Future Alumni Network

2019-2020 President's Ambassadors



Our 2019-2020 President’s Ambassadors were selected from a large applicant pool after meeting requirements and demonstrating a genuine understanding of the College’s mission, a commitment to partake in service to the college, and a desire and ability to share their personal story which provides tremendous insight into the life and experience of a Santa Monica College student.

Alec Bodolay

Alec BodolayHello! I am from Brazil, and I've been studying at SMC since Fall 2017. When I graduated from High School in Rio de Janeiro, I had no idea what major I should choose. So, like my father and my older brother, I began to follow the path of an engineer. As I was studying nanotechnology engineering, I realized that it was not my passion. After months of self-reflection and research, I found my calling: Neuroscience. However, my country has very few opportunities in the research field, which was my field of interest. In fact, Neuroscience as a major doesn't even exist there yet. That is why I decided to come to the U.S. and pursue my dream. Out of many other colleges and universities that I applied, SMC had my attention from the start. The idea of transferring after 2 years of preparatory courses was the key for me. This gives me an opportunity to explore other areas to make sure I'm on the right path, as well as giving me campus life outside the classroom. Opportunities at SMC are endless. I got involved with sustainability, worked for the recycling department for over a year, led sustainability workshops for 2 semesters, and joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society where I am currently the secretary. Finally, becoming a President's Ambassador was another blessing. It gave me the opportunity to not only grow as a person and a professional but to help others follow their path to success, which I am extremely grateful to be on.

Melissa Bruno

Melissa BrunoGrowing up, my entire identity was wrapped around being a professional dancer. As the stereotype of individuals aspiring to work in entertainment goes, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18, completely on my own and without much of a plan. After working in the industry for a while, I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do, so I decided to enroll myself back into school. I began my journey here at SMC clueless, crossing my fingers that at least one field of study would catch my interest. As I entered this accepting and motivated community of learners, and in taking my first science class, my perspective on life took a drastic turn and I soon discovered my inner passion in STEM that I never knew I had. Being that I am guided by a moral ethic of living in symbiosis with the environment, I was naturally attracted to a field where we learn the ins and outs of how we operate. After taking a few STEM classes, I decided to pursue environmental engineering. I must mention how grateful I am that SMC provided exposure to the toxic state of the current environmental status quo and the benefits of living a "green" lifestyle. I would also like to thank the STEM and Scholars program for challenging their students, and Adelante for providing an abundance of opportunities for Latinas like myself. SMC has provided me with every resource needed to reach my goals, and in becoming the Lead President Ambassador. I want to continue to share the opportunity of growth that SMC provides. I want to help my fellow peers discover themselves and make sure they are also using the wealth of resources and knowledge given to them. Most importantly, I want to help all students realize that they too have a place and space here, even if they do not know it just yet. This will be my last year here at SMC so I want to make the most out of it by inspiring others to believe that reaching their dreams is possible when you are Proud To Be, SMC!

Jakelyn Cruz 

Jakelyn CruzHello! My name is Jakelyn (Jaky) Cruz! I was born in Texas, but raised in Orange County, California. This is my second and hopefully my last year at SMC. I am majoring in political science in hopes of pursuing a career in law. I hope to transfer to either George Washington University or UC Berkeley. I have truly enjoyed my experience here at SMC. Through SMC I was able to join clubs such as Phi Theta Kappa and Pre-Law Society. Phi Theta Kappa introduced me to volunteering opportunities such as Monday's at the Mission, which is a mentor based program for homeless teens in Downtown Los Angeles. I can not picture myself not being there for those kids. Coming to SMC has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I believe SMC has introduced me to some of the best people in the world and some of the best opportunities, such as President's Ambassadors. I had my eye on President's Ambassadors the week that the application was due! Luckily, I was able to write my essays and gather all the other requirements to be able to summit my application on time. The reason why I wanted to be a President's Ambassador is because I wanted to guide other SMC students to the resources on campus that are available to them. Being a President's Ambassador has brought me closer to the campus in ways I could have never imagined, and has helped me build lifelong friendships with other President's Ambassadors. 

