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Editor’s note: This column was written by Doug Ernst, the Napa Valley College public information officer.

Last month’s column about Napa Valley College success story Graciela Rodriguez Garcia spurred businessman Brian Cain and teacher Jennifer Aguayo to tell their own stories about how the college helped them navigate life.

Aguayo, a first-generation college graduate, was raised by her single mother, who believed obtaining a college education was the only way to succeed in America.

She attended Westwood Elementary, Phillips-Charter, Silverado Middle School and Napa High, playing basketball, participating in leadership and discovering a passion for mathematics.

She arrived at Napa Valley College as an electrical engineering major, but developed a strong interest in math.

Fortunately, she found NVC’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), Puente, Student Support Services and math, engineering and science achievement (MESA) programs, which spurred her to visit university campuses, attend conferences, network with university students, obtain financial aid for textbooks and, above all, receive excellent counseling about how to transfer.

In the fall of 2009, she applied to four UC campuses, and was offered a scholarship to UC Santa Barbara, where she graduated with honors in June 2012. That summer, she accepted an offer to attend Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she earned her master’s in math and set her goal to teach math at a community college.

Today, she is teaching 15 to 19 units of math between two schools – Napa Valley College and Solano Community College. Someday, she hopes to teach full-time at NVC.

Cain came to NVC 15 years ago in his 40s after a knee injury that forced him to find a new line of work, using the federal work study program.

He met with NVC counselor Sable Hughes, who connected him with the California Human Development Corporation. He joined Phi Theta Kappa, EOPS and MESA, and qualified for a Pell grant.

“The NVC counselors were waiting on me, wanting to help me succeed. They found ways to pay me to go to school.”

Cain got back on his feet – and today is a successful Napa Valley businessman, running a carpet cleaning company that employs four people.

Aguayo tells her students they can be successful if they take advantage of college programs.

“If they want to succeed, there are a lot of resources here at Napa Valley College,” Aguayo said. “The access to teachers and instructors here is outstanding, and the feedback they give can affect your continued success.”

Aguayo is still setting goals for herself.

“I want to stimulate my brain and someday earn a doctorate in math education. I like giving back, and I love being a positive influence, opening the way for other students. It’s amazing to know that I can help them achieve their goals by showing that working hard really pays off.”

Do you have a community college story to share? Call Doug Ernst at 256-7112 or email

Mary Cervantes is the business services director for Napa Valley College Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center. Reach her at 256-7253 or


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