New building on schedule for completion

Student Services, photography, journalism building to debut summer 2015

Originally published in the May 6, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

City College's new Student Services building nears completion and is set to open in 2015. Photo by Gabrielle Smith | Staff Photographer |

City College’s new Student Services building nears completion and is set to open in 2015. Photo by Gabrielle Smith | Staff Photographer |

In June 2013, a vintage City College building, known to students as the Student Services and Administration of Justice building, was torn down and a construction project to create a new student services building began.

According to City College Vice President of Administrative Services Robert Martinelli, the new two-story building, which will include 16,000 square feet of usable space, doubles the space of the original building, and is on schedule to meet its February 2015 completion goal, partly thanks to California’s recent dry weather.

“To California’s chagrin, we’ve had a very dry winter, so [the construction crew] didn’t use many weather days at all during the course of the winter,” said Martinelli. “We’re still working on our plan to move into the building, but basically, it’ll be ready for summer of 2015 in terms of a semester.”

The new building will house Student Services on the first floor and the top floor will be the new home of the photography and journalism departments, according to Martinelli.

In addition to the new building’s construction, the Lusk building is also undergoing a construction phase, also due to be completed in 2015. Following that, a revision, which Martinelli says is currently in design, to Rodda Hall North will be the next project.

“Rodda Hall’s third floor currently houses photography and electronics,” said Martinelli. “So when journalism and photography go to the new building, electronics is going to Lusk 11. Then we’ll be able to get in and do the Rodda North project.”

The next projects on tap, according to Martinelli, are renovations of the Mohr Hall and Lillard Hall buildings. But Martinelli said these projects are held up because of a lack of funding.

“Those projects are dependent upon 50 percent, roughly, funding from the state,” said Martinelli. “Because of the budget crisis, the state hasn’t had a facility bond measure for several years. The next opportunity will be the fall of 2016.”

Martinelli said pending whether a measure for funding passes in 2016 or not, these projects would need to be reevaluated.

“What it would likely mean is we pull local money up to the Mohr project and fully fund that with local bond money,” said Martinelli. “That puts those later projects in kind of a precarious position. That’s the action point that we’re waiting on, the state bond and what is going to happen.”

The next phase of the project, following Mohr and Lillard’s facelifts, which are both scheduled regardless of where funding will come from, would be to expand the West Sacramento and Davis outreach centers, Martinelli said.

For now, the focus is on the new student services building. Vice President of Student Services Michael Poindexter said that before the building began construction, student, faculty and staff opinions were taken into consideration in an effort to make an easier, more streamlined process for new and existing City College students.

From this feedback, the college began looking at how to best combine the offices into a space that would make them more easily navigable.

“The building is being built based on information we received from students and pulling those pieces together to make sure that we have a welcoming front door for students that will be entering into the institution,” said Poindexter. “We’re really looking at the first floor of that building being the front door to the institution.”

Poindexter added that he feels the building’s design will cut down on student confusion and large crowds, especially during the first few weeks of the semesters and that overall, the new setup will provide better “customer service” to the students.

“I’m excited about it,” said Poindexter. “We’re going to have more of a welcoming feeling. We want a feeling as close as we can get, like a feeling when you walk into the Apple store. We’re going to have people available to talk with you as you enter into the building. There will be a reception area that students can stop in before getting into a line.”

Photography Professor Paul Estabrook got a chance to take an inside tour of the new building recently and said he’s excited to move into the new space soon.

Estabrook said in terms of construction, the best part is the openness of the building.

“The building is just great,” said Estabrook. “One thing across the board that people are going to be really excited about, it has a completely different feel than any other building on campus because when you walk in the front door, you can look up into photo journalism and [see examples of ] photography. Then on the second floor, you get this really unique perspective of the first floor, plus the campus because that whole front area is just glass.”

Estabrook shared Poindexter’s sentiments that the new building will be welcoming for students.

“It’s very warm, very inviting,” said Estabrook. “It seems like it’s going to be busting with activity. I wish it was done, ya know? I think journalism especially is looking forward to this because they’ve been in a temporary [building]. They’ve been camping out behind the baseball field for way too many years now.”

Additional reporting by Will Ownbey.

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Retiring class of 2014 bids farewell

Outgoing faculty and staff members honored with retirement reception

Originally published in the May 6, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

The retiring faculty and staff members for 2014 were honored at a retirement reception April 30 at City College.

During the event, all outgoing staff and faculty members were congratulated on their retirements, according to the official flyer for the event.

Among the retirees was Admissions and Records evaluator Rosie Vevea, who said that while she will miss the people and students of City College, she’s looking forward to hitting the open road to see America in her motorhome.

“I can’t wait to get out and relax,” said Vevea. “[I want to be remembered] as a hard worker and sweet woman.”

Also honored at the ceremony, Coordinator of the Learning Skills and Tutoring Center Kakwasi Somadhi said she will miss interacting with students and wants to be remembered as, “someone who loved her job and performed it well.”

Somadhi added that despite missing her daily work, she is excited for the future.

“I am looking forward to the freedom being retired brings,” said Somadhi. “I plan to spend my time writing, traveling, and being active in the community.”

For a full list of retirees, see below.

Robert N. Bickley • Robert J. Martinelli
• Elizabeth A Chape • Margaret McLaughlin-Jordan
• Richard J. Erlich • Harry E. Outlaw
• George R. Fleming • Donald T. Silva
• Gloria M. Galloway • Kit Sodergren
• Virginia G. Gessford • Kakwasi Somadhi
• Charlotte Humphries • Sharon D. Terry
• John A. James • Rosie Vevea
• Anna L. Joy • Sandra K. Warmington
• Gloria M. Lopez • Marlene R. Watson
• Karen L. Lukenbill • Niefia R. Zupancic
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Put down the pen, pick up a gamepad

The latest and greatest video games to play over spring break

Originally published in the April 10, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

Graphic courtesy Sac City Express

Graphic courtesy Sac City Express

 If there’s one thing that’s for sure in life, it’s that being a video gamer and a college student is a tough combination to juggle.

