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Sierra College Experience Leaves Lasting Impact

By Bill Mueller

He was good kid, really. Yet hard to tell by outward appearances. Long hair. Scraggly beard. Ripped jeans. Skateboard in hand.  It was probably his careless attitude and the way he disrupted the class that most perturbed the professor. This wasn’t high school after all, but college. This student had arrived late again and made a bit of a scene. It was an all-too familiar pattern.

So when the professor called him up after class, this kid knew he was in trouble. He began to stiffen up. Put up his defenses.  When the class cleared, the conversation started. 

“You really don’t care about me or our classmates,” the teacher stated flatly.  “It’s also clear you really don’t care about yourself either.  If you did, you’d take school more seriously.”  The kid had heard all this before.  It didn’t faze him.

The professor continued:  “But you have an even bigger problem.”  Now the student took notice.  “There is no one at the helm of your life.  You – your ship – it is drifting, aimlessly, on open water.  You are going nowhere.  If you think the pilot is your mom or your dad, or your friends, or someone else, you’re terribly mistaken.  It’s now or never.  You must be at the helm of your life and steer.  Otherwise you will be lost.  And so will your future.”

Jarring words that this young man could not escape. Caring parents can try to break through. Families can help. Friends can intervene. But sometimes teachers can say things in a way that penetrates.

That skateboarding kid, the one who was once not sure about his future or all that driven, graduated from Sierra College and went on to graduate from UC Berkeley and later earn a Masters degree from a Boston university.  He was recently ordained a priest.

I’m his proud father.  

Sierra College changed my son’s life.  It also changed my life for the better.  I also had a teacher who took notice of me and inspired and challenged me to think and be different.  I look back upon that moment as a major turning point in my life.

Education does this.  It not only unlocks knowledge and insights, helps us analyze, think critically, problem-solve and prepare for a career and a life of learning, education and those who practice it transforms lives.  Education in no small way democratizes hope.  Makes opportunity accessible to a small town kid like me whose father and mother never went to college.

Life turned full circle.  Now there is a way we can pay it forward.

This June Sierra College is asking property owners in Placer County to consider a bond issue that will raise $350 million to modernize the Rocklin campus and invest in facilities that will advance science, technology, engineering, and math for advanced economy jobs.  The last bond investment in Sierra College was back in 1957.

This past Monday the Valley Vision Board heard this matter and, after reviewing the issue from all sides over several weeks, voted unanimously to endorse this school bond.  They didn’t hear a passionate plea or a personal story of change from their chief executive.  They analyzed the facts and weighed the evidence.  Investing in education is investing in the human capital we need to drive jobs and business growth, draw investment, create new products and services, increase the regional tax base, and position this region for a vibrant future that touches all of us.  It’s why one of Valley Vision’s six driving strategies is to build a 21st Century talent pipeline and why we engage in a vast body of work around education and workforce development.

Sierra College is highly regarded, well run, and has put forward a thoughtful proposal with well-defined purposes and strong taxpayer protections.  Leading organizations have pulled in behind it.

William Yeats said that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  I know this has been true in my life.  Perhaps this has been true for someone you know.

Twenty thousand students experience Sierra College today – 15 times more students than what was original planned for in the late ‘50s.  Thousands more students are expected to attend the campus over the next few decades seeking purpose, opportunity and a chance to make a difference.  This is a lot of new light, and worth kindling.  Our future depends upon it.


Bill Mueller is Chief Executive of Valley Vision.