Volume VII, Issue 3 | June 30, 2021

Michael Leggesse

Michael Leggesse, a first-generation college student, brought wide-ranging personal interests to SMC; he eventually decided on journalism. Persisting through many challenges, Michael has been accepted into UCLA and looks forward to forging his own path for the future.

When Michael Leggesse arrived at SMC in fall 2018, he brought along some wide-ranging personal interests, including the desire to be a Music major.

Music is one of his loves, and he plays the piano. During his freshman year, however, he decided to step away from playing and focus on producing other musicians.

He also has a "deep passion for motorsport," he said, "but I get the most excited when I talk about go-karts."

Journalism, however, was the path Michael chose to explore at SMC. "I'm an outgoing person who really likes learning things about people. Everyone has a story."

Finding His Way

Michael is the first in his family to go to college. With no brothers, sisters, or other close relatives with any experience of higher education, he had no one at home to help guide him through the rhythms and rigors of college studies.

Circumstances led him to start to flounder in his classes. At risk of failing or dropping out, Michael was fortunate to find a safety net in SMC's Gateway to Persistence and Success (GPS). 

GPS is an online tool that connects students with their instructors, counselors, and student support services, and acts as an 'early warning' system to help students address issues that are affecting or interfering with their education. Through GPS, instructors can alert Counseling or other support services when a student is struggling, and students can receive feedback on their academic progress, rapid referrals to support services, and positive reinforcement and encouragement.

"Michael came to our attention via GPS," said Denise Martinez, a counselor for the academically rigorous Scholars Program. "He is resilient, determined, bright, insightful. His determination and motivation to pursue a college degree is inspiring."

Michael joined the Scholars Program, and also got involved in the Black Collegians, a program offering mentoring and support services that promote academic excellence and guide students through the transfer process.

During spring 2020, those programs gave Michael the direction he needed to start smoothing out his life as a student. With a support system at SMC he could count on, he began to develop a sense of stability and continuity in his college life.

Adversity Hits

Michael's life was jolted in February 2020 by his mother's cancer diagnosis. He became her caretaker, juggling her medical visits and treatments with his classes and other activities.

Another shock hit in March, when the pandemic forced SMC to close campuses and shift classes and support programs online. For Michael, the transition to remote learning on top of everything he was dealing with at home was particularly difficult.

A summer of Black Lives Matter protests ignited in him a passionate support for social justice, and made him acutely aware of the effects of recent events on American society. 

That fall, Michael signed up as a staff writer and photographer for The Corsair, SMC's award-winning student-run 'newspaper,' published as a print edition for campus distribution (when campuses are open) and as a digital edition at thecorsaironline.com.

Michael's life lurched again in September, when his mother lost her battle with cancer. Despite his grief and the many challenges he was still facing, Michael kept his focus on his studies.

An Upswing

Life was finally on an upswing for Michael in spring 2021. He was finishing up his classes and nearing graduation with an Associate in Arts for Transfer (AA-T) in Journalism. And he had been accepted at UCLA — his first pick! — as a Sociology major.

Yet-a Dilemna

He had long considered his fascination with motorsport and the automotive world "just a passing interest." That turned out not to be the case. What he really wants to do, he decided, is study engineering: specifically, mechanical engineering in the automotive realm. "I've always enjoyed taking things apart," he said, "and I've wanted to develop my knowledge of how to improve cars, especially how to make them go faster. I'd also like to maybe work as an automotive journalist with a technical background." 

So Michael had to choose: transfer to UCLA, or stay at SMC and complete the prerequisites for an engineering program. 

"I know I had said I was leaning towards SMC," he said, "but after several conversations, I actually want to go to UCLA and get my BS, while also picking up my prerequisites at SMC for a major in Mechanical Engineering. This is a great opportunity that I honestly don't want to give up."

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