It’s hard enough trying to find time for any hobbies while slaving over stacks of paper, reading endless pages of textbook goodness, studying all night long for tests and quizzes and trying to stay awake through all those hours of lectures, but free time to play video games? What’s that?

Luckily, spring break is coming up and it’s an exciting time because that shiny new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 actually have some games coming out to play. The recently released “Infamous: Second Son” for PS4, “TitanFall” for Xbox One, and the multi-console “Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes” are sure to keep gamers busy during this year’s break from classes.

In addition, “Thief” for current and next generation systems recently began pick-pocketing gamers, and “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2,” “Dark Souls II” and “South Park: The Stick of Truth” hit current generation consoles over the last couple of months.

As for new releases over the seven glorious days of freedom, according to, “Lego: The Hobbit” turns Bilbo Baggins into a mini- figure, Elder Scrolls Online finally drops on PC, “Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” brings the legendary series to the realm of MMORPG and Red Lynx Studios’ critically acclaimed series “Trials” comes to PlayStation with “Trials Fusion,” which will also release for PC and Xbox One.

For those gamers who are into motion gaming, Xbox One serves up “Kinect Sports Rivals” in time for spring break. While the picking is a little bit slim for the handhelds and Nintendo’s home console, the Wii U, gamers who haven’t picked up “Super Mario 3D World” yet owe it to themselves to play one of 2013’s biggest games.

In fact, picking up a Wii U is a good idea if nothing on the other consoles jumps out as must-play right now because in May, “Mario Kart 8” hits store shelves and a new “Smash Bros.” game is slated for release later this year.

Whether it’s a new release that has City College students firing up their consoles or PCs this spring break, or if they’re setting out to tackle that backlog of recent games that college classes have kept gamers from playing, there’s plenty of rest, relaxation and 12-hour button mashing marathons to be had during this year’s week away from campus.

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Learning to love life

Former SCC student with terminal illness speaks to Death and Dying class

Originally published in the March 25, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

Former City College student Cathy Speck speaks to professor Joanne Moylan-Aube's Psychology of Death and Dying class March 10 about her struggles with ALS. Photo by Elizabeth Ramirez.

Former City College student Cathy Speck speaks to professor Joanne Moylan-Aube’s Psychology of Death and Dying class March 10 about her struggles with ALS. Photo by Elizabeth Ramirez.

Legendary Yankees player Lou Gehrig is not only known for his triumphs as an all-time great first baseman, but also as a pioneer in raising awareness for the terminal disease that killed him in 1941.

“I might have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for,” said Lou Gehrig in 1939 during his goodbye speech at Yankees Stadium, explaining that even though his disease stopped him from playing baseball, he didn’t let it stop his love for life.

Lou Gehrig’s disease—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)–is a disease that gradually kills the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which control the muscles all over the body, eventually making it hard or impossible to walk, talk, eat, swallow or breathe. Most people diagnosed with the disease die within 3-5 years after the onset of symptoms, but in rare cases, people can live for much longer.

Cathy Speck, 54, is a former City College student diagnosed with ALS in 2009 who lives by a mantra similar to Gehrig’s. Speck says she believes that learning about the ability to cope with the loss of loved ones through humor gave her a completely new lease on life.

Speck spoke to City College Professor Joanne Moylan-Aube’s Psychology of Death and Dying classes March 10, something she has done many times before. But because of Speck’s worsening condition, Moylan-Aube said Speck might not be able to do so for much longer.

“Each time that I ask her [to speak to my classes], I always keep my fingers crossed, and hope and pray that she’s still capable,” Moylan-Aube said to the class before Speck began her talk.

After expressing how happy she was to be able to talk to the class, Speck—who sat on a stool behind her colorfully decorated walker, full of stuffed animals, rainbows and even a horn—started by addressing the disease.

“There is no cure whatsoever,” said Speck. “There isn’t really hope for a cure, certainly not within my lifetime.”

According to the ALS Association’s website, there is medication to help control the symptoms, but “when the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.”

Speck explained that she is not the only person in her family diagnosed with the disease. Her aunt, two of her siblings and her mother all died from ALS.

“My mom could do anything in the world, and she was never sick,” Speck said with a smile. “She was so strong and so funny and she knew everybody—just the most wonderful person I have ever known.”

Speck said her mother began experiencing muscle weakness when she was approximately 49. Doctors first diagnosed her mother with tennis elbow because, initially, her symptoms were mainly showing up in her arms.

In February 1971, when Speck was 12, the family assembled for a meeting and Speck’s dad explained to her and her seven brothers and sisters that their mom’s diagnosis was ALS. He read information about ALS from a pamphlet, which included information that the disease is fatal.

“I knew whatever these people thought they were talking about, they were not taking into consideration my mom because my mom could beat anything,” Speck said.

As Speck continued to address the class, she explained that the family took care of Speck’s mom at home for a while, but eventually she had to be admitted to the hospital.

Speck paused during her story to explain to the class that she was going to be funny, but first she needed to explain the devastation she went through so that people could understand why humor is a big part of her life.

“The last time I saw her, I said ‘see you later.’ That’s what I said,” Speck explained as the room went silent.

She said that two nights later, the phone rang at four in the morning.

“[My dad] came in and he sat down at the edge of my bed. He said, ‘Honey, mommy died,’” said Speck.

As Speck looked around the room at the students’ saddened faces, she said, “I know,” acknowledging to the room that this was the sad part of the story.

After her mother died, Speck said her life went into a downward spiral. According to Speck, she grew up in an era when it often wasn’t okay to talk about things like death and the associated feelings with which the loved ones of the deceased must cope.