Ruben Garcia

Ruben GarciaHello! My name is Rubén Andrés García. I’ve never been the sort of individual who is comfortable living in a way that's congruent with stereotypes. In fact I’ve never wanted to. I know that most people probably make certain assumptions about people who grow up in underprivileged areas, but my upbringing in an impoverished community taught me respect, the importance of integrity, and the importance of standing up for what I believe in.
For this reason, I value what it means to be a community member. The lack of resources available in my community has inspired and motivated me to give back. Growing up, I witnessed a lot of disparities in health care in my neighborhood. There were very few places low income individuals could go to receive adequate medical care. I aspire to be a doctor so that in the future, this can become less prevalent.

My experiences at Santa Monica College have been amazing and I would not trade them for the world. At first, I wasn’t too excited about attending SMC because there was a huge stigma in high school that community college education was subpar. Nevertheless, I was not deterred. I’ve had excellent professors and I’ve met amazing individuals. More importantly, while at SMC, I discovered who it is I want to be and how I want to get there. It is my duty to give back to SMC and I’m happy to be doing so this year as a President’s Ambassador. 

Kyra Adela Gardner

Kyra GardnerHi everyone! My name is Kyra Gardner. I am a second-year student at Santa Monica College majoring in Business Administration and hoping to transfer to USC's Marshall School of Business. I initially decided to attend community college to save money and chose SMC after seeing it's impressive number of transfers to top universities. The beginning of my journey at SMC wasn't an easy one. Considering the big stigma around community college, I didn't feel proud to be here. However, getting to know SMC and what they have to offer changed that feeling. After joining Black Collegians, the Scholars Program, and Alpha Gamma Sigma, I learned that although I wasn't at a university where I expected to be, SMC is definitely the place that will get me there. I also learned that SMC has so much more to offer than transferring. The programs that SMC has offered, the accepting and friendly community, and school pride has made my transition into community college so much easier and most importantly, has made me proud to be SMC. My journey is what encouraged me to be a President's Ambassador. As a President's Ambassador I will do my best to offer you the help and support you need to succeed and will hopefully be that voice that I needed to say that you're in the right place. If you see me, do not hesitate to ask me questions or just say hi! 

Michelle Arefi Hwang

Michelle HwangHi everyone! My name is Michelle and this is my second year here at SMC. I am a History major and hope to ultimately attend law school.  I actually spent quite a few years away from the world of academia for a number of reasons -- one of them being the stigma associated with community colleges and another being chronic illness.  When I first arrived at SMC, I was still experiencing a great deal of uncertainy and felt completely overwhelmed to be attending classes full-time while working full-time.  I kept isolated and wasn't thinking about creating a social life on campus.  It was when a professor reached out to me and urged me to join the Scholars Program that everything began to shift.  Once I became accepted, I then joined SMC's Phi Theta Kappa honors society and became a Commissioner for the Executive Vice President.  I learned about other incredible programs such as EOPS and Law Pathways.  And now here I am, a President's Ambassador.  While I still deal with some of the issues I first arrived with, I can honestly say that I feel so much more supported after having met some really spectacular students and faculty members.  As a first-generation college student, I feel so blessed to have found my way to the educational haven that is SMC.  If you're a struggling student, please feel free to reach out to me.  As the proverb goes:  If you want to go quickly, go alone.  If you want to far, go together.  Proud to be SMC!

Brenda Islas

Brenda IslasEver since I was a small girl, I was taught that three of the most important things in life are family, education and health. That was a lesson I came to cherish immensely as it impacted my life and way of thinking. I came to this country at the age of one, alongside my older siblings. I watched as my parents struggled to learn English with us and leave anything and everything they had ever known behind. To see that level of sacrifice and strength all for the possibility of a better life is part of what fueled my drive to obtain a higher education and become an agent of change on campus through the clubs I joined: Phi Theta Kappa, I.D.E.A.S., and of course the President's Ambassador's program. 

