned his RN and was so excited to tell us about his new job at a San Jose hospital.
Diane Kormondy Stone
One student sticks out to me, a young man named Devon. A quiet kid with dreadlocks, tattoos, a grill. The nicest young man, who came from a tough place in Baltimore, and Gav was his safe place. He went away to college, and then returned to Gilroy because it was a comfortable place to him.
Another student, a young woman, Danielle, was kind of down on herself. She wasn’t sure she could make it, although she did transfer to San Jose State. A lot of the kids would come and visit. My desk, with the candy jar, was a safe space for them. An open invitation to pull up a chair and tell me what was going on.
There were lots of laughs and tears at my desk. I saw students from the time I arrived in the morning until I left at night. They would follow me down to my car, just chatting.
What do you miss most about Gavilan, and what are you enjoying most about retirement?
Diane Kormondy Stone
Well, let’s go with the last part first. I’m enjoying not having to get up at o’dark thirty in the morning. I get to play in my craft room, any day and any time. I’m catching up on my reading. Last year I managed 37 books which was, for me, a thank you. Catching up on years of reading that I just never seemed to have time for, because I was always too tired.
What I miss most about Gavilan are the people. One of my favorite parts of the school year was our student athlete graduation reception we held right before commencement ceremonies. When we first started, we had 8-10 graduates, and held the reception in our office lobby. The last year I was there we moved it to the little gym, we had so many people.
I miss working in the Learning Commons and collaborating with the whole team. We had a sense of family over the years. Working with the staff and all the students we see come through, and then graduate.
I have always loved photography as a hobby. Now, in retirement, I have time to take my photographs and make cards, and I give them away. My sister gave a card to a neighbor, and they loved it. It’s a way to share the things I love and find beautiful, like the ocean, birds, my travels. And I get to learn about other photographers.
What I miss most is the staff, the people at the school, and especially the students. The Financial Aid office did outreach to the high schools. We met with parents of high school students who were graduating. We always encouraged them, in their financial applications, to put in Gavilan as one of their colleges.
For retirement, I’m up at 5 a.m. We have three grandchildren living with us who came from Spain last July – ages nine, seven and four. I enjoy having them. I’m gardening now, and I’m having a lot of fun with my kids and grandkids. I do miss Gav, but I think I work more now!
Like the others, I miss the people. Of all the classes I taught, swimming was probably the most enjoyable. I saw beginner swimmers and ESL students blossom from having zero confidence to see it build. I knew they would gain confidence and complete the skills, but if I told them I knew what they would be able to do, they wouldn’t believe me.
In retirement, except for this year, I have been able to travel to so many places. I’ve done a lot of reading, using the local library to check out books and videos on all kinds of things. I have a couple of acres, so it keeps me busy, working around the property, and viewing the birds.
Tell us about one or two major changes you saw at Gavilan during your tenure here.
Diane Kormondy Stone
The biggest change was moving to Banner. Reflections had been there forever. Going through Banner training was excruciating. We sat, for days and days, crunched up in little rooms in front of computer screens. When we asked questions, the trainer would say that we didn’t need to know why, just do it. And so we ended up training ourselves.
I was impressed with the collaboration around the Learning Commons. It brought all kinds of student services together. The Peer Mentor program, growing out of the Rambassadors, was another great thing. All these changes were student centered.
When I first came to Gavilan, the college was on the quarter system, with a 12-week term. The switch to the semester system, 18 weeks, dragged on. Then we moved to the 16-week semester. Some people liked that, some didn’t. From a departmental standpoint, the college hiring a full time administrative dean and athletic director was one of the biggest positive changes. We finally had an ally at the administrative level. As a result, we have a lot of renovations to athletic facilities, including beach volleyball courts, one of the nicest in the state.
When I started in Financial Aid, we were in a trailer in a parking lot next to the administration building, and we were wall-to-wall files. We were used to just pulling a file and finding the information. When we moved into the Business Office, we eliminated files, and now we find everything on Banner, a big benefit. We have fellowship with Admissions and Records, and students do not have to go from one department to the other.
The Peer Mentors are like gold. They meet students before they come to us, and anything they could solve they did it there. The school has changed tremendously, from a trailer to current offices. Gav is small but powerful.
The veterans now have their own support system in their own center with their own certifying office. And it started at the same time as the Rambassadors.
I want to let people know: Change doesn’t come easy, though you see results down the line.
When I first came to Gavilan, the way they taught beginning English was not to let students write at all. It was to teach them grammar. And what a way to kill the love of learning and the love of writing! We’ve changed our whole curriculum to classes where students start writing and expressing themselves right away. If you see an opportunity for change and improvement, stick with it and find allies. Show people why the change could be good, and you will have success.
Another change, working with Ryan Shook in the Learning Council, was to create opportunities for students, faculty, staff and administrators to all work together. That’s how new programs like the Peer Mentor program got started.
Just like a relay race, when we pass the baton to others coming after us, you will see that you and Gavilan are thriving.