While a student at Sacramento State, Speck played basketball for the college team. After blowing out her knee, Speck went through a very dark time in her life. She related how she jumped from addiction to addiction, suffered from bulimia and anorexia, and dealt with symptoms of depression, including self-mutilation and feelings of wanting to commit suicide.

Then one day, she noticed a beautiful little girl in a childhood photo and realized it was she. Knowing that she could no longer continue to put that little girl through such things, she decided to turn her life around by returning to school to explore her interests.

“What are some things that I like? I like singing, I like creative writing, I wanted to take women’s history,” she pondered to herself. “So I decided to go back [to college] and just take some classes I liked; just ones that I wanted to take.”

Speck enrolled in classes at City College, including Psychology of Death and Dying.

“I was like, ‘Yeah’ I want to take that, I’ve been pondering on that since I was 12,” said Speck. “This class saved my life. This class turned me around. I didn’t know what exactly was going to happen after I died, but it gave me the chance again to look and to know that I did want to live. I just had to figure out how to get there.”

After completing the class, Speck decided to focus on humor, singing and the other things she loved in order to cope with all the pain in her life.

In recent years, because of her experiences with the disease, she has not only become an expert on it, but also works to raise awareness through participation in events like the Greater Sacramento Walk to Defeat ALS, and other events.

In 2010, Speck went skydiving and said she decided it was the perfect way to raise awareness about ALS. Speck now works to help raise ALS awareness and money for research through her ALS Skydiving Specktacular, which will be holding its fifth annual event May 17 in Davis.

Students in the class were asked to turn in a one-page response to the speech that will be given to Speck to read.

“It really opened my eyes,” said Trevyn Currie, a computer science major. “I didn’t know anything about the disease. [Speck] being able to skydive is amazing.”

For Speck, being able to help others by telling her story along with enjoying life through humor is the reason she gets out of her hospital-style bed every morning.

“When I came here, when I was hurting and I was looking for something, I found it here,” said Speck after she was finished talking with the class.

“Not a lot of people want to talk about death and dying—it’s scary—but when you do talk about it, you find that you’re not alone.”

To learn more about Cathy Speck or to find out more about ALS awareness events including the May 17 skydive, visit her website at

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Marchers demand lower tuition fee

Community college students rally for affordable education

Originally published in the March 11 print edition of the Sac City Express

Photo by Dianne Rose |

Photo by Dianne Rose |

The annual March in March rally for higher education took the message of affordability “from the classroom to the Capitol” on March 3 as City College students joined others from several California community colleges on the south steps, despite the rainy and cold weather conditions.

The rally took place from 11 a.m. to noon and featured several speakers, including Assembly members, community college students and professors. Approximately 300 students showed up at the Capitol, chanting slogans like “no cuts, no fees—education must be free,” and “students united—we will never be divided.”

Student Senate President for California Community Colleges Aaron Bielenberg, who is a mathematics major at Mendocino Community College, pointed out that even when it began to rain around 11:30, students continued to show their support.

“Now it’s raining, and you know how many students I saw leaving?” Bielenberg said to the assembled crowd. “None. In fact, you all put up some umbrellas like it was a drill. It was quite something to see.”

Bielenberg, who explained he arrived at the Capitol just 30 minutes after completing a midterm, said that he understands the sacrifices that everyone made to be there.

“I’m going to go ahead and make a really rough estimate that for every one of you there’s a group about this size in the community college system,” Bielenberg said to cheers from the crowd. “It’s sometimes sorry to see that the voice of the community college system is the voice of those who are left over, a voice shadowed by the educational system, hardly using its mic.”

Bielenberg reiterated a message that most other speakers other speakers at the rally had stated—the stigma that those who attend community colleges are less privileged or incapable of attending university-level classes.

“If you look around you, the California community college students are some of the most diverse in the state, and, I would argue, the most perseverant,” said Bielenberg. “Any student. Any path. That is why the community college system is the most diverse. We are the greatest economic investment for California.”

Though community colleges aren’t currently facing any major budget cuts, according to City College Public Information Officer Amanda Davis, City College’s Student Associated Council said that this year’s march was important to keep student voices heard by local and state government officials.

“The march is important because the students are concerned that funding has been cut,” said Sandeep Singh, president of the City College Student Senate. “Although there is no big thing to fight about like Prop. 30 or AB 955, we still need to rally together and show the Legislature that we are still here. We voted for them.”

Along with Singh and other SAC members, Paul Kuang, acting president of the Clubs and Events Board, was out in the City College Quad at 8 a.m. to rally students to join the march.

Kuang said that one of the major issues is keeping textbooks affordable by providing low-cost or free online access to common textbooks.

“[Students] want the textbooks online, but most of the publishers don’t want that because they want the fees from books,” said Kuang.

Students from other Los Rios colleges also participated in the march. A student and director of legislative affairs for student government at Cosumnes River College, Malcolm Nash, said that he wanted to be a part of the march to support affordable textbooks, among other reasons.

“The march is important because students are important,” Nash said. “I would like [the state] to regulate publishers and not let publishers publish too soon, and then the books are outdated.”

Other speakers who addressed the students at the rally included: Michael Greenberg, SSCCC external affairs senator; Alex Ward, student selected speaker; David Morse, English professor, Long Beach City College and Academic Senate vice president; Martha Penry, California School Employees Association; Sherry Titus, director of the Office of Student Affairs, Palomar College; California Assembly member Rocky Chavez; California Assembly member Paul Fong, and Donovan Hamsher, March in March Committee Chair, SSCCC External Affairs Senator.

Angel Jimenez, March in March committee co-chair and the rally’s master of ceremonies, said that despite the fact that community colleges are not currently facing major cuts, it’s still important to address ongoing issues.

