Volume I, Issue 1 | January 27, 2015

A Thirteen Year Story of Grit


Can thirteen years as an employee at Santa Monica College really change your life? Ask Courtney Pierce. At 21, he had a two-year old son and started working at SMC as a part-time custodian. “College” was a foreign word to him then and he had just barely made it through high school. Courtney, now 34, is a Custodial Operations Supervisor and just a few months short of completing his Masters in Public Administration program at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

“I love this college because it saved my life,” says Courtney. When he finished hanging out with new friends he had made at SMC some evenings, they went home to do their schoolwork while Courtney went to work a second part-time custodian job at a post office facility. “Dude, this isn’t working, I thought,” says Courtney. “I want to go to school too!”

So, he enrolled in a guitar and a psychology class at SMC. In 2008, he graduated from SMC with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Then, he went on to California State University, Dominguez Hills where he graduated in 2011 with a major in psychology and a minor in public administration. And all this while not just holding down his full-time job, but also moving up. Shortly after he graduated from SMC, he was promoted to lead custodian and the next promotion to custodial operations supervisor came hot on the heels of graduation from CSUDH.

Courtney found a supportive network of colleagues and supervisors at SMC who helped him grow professionally and academically. And this is by no means the end of the academic road – Courtney’s future plans include law school, and he has his eye on a specialization in labor and employment law.

“If you go to school, your kid will go to school,” Courtney recalls his father, who had not finished high school, telling him. His response then was: you didn’t go to school, and I don’t have to either.

Then, his son Capri was born when Courtney was 19. And predictably, he fell in love.

“What am I going to leave my son?” Courtney remembers thinking. “I wanted to be a role model for him – and it made me sad to think that I had no idea what I was going to leave him.”

Capri is now 16 and he was recently inducted into the National Society of High School Scholars – he’s also already making college plans. Courtney also has another son, Ian, who is 4.

How does he juggle work and school?

“Discipline and patience,” says Courtney. Discipline meant giving up a social life –studying, working and spending time with his sons makes up his routine. The discipline even extended to his diet – “no more heavy food,” he quips. Patience for Courtney meant remaining steadfast and encouraging of others and himself.

When he is stressed out, he goes to his punching bag, swims, plays basketball, trains Capri, plays video games and watches something really silly. Like "Family Guy".

“Courtney is a very deep thinker who grasps the large picture,” says his supervisor Bruce Wyban, SMC Director of Facilities Management. He calls Courtney “compassionate, fair, hardworking, and someone who is able to motivate others to success.”

And Courtney’s love for his workplace runs deep.

“If I can help it, I will never leave SMC,” says Courtney. “I’ll retire from here and be an ‘emeritus’ employee.”