Mariane Christina Kacou

Mariane KacouI was born and raised in West Africa Ivory Coast. I come from a family of four children and after my father passed away, my mother, my older sister and I were forced to embrace poverty. I remember being chased away from the school bus because my mother could not pay my fees which were about $29 per academic year. Bullied in high school I never believed in myself until I realized that trials bring out the best in you, diamond and gold need to go through fire to be refined. After my high school diploma, my sister and I applied to SMC because of the diversity of students and how it was California's number one school in transfers to UCs, USC & LMU. I'm currently majoring in interior architectural design and will be graduating with an AA degree in June 2020. I plan on transferring to a four-year university to earn a bachelor's degree. SMC has provided me with many resources and counselors that helped me with my classes and personal questions. As a President's Ambassador, I want to help my peers to feel welcomed and share with them all that SMC offers and most importantly inspire students to believe in themselves first no matter what background they have or where they come from. #ProudToBeSMC

Yan Daniel Lashchev

Yan LashchevWhen school is in session, I get comfortable in my second home, the SMC math lab, MC 72. This is usually where you will find me most of the day, as I also work there as an instructional assistant. I get interesting evaluations from the peers that see me day to day, words like: bright, talented and gifted. Though I am humbled and appreciative of such kind words, those are qualities, hat in hand, I do not identify within me. I had a troubled upbringing that led to dropping out of high school at the beginning of my sophomore year. By the time I was 18, all I had was a GED and 7th grade level math under my belt. My first year at SMC was a complete disaster as I consistently failed math courses. Things got worse that year when my father lost his life battling alcoholism. I was completely lost. Luckily a professor kept an eye on me as I battled my inner demons. My conversations with this professor took place in the hallways of the math complex and lasted no more than two minutes, but the wisdom he shared in that span completely turned my life around. It made me the person I am today. It is why I decided to become a math major and live and breathe SMC 14 hours a day. I began to study very intensely and learn about college resources that would excel my education. I eventually was offered a tutoring position. I joined the STEM program, EOPS, and achieved an Alpha Gamma Sigma honor. I am not smart or gifted, I am just an exhaustively hard worker. My perseverance has led me to a new chapter of having the honor of being a President's Ambassador. My mission nowadays is similar to the empathetic gesture that professor once gave me. I dedicate myself to helping others shine on campus and reach their goals. I will always offer my friendship, experience, and knowledge of resources. I extend that offer on and off campus to anyone and everyone who ever seeks help. It is sadly my last year here but I have never been more proud to be SMC. My mission does not end here because when I leave, I will continue helping others. It empowers me to push forward against all obstacles and capture my dreams.

Eliana Catalina Marcu

Eliana MarcuLike a lot of people attending Santa Monica College, I come from what you could call a non-traditional academic background. I'm a first-generation high school graduate, a first-generation college student, and a first-generation American. Moreover, rather than attending college right after graduating high school, as is usually expected, I chose to take a gap-year in order to truly figure out what it was that I wanted to pursue next. Considering I had a year's worth of time on my hands, I decided to get a full-time job so I could travel as much as possible. After traveling extensively in and out of the country, a road trip landed me in Santa Monica, California, and I unintentionally stumbled upon SMC. I instantly decided to learn more about the school, and Los Angeles as a whole, and then made the decision to move 2,183 miles away from home for a fresh start and better opportunities.

Nearly as soon as I moved here and started school, my perception of myself began to change. I had always seen myself as a photographer and thought I was bound to end up at an art school. I couldn't imagine an identity or life for myself that wasn't entirely tied to a career in the arts. However, after my first semester, I discovered that I had many different passions that reached beyond what an art school could offer me; I was far more interested in learning about the world around me than I was in learning how to perfectly wield a camera. My new found love for literature, and pondering existential questions really stood out among other things, so I decided to pursue a double-major in English and Philosophy, and I hope to transfer to either Columbia University or Barnard College next fall.