“There are still issues that plague the California community college system,” said Jiminez. “I mean, we are very fortunate that the governor’s budget this year was very abundant for the California Community College system. [It’s very important] to make sure that the government upholds to Congress that the money stays within the system.”

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Four City College clubs team up to promote sex positivity

Sex + City campaign features four days of speakers and presentations on sex education

Originally published in the Feb. 4, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

During the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, a group of City College clubs will present Sex + City, a campaign of events promoting the sex positivity movement.

Sex Positivity is a social movement that “seeks to promote healthy concepts about topics related to human sexuality through a stigma-free educational environment,” according to the event’s official website.

Sac City Freethinkers faculty adviser and graphic communication Professor Don Button said the campaign is presented in a collaborative e ort of the Sac City Freethinkers, to Feminists, Queer/Straight Alliance, and the Sociology Club.

The four-day campaign will include three days of informational presentations and speeches from well-known authors Laci GreenDarrel Ray and Jaye Cee Whitehead and will culminate in a paid event on Feb. 13.

It is also supported by the Secular Student Alliance, City College’s Club and Events Board and the SCC Foundation, as well as Floppy’s Digital Copies, which pitched in to help with printing signs to promote the events, and Bianchi Sound, which offered discounted prices on audio equipment for the speaking engagements.

Button said the event’s planning began in fall 2013 as an idea suggested by a Freethinkers club member.

“It kept ballooning from there,” said Button. “It just kept getting bigger and bigger from there because there were so many ideas and so much energy and interest both from students and faculty to address sexuality in a new, progressive way.”

Button, who added that proceeds from the paid event on Feb. 13 and any leftover money will be donated to club-related local non-profit t organizations, explained that the clubs involved have an interest in promoting openness to new topics, especially ones that aren’t socially accepted.

“All four of these clubs find it important in their mission to challenge traditional views on things, like with religion in the freethinkers club or feminism with the feminist club or social issues with the sociology club,”said Button. “We all address these things in different ways in the shared interest of opening people’s minds and changing their perceptions of the differences in people.”

A member of the Feminist Club and event planner Mariah Kolbe, women’s studies and linguistics major, said she got involved with the event after speaking to club members at last year’s Club Day.

“We’re just trying to open people’s minds and take these topics that are not necessarily available to the general public and help them feel like people are free to discuss them in a non-judgmental way,” said Kolbe, who is hosting the Monday events, as well as helping to plan the Wednesday and Thursday events. “We want [people] to feel open enough to discuss [these topics].”

City College psychology Professor Gayle Pitman is also helping with the planning of the events and said she got involved to help people shift their views from thinking that sex is a bad or dirty activity.

“The anti-abortion exhibit that came to SCC last fall incited a lot of emotional reactions, and it got me thinking about free speech issues,” said Pitman. “About a week after the exhibit was on campus, Don [Button] approached me about collaborating on a sex positive event at SCC, and I thought, what a perfect way to utilize free speech in a way that’s educational and empowering, rather than upsetting and potentially traumatizing like the anti-abortion exhibit was for many people.”

Pitman also added that her field of study played a big role in her interest to help spread a positive message about sex.

“Given that I also teach Women’s Studies courses, I come at this from a feminist perspective as well as a psychological one,” said Pitman. “Very few people have access to accurate and comprehensive sex education, and very few school-based sex education programs address consent at all.”

Kolbe, along with Button and Pitman said they are most excited to hear the Feb.12 presentation from Janet Hardy, who Pitman explained is “one of the coauthors of the book, ‘The Ethical Slut,’ which has helped so many people understand how to navigate alternative sexual relationships in a safe, sane and consensual way,” but all three said they are excited for all of the speakers and activities.

“Even if you can’t spend the money to go to the Thursday event—which is not that much, it’s only $5 if you buy it pre-sale—just come to the [other free] events because it’s going to be fun,” said Kolbe. “We hope to keep it going for the next couple years so we would like to have a good turn out and make it successful.”

Events will be held daily from Monday, Feb. 10, through  Thursday, Feb. 13, leading up to the Valentine’s Day holiday Friday, Feb. 14. For more information on the free Monday-Wednesday events, the paid Thursday event or to learn more about the overall campaign, visit

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Scholarship money up for grabs

SCC Foundation and Transfer Center looking to help students fund their college careers

Originally published in the Feb. 4, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

Dalal Scarbrough (left), Linguistics major, asks about information to transfer to U.C. Berkeley while Simran Thiara (right), Economics major, acquires information to transfer to Sacramento State. Photo by Luisa Morco.

Dalal Scarbrough (left), Linguistics major, asks about information to transfer to U.C. Berkeley while Simran Thiara (right), Economics major, acquires information to transfer to Sacramento State. Photo by Luisa Morco.

Students who are looking for a little extra financial boost can apply for scholarships through the SCC Foundation or the City College Transfer Center.

Both the Foundation and the Transfer Center offer several scholarship opportunities for students, many of which require very little effort to apply for, according to the facilitators of the programs.

The official website for the SCC Foundation states that scholarships are available to students who completed a minimum of 12 units at City College by the end of the 2013 fall semester and are currently enrolled in at least six units. Students must also meet the basic requirements for each scholarship and can apply for up to 10 different awards. The deadline to apply is March 7 by 4 p.m.

Additionally, the Transfer Center offers services, information and opportunities for students on how to put even more money into their college funds. On Feb. 11 from noon-1 p.m. in the Learning Resource Center, room 141, there will be a workshop to help students gather more information about these opportunities.

“They are one-hour sessions explaining the who, what and when of scholarships,” said Shannon Gilley, director of the Transfer Center. “There are many common questions students have, including how will a scholarship affect [their] financial aid.”

