By Tommy Quacinella, Student, and Jessica Johnson, Academic Coordinator, CLE Monterey

Tommy Quacinella, Student at CLE Monterey
After working for several years, Tommy Quacinella made the move from Stockton to Monterey to begin a new journey as a college student with the support of CLE programming. He sat down with Jessica Johnson, the Academic Coordinator, to talk about his journey and what’s he’s learned along the way. Below are Tommy’s words, edited for clarity and brevity.

An F for ‘fire’

I went to college right after high school. My first semester, I took art, math, web design, and auto shop. One day in auto shop class, I fell asleep and lit myself on fire with a blowtorch. Luckily, someone next to me was able to wake me up so I didn’t get too hurt. I like to say I got an F for “fire.” I went to that school for 2-3 semesters, but I didn’t have a clear goal or plan, and I wasn’t in the right mindset to be in college. There was not enough structure in my day, so I chose to do other things. I would hang out with my friends more than I would do my homework, and my grades suffered because of that. Looking back, I really needed some structure and support with my coursework. Maybe if I had a schedule then like I do now each week, things would have been different. Maybe if I had access to tutoring services each week like I do now, I would have been able to earn higher grades and learn skills like time management and forward planning. But maybe not – the campus staff always said things like “the tutors are all busy, come back later” and “we don’t give those kinds of accommodations here.” Maybe that just wasn’t the right place for me.

Learning on the job

During my last semester, I started working at a movie theater. I was given a choice: go to school or find something else to do, so I got a job. I was an usher and the job was not great: kicking out belligerent people, finding underage kids who had snuck into movies, etc. I worked there for a few years and then found a job at a local golf course.

The golf course was the point where I started to learn some things about hard work and about myself. It was a physical job, which I liked because it gave me some exercise. It taught me to be responsible for the equipment, the carts, and my actions. It gave me a routine I didn’t know that I needed and it taught me how to prioritize tasks. I also learned that I really like to tinker with things because I started to do some light maintenance on the golf carts. Soon after working at the golf course, I began to feel more mature, like I was gaining some life experience and had more tools to be successful in other areas of my life, like in school. A new perspective

Stepping backward to step forward
Sometimes all you need is some separation to get some perspective. Working for a few years helped me gain the skills I needed to be successful in the classroom. Once my family and I found CLE and toured MPC, I knew that this would be my chance for a fresh start. Sure, the first few days on campus at MPC were a little surreal and some of those memories of failure came back to me, but it also felt different. After the fear went away, there were new feelings of opportunity and determination.

Now, I feel like I have the right mindset. I want to study something in engineering, mechanics, photography or graphic arts. I’m taking a Photoshop class and learning about my skills and healthy study habits in a class called Making College Count. My homework is done ahead of time and I still have time to spend with friends. I have found the support that I needed through CLE’s supports like tutoring, advising, and social coaching. My advice to those who have experienced failure, especially academic failure, is to step back and gain some perspective. Maybe find a job that you like, learn things through your job so that you can be ready to learn things in the classroom. Failure’s rough; it will knock down your self-esteem and make everything harder, but don’t dwell on it too long, because there are lots of opportunities waiting for you on the other side.