As a President's Ambassador, I hope to inspire other students to similarly step out of their comfort zones, and push themselves to grow, whether that means exploring a new field of study or joining a new club. If I would have stayed within my little self imposed bubble, I wouldn't be in this position today, and as a President's Ambassador I would like to empower others in this same way. 

Mia Moreno

Mia MorenoHi, my name is Mia Moreno. I am in my second year at Santa Monica College majoring in Anthropology and Biology and applying to transfer this fall. I decided to attend SMC to further develop my fundamental skills in order to do well in college. Attending SMC has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only have I improved academically, but I have gained the confidence and skills needed in order to do well in the STEM field. I decided to become a President's Ambassador to be a friendly, informative and engaging resource for students. Stepping onto a college campus can be very intimidating and I hope to be a welcoming and friendly face to those who are nervous about SMC or college in general. My goal is to address the health disparities in minority communities. I am interested in improving minority women's health disparities as an OB/GYN doctor. I am currently learning more and more about the challenges that affect my community and want to be a positive force in battling these challenges.

Salima Zainab Muwakil

Salima MuwakilHello Future Alumni,
My name is Salima Muwakil, I am the Vice President of the Black Collegians Club, a Veteran and a first-generation non-traditional student. This is my second year at SMC majoring in Nursing. I am honored to be one of your President's Ambassadors this year and would like to tell you my story. I grew up in a household that was not emotionally supportive and had few resources to offer me. This along with my immaturity resulted with me graduating high school with a 1.6 GPA, which convinced that I was not smart enough to go to college. One day I walked into a coffee shop telling a friend my life story and a man stopped me and said, " I don't mean to bother you but I overheard your conversation. I think that you should give college a try." He was Professor Nate Donahue. He then handed me his business card and told me to call him if I needed any help with admissions or signing up for classes. I thought to myself, " What kind of school employs Professors that take the time to help strangers?" I had to see for myself. The very next day I came to campus, took the placement test and signed up for classes. During my first semester, I found out about the Black Collegians Club and became heavily involved right away. Mrs. Bradford, along with Dr. Dowd, Mrs. Turner and Dr. Woodard started to mentor me and shower me with love. I have never met so many people in one place that were constantly cheering me on and were there to comfort and push me when I felt like giving up. Due to my resilience, hard work and perseverance, I finished my first semester with a 4.0 GPA and was able to join programs such as Scholars and Phi Theta Kappa. I did all this while living out of my car. I wanted to become a President's Ambassador to inspire students who, like me, had a rocky past. I want students to know that it is never too late to become the person you always dreamed you would become. I recommend that all students participate in a club and find a mentor. Doing this can make a big difference in your time here at SMC. Shout out to Black Collegians/Latino Center staff Janet Tercero and Edwin Cruz, I love you both and would not be a President's Ambassador today without your help. A special shout out to Math Professor Sheida Rahmani. Thank you for your mentorship and for showing me that regardless of my past, the sky's the limit.

Christine Eva Tai

Christina TaiHello everyone! My name is Christine Tai and I am a second year Political Science major here at Santa Monica College. Something interesting about me is that I am ethnically South Korean, but am a citizen of three countries: the US, Canada, and South Korea. I was born in the United States, grew up in Canada, attended three years of high school in South Korea, attended my senior year in Irvine, and finally moved to Santa Monica to attend SMC. What ultimately drew me to this College was its #1 transfer rate to the UC's, CSU's, LMU, USC, and some top private universities. In addition, going straight to a 4-year university out of high school was going to be a financial burden for me, as I would not have been classified as a resident. Near the end of my first year here at SMC, I saw an advertisement on the school's social media encouraging students to apply for the President's Ambassadors program. Upon seeing it, I knew I wanted to become a PA simply because I love reaching out to others and I wanted to be that first face that would welcome future alumni to the SMC community. Now that I have shared this, my hope is that students who have taken the time to read this would not be afraid to approach me if they see me on campus, whether it just be to say hello or ask for help. I would be MORE than happy to help!