Ann Love, public services assistant in the SCC Foundation office, explained that the process to apply for scholarships, which are offered by various alumnus donors and other organizations, is simple, allowing interested individuals to easily navigate the online application system and complete the essays for those scholarships that require them.

“Names of volunteers and their contact information are posted on the SCC scholarship page, and students may call a volunteer for an appointment for help with applications,” said Love. “Also, students should always check to see that there are recommendations posted for them before the deadline.”

Recommendation letters are filed on behalf of students by faculty members, and students applying for scholarships are responsible for requesting them.

“Having only one recommendation, instead of the required two, can make the difference between receiving the award and losing it to a more conscientious applicant,” said Love.

For more information on the SCC Foundation scholarships, visit Scholarships.

For more on the Transfer Center workshops and scholarship opportunities, visit Rodda North 147, call (916) 558-218,1 or visit www.saccity-online. org/transfercenter/scholarships.

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Master of his own fate

John Masterson pursues his dreams with a constant positive attitude and a contagious smile

Originally published in the Dec. 10, 2013 issue of Mainline magazine


John Masterson stands proudly outside of the California State Capitol where he works as a constituent affairs assistant. Photo by Evan E. Duran.

A modest brick house surrounded by tall trees in a quiet neighborhood in El Dorado Hills is home to the Mastersons. On a Sunday afternoon, Kathy Masterson and her daughter Meg Masterson, who is over for a weekly visit and a barbecue dinner, work on a jigsaw puzzle in the living room while Kathy’s husband and Meg’s dad Mark Masterson is upstairs watching car racing on TV.

The neat and tidy home contains plenty of evidence that the rooms hold many memories of a loving, caring and happy family. Alongside the cheerful photos, mementos of events past and a lifetime’s worth of valued belongings is a driving force, who according to the Mastersons, has not only been the glue that has kept the family together, but is an integral part of who each member of the family is today.

On the couch in the living room, near Kathy and Meg, wearing a yellow T-shirt that reads “Best Buddies” and displaying a cheek-to-cheek grin that illuminates the room, sits Kathy and Mark’s son John, who was born with Down syndrome.

From being elected Oak Ridge High School homecoming king in 2004, to setting records in power lifting, to becoming friends with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, John has achieved more at 29 years old than most people do in a lifetime.

Amid the challenges of living with an intellectual disability, John Masterson has pursued and accomplished every one of his dreams. John has held several jobs, graduated from City College and lived on his own. His friends and family say when John sets a goal for himself, he reaches it, and he does so with the enthusiasm of a child opening presents on Christmas.

The Masterson family moved from Dallas, Texas—where John was born on Dec. 3, 1985—to many places around the country before settling in their current hometown in 1997.

“Yeah! I remember that year! That was back when I was 12,” says John.

Sitting at the dining room table, located down the hall from the living room, Kathy, who works as a messaging manager for Intel, asks John if he knows he has Down syndrome, and he responds by saying, “Mmm-hmm.”

She explains that Down syndrome affects those with the disorder differently from person to person, and can cause other medical issues.

“That doesn’t mean everyone with Down syndrome is the same,” says Kathy.

Currently there are approximately 400,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States. It is regarded as the most common genetic disorder in the nation with one in every 691 babies (6,000 each year) born with the condition, states the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) website.

“In every cell in the human body there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes,” states the NDSS. “Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.”

However, Mark, who owns and operates Collector Car Garage, a car restoration business, adds that John and others with Down syndrome don’t differ much from the rest of society.

“When you look at people with Down syndrome, there’s just as much variety as there are with any population,” says Mark. “You have some people that are smart and some people that aren’t.”

Learning curve

John Masterson accepts an award in the 181-pound class, Special Olympian power lifting. Photo courtesy the Masterson family.

John Masterson accepts an award in the 181-pound class, Special Olympian power lifting. Photo courtesy the Masterson family.

Throughout John’s school years, Mark and Kathy worked with school personnel and others to make sure that John wasn’t treated differently because of his condition. Because the Mastersons moved around a lot, they experienced opposition at many schools to placing John into mainstream classes.

“We never thought he should be segregated,” says Mark as he leans back in his chair, looks over at John and displays a subtle smirk. “We thought that he should just be like every other kid because for us, he was. He’s the way he is like any other kid would be, so it was really important to have him included with his peers.”

Mark notes that the problem was usually a lack of understanding on the part of the schools about John’s individual abilities and requirements. As parents, he explains, it was important to present the school with feasible ideas about how to help John as opposed to just demanding the schools adapt their programs to the needs of one person.

“What we found was that if the school had something already set up, they wanted John to be in it because it was easier for them,” says Mark.

John and his family remained positive, and John prevailed in school with the help of classroom aides, modified work and the strong support of his parents. But John’s parents make it clear that John’s personality played a huge role in their success when it came to getting educators—like John’s fifth grade teacher who became an advocate for John after getting to know him during a class trip to the California coast—to meet John’s needs.

“[John’s] really likable,” says Mark. “So he helped himself in many respects. John’s the one that changed everybody’s mind. Everyone knew him. We’d go to maybe a [high school] football game or something, and everybody would go, ‘Hi, John,’ and it was very gratifying as a parent.”

Mark points out that it was always John’s positive outlook on life that allowed him to not only do everything he’s wanted to do, but to encourage others.

“The biggest thing is, I don’t think John ever thought that he was disabled,” says Mark. “I think that makes a big difference. He was never told he couldn’t do something because there was just never any reason to tell him that.”

Still, the Mastersons struggled to find a program to help John as an adult. But when they heard about the C.K. McClatchy Transitional Program, Kathy and Mark enrolled their son following John’s high school graduation in 2005.

“The school district remains responsible for education through [age] 22 for students with disabilities,” says Kathy. “We didn’t have anything up here [in El Dorado Hills] like [there is] down in Sacramento.”

