Salli Takenaka “I think our leaders are among the finest human beings we could find on this planet. Because of the way they see things, SMC is as good as it is.”

In the midst of grading a demanding advanced calculus exam, Salli Takenaka expresses wonder about her students. “I have so many people who are just so bright, and this is only their first test. It’s so thrilling to find bright students who are also hardworking and respectful,” she says. A former high school teacher and counselor, Salli is a ten-year veteran of SMC who went full time two years ago. Comparing high school with SMC, she observes, “Here, I can put in hours of time to come up with a really good class presentation. The students appreciate devotion and how much you care about them.”

The challenges and intricacies of the art of mathematics have captivated Salli since she was a little kid. “I just always liked math and I would spend hours doing homework,” she recalls. “My whole self-esteem in high school came from the fact that I could go to the board and solve problems and explain them to other students.”

But the road to fulfilling her passion was sidetracked into a career in private industry where Salli worked in aerospace. Eventually she returned to school to get degrees in physics and mathematics. “I was really unhappy in the dog-eat-dog world. I kept saying, if I could only be a math teacher, I’d be happy.” So she gave up a promising career as an engineer and took a job at Oxnard High School that paid half her former salary. “And I never regretted that decision,” she says firmly.

Salli currently spends a lot of time with her five young grandchildren. And the devotion with which she nurtures them extends to her students at SMC. She recalls one student who was denied admission to UCLA and who “was just so sad. She said ‘Could you please write and tell them all about me.’ So I did, and they accepted her. It’s great to know that as a teacher, I can really make a difference in someone’s life.”

Read more stories from present and past years in the SMC Student Spotlight Archive.