In the middle of pandemic, record number of Mt. SAC students graduate – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Despite a year that saw students juggling virtual instruction and pandemic stresses, a record number of students graduated this year from Mt. San Antonio College.

Mt. SAC students were asked to make coronavirus-inspired adjustments, but apparently, that didn’t deter them from completing degrees and programs in unprecedented numbers. Friends and family, faculty and staff joined in the evening celebration at Hilmer Lodge Stadium at Mt. SAC in Walnut on Friday, June 11.

A total of 5,268 Mt. SAC students petitioned to graduate with either an Associate of Art or Associate of Science degree. There were 2,605 students who petitioned to transfer to a four-year college or university, about 1,000 more than those who filed to transfer in 2020, according to the college.

The youngest graduate is 17-year-old Joyce Emad Gerges with an A.A. in psychology, while the oldest is 72-year-old Alfred Weitung Chao with an A.S. in drone camera operator.

Mt. SAC President and CEO Bill Scroggins said “survival” was the goal in 2021, a year that presented students with difficult circumstances.

“These young men and women, they didn’t just survive. They continued to flourish by their resilience and their persistence to continue being focused on their future,” Scroggins said.

In addition to facing academic challenges, students were exposed to health and financial struggles. Scroggins admires the students who overcame those obstacles and reached graduation day, he said.

“Many of them who are here today lost family and friends to COVID,” Scroggins said before commencement. “To survive that, the angst, depression that that causes, the mental health challenges, the resilience, we’re going to celebrate that today.”

Mt. SAC Vice President of Student Services Audrey Yamagata-Noji said the pandemic made it challenging for some students to complete their degrees.

“Some courses simply could not be offered during the pandemic – such as science labs and interactive classes like culinary arts, arts/music/dance, kinesiology, etc.,” Yamagata-Noji said in an email. “We have issued over 6,300 pieces of technology to almost 4,000 students during the year. We hope to be able to continue this type of support service to students to enable them to continue their studies – whether in person or online.”

Mt. SAC will continue to offer online courses once in-person instruction returns and students are allowed back on campus, Scroggins said. Before the pandemic, about 5% of courses were offered online. During the pandemic, that skyrocketed to 96%. In the fall, between 25% and 30% of courses will be offered online.

“Where we lost most of our students was in our noncredit programs,” Scroggins said. “We couldn’t convert our adult education, our English as a second language, our short-term vocational students. That’s where we lost most of our students.

The college will hold onto other tweaks inspired by coronavirus improvisations. Yamagata-Noji said forms and requests, for example applications for graduation, will continue to be accepted and processed online.

“Responding to students and providing services in online formats will continue providing students with many more options to pose questions, receive assistance, complete transactions,” she said.

Students shared with Yamagata-Noji her some of their experiences: Some were not able to adapt well to distant learning and visual instruction. But others said they preferred remote learning.

“Some students have persevered and have started gradually returning, taking fewer classes,” Yamagata-Noji said. “Students report unemployment for themselves and their parents, but some students have been able to take on part-time jobs in the ‘gig economy,’ working warehouse, construction, delivery jobs.”

Online classes fit better into student-employee schedules.

Joselin Hartanto of Rowland Heights is graduating with degrees in math and social and behavioral science. The 20-year-old, who went to high school in Indonesia, is transferring to UC Berkeley to continue her education.

She is one who enjoyed the online academic experience at Mt. SAC, mainly because it provided a flexible schedule and more time to study and relax from home.

“I have had a great time through all the pandemic,” Hartanto said. “I know some people have a hard time with it. I guess I’m fine with it.”

Lilyana Orozco of Baldwin Park earned a degree in math and plans to transfer to USC to major in mechanical engineering.

“I absolutely had a hard time getting through COVID without all the resources available to you that you would have in person,” said the 28-year-old Orozco, a graduate of Sierra Vista High School. “Mt. SAC did absolutely everything they could to help me succeed, no matter the circumstances that we were in.”