The C.K. McClatchy Transitional Program, according to Barry Fallon, one of the advisers, is run out of a duplex near the City College campus. Its goal is to teach young adults living with disabilities, between the ages of 18 and 22, how to live independently.

Though it is funded through Sacramento City Unified School District, the program is run in conjunction with City College so that students can take college courses.

Classes are held on the main campus, the Outreach Centers or in the duplex itself. In addition to college curriculum, students learn domestic skills and work in various jobs. They also learn how to safely use public transportation and how to budget their money.

“We want all our students to have a fulfilled life, like anyone else would have,” says Fallon. “We try to fade out our support [over time] if we can. A positive attitude means a lot. John had a really positive attitude. John was never someone who said, ‘I can’t do it.’ ”

During his time in the program, John took classes at City College and held several jobs, including working at the City College cafeteria, William Land Golf Course, and in an internship with the Department of Justice.

“The classes that John took on campus were relatively limited,” says Kathy as she takes a break from her puzzle to rejoin the conversation.

She opens a window and asks if John wants some fresh air.

“Yeah, thanks, Mom!” John says with a grin.

“He took Trinidad [Stassi’s] classes [such as beginning jazz] for forever, and he took yoga,” continues Kathy, sitting across from John at the table, as John lays his hand on top of hers, and they smile at each other. “He took acting [and] John did a monologue where he had to be angry, and John’s not a very angry person, so that was really hard for him to do.”

John agrees that it was tough having to act angry, but he is proud of the outcome of the class.

“Oh, yeah,” says John with joy. “I’m really good at acting. I had a perfect grade!”

Leaving the nest

In May 2010, John Masterson carries the Olympic Torch in the Special Olympics Regional Track and Field Meet. Photo courtesy the Masterson family.

In May 2010, John Masterson carries the Olympic Torch in the Special Olympics Regional Track and Field Meet. Photo courtesy the Masterson family.

Following the completion of the program in 2007, John lived in one of the nearby duplexes with his younger sister and City College student Meg.

“I had this duplex,” says John. “I used to live there with my sister.”

Mark explains that John and Meg lived together for a year, and though it was a challenge for John, it was one of the life goals he wanted to accomplish.

“John had a very specific order for his life,” says Mark. “He wanted to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job and then live by himself. And he had done all of those things with the exception of live by himself. So, when this duplex opened up, we thought it would give him a great ability to do that last piece.”

But Mark says that for John, the new living arrangement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“I think the concept of living alone sounded good on paper, but once he did it, he realized it wasn’t as much fun,” says Mark as he chuckles at John across the table.

Mark asks John what was hard about living on his own and John replies, “Well, because we used to pay for rent! It was hard for me. I want to live with my parents!”

Because John and Meg had signed a lease, though, John was faced with the reality that he had made a commitment and needed to fulfill it.

“He was real tough,” says Mark. “He stuck it out and did it for a year, and then at the end of the year, he moved back home.”

“Yeah!” adds John.

In 2007, through the Transitional Program, John landed an internship working in the California Governor’s office. The internship was through a program called “We Include,” which was started by former California First Lady Maria Shriver and launched officially in 2008.

Now called “California Includes,” the program aims “to increase employment of persons with developmental disabilities,” according to its official website.

“We were approached by [Shriver’s] office to place a couple of interns there in the Capitol,” says Pam Zaharie, another adviser for the Transitional Program. “John was one of the first to be placed. He was such a hit; he became very tight with the folks in the ‘horseshoe,’ the central command of the governor and staff, that they eventually hired him.”

John now works almost a full-time schedule for the Department of Developmental Services as a constituent affairs assistant.

Zaharie adds that because of John’s success, the governor’s office continues to work with the Transitional Program today. Many students who participate in the program gain work experience through internships at the DDS.

As John’s internship was coming to an end, he and his family were invited to a party at the Capitol to celebrate John’s 22nd birthday, which is when John first heard the news that he was being hired full-time.

“It was really surprising because normally you’d have a party at work, and maybe five people would sing, and you’d have a piece of cake and go back to your cube,” says Mark while John runs to his bedroom to grab the gift he received that year. “We get taken into the governor’s counsel room, and there’s like 40 people in there, and they’re all singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to John. And Schwarzenegger walks in and brings this gift and presents it to John.”

The next year for his birthday, the former governor gave John a crew jacket from “Terminator 3,” which John, upon
returning to the dining room, shows off with enthusiasm. Inside the jacket is a message from Schwarzenegger that reads, “Happy Birthday, love Arnold.”

Because John’s position was appointed by the former governor, his parents were worried that with the transition to Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, John would be out of a job. John survived the administration change, however, and even received a raise.

Trishana Suman, senior constituent affairs representative in the governor’s office and John’s current job coach, says John is a “social butterfly” and enjoys being surrounded by so many people while working at the Capitol.

“John is a wonderful employee,” says Suman. “He is always taking initiative and [is] willing to do any task that is given to him with such enthusiasm. He is such a motivation to us all. He shows that regardless of what you have to work with, if you put your all into something, you will succeed, and it is such a beautiful thing to be able to see and experience that firsthand.”

Deadlifts and tandem bikes

John Masterson not only lifts weights in the World Association of Benchers and deadlifters but also lifts spirits of those around him. Photo courtesy the Masterson family.

John Masterson not only lifts weights in the World Association of Benchers and deadlifters but also lifts spirits of those around him. Photo courtesy the Masterson family.

John says he is very proud of having a job and that he is a hard worker. However, when John isn’t working, he enjoys watching clips from musicals on YouTube, listening to his iPod, competing in weightlifting competitions, and riding bikes to raise money for charity called Best Buddies.

“['Best Buddies’] purpose is to provide ongoing types of arrangements for people with intellectual disabilities like jobs, promoting friendships, basically doing things promoting self confidence to help them be more active and lead fuller lives,” Mark says.

