Jose Rosales was finishing his engineering degree at a university in his native Mexico when he met the woman who changed his life. “She was from the United States,” he says, and she came into the high school where he was teaching math as a way to pay for his education. She was looking for a job of her own but instead found the man she would soon marry.
At first, language differences presented a challenge to their courtship. “I could write in English, but I couldn’t speak it,” Jose recalls. So they communicated through writing. “It was like we were mute,” he chuckles. “We filled out notebooks and notebooks.”
As their love grew, her family suggested they marry in the U.S. “My plan was never to live here,” he says of his adopted country. “It just happened that way.” But although Jose was trained as an industrial engineer, circumstances prevented him from landing a job in the field. He worked at a grocery store instead, and the couple built their lives together, staying together for 20 years.
During that time, she was struck by ovarian, breast and skin cancer. She also endured a heart attack from the chemotherapy that weakened her cardiovascular system. “She passed away a couple of years ago,” Jose says ruefully. “My first thought was that at least she didn’t suffer anymore.”
Jose also became impacted by the judicial system, making it harder to find jobs — even with a stable employment history. “In the 25 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve only had a few employers, and I’ve been blessed to be promoted at each one,” he says. While managing a Target, he also led its community volunteer efforts — from cleaning up trash to delivering meals to seniors. He also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.
But none of that seemed to matter to the job market, so Jose turned to Santa Monica College to major in business administration and make a new beginning.
RISING to the Next Level
Shortly after starting at SMC, Jose became involved in RISING, which stands for “Re-entering Incarcerated and System Impacted Navigating Greatness.” The program provides counseling and connections to vital resources for helping students who have been affected by the justice system. This includes those who were arrested but not convicted or who have a relative who has gone through the system.
As soon as he met RISING counselor Nick Bravo, Jose knew he had made the right decision. “He was very welcoming, understanding and helpful,” Jose says. They soon sat down to prepare an education plan — and one that was better, Jose admits, “than the one I had designed on my own.”
According to Jose, Nick asked what his goals were. “Well, I wanted to get a four-year degree from a university,” Jose says. “And SMC is known for its high rate for transferring people to Cal State, University of California or even private schools like USC.”
Now, Jose is earning his associate’s degree and has been accepted into Cal State Northridge. “I’d like to go into a business that deals with supply chain management,” he says. Since products need to be transported to consumers around the world, he knows the field offers numerous opportunities, and Southern California is a major hub. The area is home to the nation’s two largest ports. “The Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach have a lot of need to move stuff,” Jose says with a smile.
His future endeavors may even take Jose back to Mexico, allowing him to leverage his bilingual fluency. “Big Mexican companies do a lot of business with the U.S.,” he says. “And major corporations like Frito-Lay, Ford and General Motors also have divisions in Mexico. So all their executives have to speak English to communicate with their U.S. headquarters.”
Even as Jose plans to transfer to CSUN to pursue business administration and supply chain logistics, he feels like SMC has thoroughly prepared him — and changed his life.
“I’ve faced many obstacles,” he admits. But with SMC’s support, he’s no longer letting anything hold him back from the success he deserves. “Every single professor at SMC has been great,” Jose says. “Coming here has been a really positive experience.”
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