Mark and John have raised about $20,000 for Best Buddies. Mark explains with a chuckle that John has not grasped the concept of riding a bike by himself, but riding a two-person bike has worked out well for them.

“Best Buddies ride with my Dad—we ride on the tandem bike,” says John in an excited voice. “Yes, we did!”

John also achieved the California state record for Special Olympians in the 181-pound weight class in bench press and deadlift in Chico in March 2013.

Jim and Shawna Sheffield started coaching John in power lifting seven years ago, and though lifting was dropped from Special Olympics, they continue training him two days a week. John participates in power lifting competitions through the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters.

In November 2013, he competed in a world competition in Reno, Nevada where he won a Katana sword for placing first in both bench press and deadlift in the 165-pound special Olympian division weight class with lifts of 170 and 264 pounds, respectively.

“We love John,” exclaims Shawna. “He has made so many friends at our gym. He loves to show off his biceps. He has an effect on everyone at the gym because they see how hard he trains and they train harder. He lifts more than some people in our gym. If anyone is ever in a bad mood, I just say, ‘You need to go see John,’ and [their] whole world changes.”

Shawna says that John tries really hard and pushes himself to do his best.

“John wants to please,” says Shawna. “He never wants to fail. If he doesn’t make a lift, he gets upset, so we’re working with him to learn that even though you don’t get a weight, you’re not failing.”

The importance of family

John’s sister Meg says that even if she had the ability to turn back the clock and make it so John didn’t have to live with Down syndrome that, although it would make life easier for John, she probably wouldn’t take the opportunity. For Meg, John is who he is, just as he is.

“John’s condition has affected our whole family in that we have this really fabulous, consistent and loving presence in our lives,” says Meg. “Maybe a ‘normal’ brother would have done that, maybe not.”

Meg says this is why she calls herself John’s biggest fan and that she wouldn’t change him for the world.

“I think I’m most proud of [John’s] ability to grow into an adult,” says Meg, whom John refers to as his “beautiful sister.” “I mean, he’s got a job. He gets up and goes to work; he never complains. He’s the best brother in the world. He’s just the best. My brother says he loves me just because he can. He’s my favorite person on the planet. I love him.”

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‘A passion for fashion’

City College students turn a dream into reality with a start-up clothing line business

Originally published in the Dec. 10, 2013 print edition of the Sac City Express

Johnny Sam, 23, and Daniel Ocampo, 22, created the apparel company Stayseen Collective just a couple of months ago.

Johnny Sam, 23, and Daniel Ocampo, 22, created the apparel company Stayseen Collective just a couple of months ago. Photo by Guinevere Yep.

For many students, attending a community college isn’t just about completing coursework and earning a degree.

It’s also about exploring one’s passion and establishing business relationships that can last a lifetime.

City College sophomores Daniel Ocampo, sociology major, and Johnny Sam, flight technology major, met in English Writing 100 this semester and have since turned their friendship into a business venture, a clothing line called Stayseen Collective, that they hope will become a local phenomenon.

Ocampo says it took about four years to find someone who was serious about starting a business with him. He explains that the idea for the name came to him shortly after he graduated high school while he was considering the creation of a YouTube channel with some friends. Later, Stayseen Collective became the name of the clothing line.

“I just want to be visual,” said Ocampo.

But Ocampo says the people he originally worked with weren’t willing to commit to the venture as much as he would have liked, and it wasn’t until he met his friend and business partner, Sam, that the idea took off.

“I’ve gone through a lot of business partnerships with people and then I met [Johnny], and he had the same vision and that’s pretty much how it got started,” says Ocampo. “That’s when Stayseen became
much more serious.”

Now, the duo says they hope to turn their business into an outlet for helping local hip-hop artists promote their music. Ocampo and Sam began printing and selling T-shirts and crewnecks, which range in price from $18 to $28, approximately two months ago, and the initial printing of about 24 shirts sold out in approximately 48 hours.

According to Sam, who is in charge of marketing and advertising the brand, the next step for Stayseen is to promote their products at local events.

“We want to be out there, like where you walk through a store like at Arden Mall, you see [our] brand right there; we want to reach that goal,” says Sam. “In the meantime, we want to just be passionate and help other artists, help them come up.”

Ocampo’s vision for the clothing line is a little different.

“I wouldn’t mind walking through any type of mall and seeing our brand out there, but for me it’s more like I want to be able to express the true passion for graphic design,” Ocampo says.

Ocampo explained that some brands’ logos are too complicated or don’t necessarily convey a message, and that his goal is to keep their designs simple while still putting across a positive message.

“We’re big fans of hip-hop,” says Ocampo. “Instead of going out there and dealing drugs [or other illegal things] to make money, we take something that we have passion for and bring in other elements
as well. That’s pretty much how we market it. Right now, we’re just trying to target anybody that has a passion for fashion, anybody in the hip-hop game that’s just looking for a sponsor, that’s the people we try to target.”

Ocampo explains that the logo started out as a basic design using circles, which was inspired by a panda tattoo that Sam has on his right arm. Since Ocampo came up with the name of the clothing line, he wanted to integrate something from Sam into the logo. He says he noticed that Sam is always wearing a type of hat called a snap back, which is a traditional baseball cap that has a snapping mechanism on the back of the hat.

Ocampo took the idea of the snap back and added a line of stars to the logo to symbolize the snaps on the hat.

“I noticed as I was doing that, I started to see the form of an S,” says Ocampo. “And I was like, ‘OK, something else is missing. I’m just going to add a little smile to it,’ and there it is, it’s got the S, the snap back is in there, it’s got the eyes.”

The final logo resembles a smiling face, using the original circles idea, wearing a backward snap back cap, surrounded by the words ‘Stayseen Collective’.

But getting their name out there has been a bit of a struggle thus far because, as Sam explains, it’s tough to get noticed without connections. Both Sam and Ocampo say they have big dreams for their
brand’s future.

Still, Sam says even if the business takes off, he still plans to work in his field.

“I would say I’d love to work still,” says Sam. “Flight technology is my thing, and this being my side business; it doesn’t take a lot of work.”

For Ocampo, it remains a sort of a wait-and-see situation.

“We don’t know how far this is going to go,” says Ocampo. “I’m a working student right now, and balancing all this is hard, but if this goes better than I expect it to then this right here could be our professional job.”

Sam says City College reading professor Nancy Olsen is his “favorite professor” and that she is a big proponent of their brand. Olsen has encouraged them to branch out in terms of marketing, he

Sam added that he and Ocampo contacted the Express after a suggestion from Olsen.

“I’m so impressed that [Johnny] and his friend, in the midst of going to college, have already started their business; I think that’s wonderful,” says Olsen. “I told him the [Express] would be fantastic
because it reaches all these students, faculty [and] staff.”

Ocampo says success comes down to being positive, dedicated and passionate, but that getting noticed takes time.

“Be patient,” says Ocampo. “You can’t do something and expect something [to happen] the next week. Just be patient with the things that you do and hopefully things will work out.”

For more information on Stayseen Collective or to purchase T-shirts and sweatshirts, visit or

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Website redesign

New City College site to launch in spring, will focus on user experience

Originally published in the Dec. 10, 2013 print edition of the Sac City Express

City College’s new website will feature a more organized layout and a dynamic home page, which will display news stories and important campus information.

Screenshot. City College’s new website will feature a more organized layout and a dynamic home page, which will display news stories and important campus information.

A team of faculty, staff and students at City College has been working since the fall of 2012 to deliver a new and improved version of the website during the spring 2014 semester, said graphic communication professor and integral team member Don Button.

The new site will be responsive, among other many changes and upgrades, meaning that when it is opened on a mobile device, the site will resize itself to the user’s screen size, said Button.

Button, who worked on the site over the summer and is on sabbatical this semester while finishing it, said the biggest challenge is trying to find enough time to get everything accomplished.

“Our goal is to have the bulk of it, all the student services and the divisions, up and running,” said Button. “It’ll still be in beta through spring.”

The main focus of the redesign was to make the site easier to use for students in response to a recommendation by the accreditation committee, according to Amanda Davis, City College public information officer.

“It sparked the need to look at how our navigation is working,” said Davis. “So this web redesign team was pulled together, and we started looking at what we already have.”

Button explained that the original goal was to launch the new site in January, but because of a recent accreditation deadline change and concerns about launching during a busy time for site traffic, the site is now slated to launch in March.

“We realized switching the site right as the new semester was starting, when people might still be registering for classes and such, would probably cause more disruption than we thought initially,” said Button.

Along with Davis and Button, the team consisted of Quinn Nakano, reprographics programmer; Elaine Ader, dean of information technology, and Aaron Winters, adjunct graphic communication professor. The team planned and designed the look and features of the new site with the help of former City College graphic communication student Chris Hopkins.

Hopkins said he was asked to join the committee by Tom Cappelletti, City College graphic communication professor.

“I was the only student there,” said Hopkins. “There [were] a bunch of faculty members and then me, and we had all these discussions on the website. I was the student voice of that.”

During the design process, Hopkins worked with Button and Winters to map the current site, identify what content should be carried over and what was unnecessary.

In spring 2013, after the site was mapped and the final design was chosen, work on the site began. Button explained that the choice to use the WordPress platform, which, according to Wikipedia, is a “free and open source blogging tool and content management system,” was made because of its universal ease of use.

“We chose WordPress because it’s just the biggest, most popular, easiest to learn and powerful content management system,” said Button. “It’s worldwide and it’s also essentially free, compared to
paying thousands of dollars a year for a proprietary system.”

Button added that part of the overall project is to help train the people who will be responsible for updating their individual content in each department. The site was designed to make this process as painless as possible, he said.

“We’ve got a set of templates, and so there’s not a lot of room for individual creativity within the site, but we’re sort of focusing on keeping the visual presentation sort of clean and unified throughout all the sites,” said Button.

The reason for making the site more uniform is because the current site has a lack of continuity among the departments, according to Button.

“Our current site is sort of a mess in that way,” said Button. “There’s too much variation, a loss of sort of a brand identity for the school.”

Button said that the key has been working with the departments about how their content is organized.

“This way every department that a student goes to is going to be organized in the same manner,” said Button. “They’re going to know where they get the contact info; they’re going to know where they
can go to find out about the program.”

According to Winters, though he isn’t currently working on the site, his main concern in the beginning was to create a layered feel to the information on the new site.

“The way that it exists now is that it’s just very flat,” said Winters. “There’s no real hierarchy to any of the information. [We] tried to create more of a pyramid than a flat structure.”

Ader agreed that the new website will make the process of finding content smoother for users.

“We wanted to make sure the available information was easier to find,” said Ader.

Other new features will include a refined and more accurate search function, a redesigned library site, a universal calendar system and a home page that will highlight news and important campus information, Button said.

A focus going forward, according to Davis, will be to assemble focus groups to test the new site and collect feedback in order to continue refining the user experience.

“We’re going to be testing this with students,” said Davis. “[We’ll] do some focus groups with students, with staff and faculty…sit people down and say, ‘You know, here’s the new website, here’s a scavenger hunt, look for these things. Did you have trouble finding them? How did you find them? Did you use navigation? Did you use search?’”

Davis added that it’s important to stay current with industry standards in terms of what is user-friendly.

“You don’t build a website and then say, ‘OK, we’re good now,’” said Davis. “The technology, the user experience is constantly changing.”

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